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One billion wings and counting

Nine zeros in a billion. Nine Wingstop flavors. Coincidence? They don\'t think so.


When the Dallas-based restaurant chain Wingstop recently announced it had sold its billionth chicken wing since the company’s founding in 1994, even CEO Jim Flynn couldn’t get his mind around the enormity of the accomplishment.

A chicken? No. It’s a golden goose on Wingstop’s Lifetime Achievement Award, and it went to Carol Porter.

Troy Aikman, the Hall of Fame quarterback, became Wingstop’s spokesman because he liked their wings. The franchisees, in turn, like Aikman, making his role at the convention a win-win for all.

That’s why, before the company’s annual convention in June, the Wingstop marketing team pulled together some examples to illustrate exactly how many wings have flown out of their stores in the past 14 years.

A billion chicken wings, laid end-to-end, would circle the earth 2.5 times. They would also reach halfway to the moon. To sell a billion more wings, Wingstop would have to sell their most popular item, a 10-piece wing dinner, every four seconds for the next 14 years.

That’s a lot of anything. And it also represents a big change in America’s eating habits.

“Before I joined Wingstop, I was with Popeyes and Church’s, and I’ll tell you, we couldn’t give wings away in the 1980s,” says Flynn. “Nobody wanted them. Even as recently as 10 years ago, in the chicken category, wings didn’t even make the list.”

Clearly that’s not the case today. What changed? Darren Tristano, executive vice president for the restaurant research and consulting firm Technomic, says Wingstop’s success can be attributed to two factors: the rise in popularity of chicken wings in general and Wingstop’s excellence in preparing and selling them.

“There’s a ‘crave-ability’ factor to wings that people love, and Wingstop does it right,” says Tristano. “Their sauces are consistently winning awards.”

Also, Tristano notes that wings in general have grown in popularity over the past decade because, when prepared properly, they’re a healthy, low-carbohydrate, high-protein meal. Flynn agrees, saying that low-carb dieters drove up chicken wing sales in recent years.

Andy Howard, the chain’s executive vice president of marketing, says Wingstop has been able to perfect its wings because that’s all the chain does. The company’s nine flavors of wings have won numerous awards in competitions around the country. “Other restaurants have broader menus, but we’re the best at what we do,” says Howard.


Jim Flynn, Sean Chapman, Vicki Smart, Michael DuPlantis and Troy Aikman. DuPlantis received the “Mystery Shopper” award and was the Multi-Unit Operator of the Year.

Jim Flynn, Thom Kamowski, LaDonna Toliver, Troy Aikman and Emon Toliver. The Tolivers were named the “Single Unit Operators of the Year.”

Andy Howard, right, is pictured with a giant mouse who insisted on calling himself “Mickey.”

Wingstop founder Antonio Swad sold the chain in 2003 and Flynn and Howard came on board, expanding the chain from 90 to 310 stores in 27 states, along with enough franchise agreements to double that number in the coming years. The new management team made internal operations changes, beefing up franchisee training, marketing and advertising. They’ve also changed the type of franchisee they’re looking for.

“Wingstop was originally conceived of as a mom-and-pop operation, for people who wanted to run their own restaurants,” Flynn explained. “But we’re looking for people who are interested in owning three or four stores, or more.”

One such franchisee is Michael DuPlantis, who bought his first Houston-based Wingstop four years ago. Today, he has five stores, one under construction and intends to open six more. The former car dealership worker joined the company after having been a Wingstop customer. “I didn’t even know they were a franchise,” he says. “When I found out, it got me thinking.”

“You reach a point in your life when you get tired of making money for somebody else,” he adds. “I thought, if I’m going to take my shot, now’s the time to do it.”

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