Wanted: A Few Good Leaders
Corporate executives lured by success at Buffalo Wings & Rings
If you’re a corporate executive seeking a 180-degree turn from stuffy offices and drama-sopped boardrooms, then you might want to put a call in to Philip Schram.
Schram is both executive vice president for franchise development and chairman of the board for Buffalo Wings & Rings, a Cincinnati-based restaurant chain that’s had particular success with owner/operators who’ve been drawn by the idea of a new business challenge.
“We are good at training and we’ve seen that those people come with organization and some money and if they’ve been successful in a corporate business, that transfers very well,” he said.
“Perhaps a third of our chain is made up of corporate executives who have transitioned successfully to our brand.”
One of the ingredients that makes the transition worthwhile, Schram said, is passion.
It’s something the transplanted Frenchman felt was lacking in his previous ventures in the automotive industry within an American-based joint arrangement involving ZF Friedrichshafen and the Ford Motor Company.
“There was not near the passion that I find in food,” he said.
“It’s an industry of pleasure. You please the guest. The guests need to leave happier than when they came, and it’s so rewarding. That makes your day.”
The now 30-year-old business, founded in 1984, underwent a significant change when a team comprised of Schram and two partners purchased the operation in 2005. They subsequently expanded with a franchise model focused on unit-level economic potential, and a company-wide emphasis on brand equity, best practices and improved leadership efficiency.
Markets were sought across the United States and internationally, and the roster now includes 45 U.S. restaurants across 12 states – California, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Dakota and Texas – and 12 more in the Middle East region.
The chain employs close to 2,500 across all its locations, with an average of 40 per unit.
Only seven of the 57 locations remain under corporate ownership. That fact, Schram said, reflects a dedicated emphasis on the franchise blueprint. Five company-owned stores are planned for the greater Cincinnati area over the next 24 months to help, he said, “reinforce the brand.”
“Some companies might reserve the best markets for the company-owned stores and leave to franchisees more challenging areas,” he said. “They might take the filet mignon for themselves and leave the second choice for the franchisee. With us, clearly, when we do site selection we are trying to find the best location within our targeted area for our franchisees.
“We never put a preemption on a market or a city, saying it’s for a future company-owned store.”
Menu and design uniformity across locations are main contributors to an average annual growth rate of 14 percent per unit since the corporate ownership transition in 2005, and Schram said a concerted effort has been made to elevate the dining experience to attract a focused clientele.
Toward that end, quality salads have been introduced, food is served on white china and servers are dressed in sports jerseys that are branded, but not too tight on the body.
“In most of the families, where the family goes to dine out the decision is made by the wife, then the kids, then the husband,” he said. “In the menu and the appearance of the store, we are interested in being more women-friendly. We see that the families are happy because the husband can come with friends to enjoy the wings and the sports. But the wife, when she is with him, is not left over with nothing which is appealing to her.”
The total franchisee investment ranges between $998,500 and $2,749,500, and candidates are required to come in with a minimum of $300,000 in available liquid cash and an $800,000 net worth. The franchise fee is $35,000 with a 5 percent royalty fee for a non-renewable agreement.
Schram said contact with the company is frequently made by candidates interested in more information after doing preliminary research online. The company also takes part in appropriate franchising shows and advertises the opportunity in pertinent magazines and other media.
Buffalo Wings & Rings has twice been included on Entrepreneur magazine’s “Franchise 500” list, earning a No. 326 ranking in 2010 and a No. 417 placement in 2011. Existing growth projections aim for the addition of 10 new locations per year, with an ultimate five-year aim of reaching 100 and becoming a strong No. 2 in the category nationwide, behind Buffalo Wild Wings.
“The good thing with restaurants is there are a lot of passionate people,” Schram said. “Some people love it. Some people see long hours and they say ‘No, it’s not really for me.’ It’s very important when you sit down with the prospects that you help them discover if this is their dream. We have the financial means. We have the system. We have the field support to do a quality job with that growth.
“We want to be the undisputable challenger in the category. We want to be recognized as the top challenger, with no doubt.”
Looking out five years, Schram said, both remaining relevant to the applicable pool of customers and being careful to avoid short-term trends are vital toward achieving the lofty objectives.
In the end, he said, it’s all about execution.
“We are a family sports restaurant, so we are not trying to be everything to everybody,” Schram said. “We are not fast food. We are not high end. If we say that sports is important, we need to always have top-of-the-line TVs and programs that people cannot have at home. That’s one of the qualities we have at our restaurants, you can watch multiple games at the same time on different TVs.
“We need to deliver exactly what we are, and understand what the core customer demands are and continue to meet those expectations.”
AT A GLANCE
WHO: Buffalo Wings & Rings
WHAT: Community-focused sports restaurant franchise that offers signature chicken wings with homemade sauces, burgers, gyros, specialty salads and sandwiches
WHERE: Headquarters in Cincinnati; 45 locations in U.S., 12 in Middle East