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11 May 2017

How Buffalo Wings & Rings' Club-Level Dining Experience is Building a Growing Network of Fans-Turned-Franchisees

Mark Cross grew up 100 miles west of Chicago, in Byron, Illinois. A self-proclaimed “farm boy from northern Illinois,” Cross found a path out of his hometown by playing football in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. When Cross was only 15 years old, he lost his older brother, Mike, in a Christmas Eve car accident. Mike was also his mentor – and that tragic loss changed Mark’s life forever. Dedicating himself to football more than ever before, he was good enough to earn a college football scholarship to Northeast Missouri State as a fullback, and credits much of his success in business to the discipline, dedication and attitude he learned on the gridiron.

After graduating from Northeast Missouri State, Cross followed many of his friends into the sales field. He wore a suit and tie for ten years selling hardware and software solutions in the financial industry, mainly dealing with check imaging solutions.

But the job never made Cross truly happy, and after a series of tragic events involving the death of his best friend from college in 2005 and his father (61) to terminal brain cancer in 2007, Cross was hungry for a sign to head in a different direction. His answer came in the form of Jersey Mike’s. After being told how great their sandwiches were, he tried it out and knew this was a business he wanted to join. So, he made the leap into restaurant ownership. Cross brought Jersey Mike’s to Illinois in 2009 and was committed to opening five Jersey Mike’s over the next four years.

But that was just the beginning of business ownership for Cross. While running his Jersey Mike’s location in Naperville, he visited a nearby Buffalo Wings & Rings. To this day, he says they were the best wings he ever had. That experience alone convinced him to research a franchising opportunity with the brand, and he began checking out locations for development in Cool Springs, Tennessee. By November 2016, he was opening the doors to the state’s very first Buffalo Wings & Rings.

“There’s nothing else like Buffalo Wings & Rings around here—their fresh, never frozen chicken and attention to detail is what made me fall in love with the brand. When I found out that the brand was franchising, and that its streamlined development model allowed people like me to step into the casual dining experience as an owner, I knew I had to get involved,” Cross said. “There’s no doubt that plenty of other Tennesseans will fall in love with the brand for that same reason, too.”

Mike Weyer shares a story similar to Cross. Weyer, a long-time football, soccer and baseball coach in his hometown of Newburg, Indiana, recalls visiting a nearby Buffalo Wings & Rings with his Little League team every time they had a big win to celebrate. The team and their families fell in love with Buffalo Wings & Rings’ menu and atmosphere. That experience alone convinced Weyer, a first-time franchisee, to eventually invest in the brand. Today, he owns two Buffalo Wings & Rings locations in Jasper and Bedford, Indiana.

“The reason I ended up going with Buffalo Wings & Rings is that I came across the Richmond, Indiana location while we were attending a baseball tournament there. While dining out, all of the players and all of their families just kept raving about the experience and food, and saying they wanted to go back every night,” Weyer said. “That got me thinking, ‘This is a brand that’s really got something here.’”

Talk to just about any other Buffalo Wings & Rings franchisee, and chances are they’ll all have a story of the first time they fell in love with the brand experience, too. That’s because, at the center of Buffalo Wings & Rings’ continued growth is the brand’s commitment to providing an unparalleled club-level experience. Traditionally, sports-themed restaurants are known for raucous crowds, loud music and quick, but often low-quality, food options. But when Buffalo Wings & Rings broke into the restaurant industry in the ‘80s, it wasn’t afraid to break the mold. Unlike most sports bars, the brand aims to provide an experience that fans of all ages can enjoy.

“What’s unique about our premise is that we marry the sports experience with a higher level product than what our competitors are offering,” said Philip Schram, the chief development officer for Buffalo Wings & Rings. “You can easily find casual dining options, but if you want to see the game, have a great experience and enjoy exception food, there are no other restaurants dedicated to providing the opportunity we provide.”

That dedication to providing an unparalleled dining experience isn’t just garnering the attention of prospective franchisees—the entire industry is taking notice, too. Last year, Buffalo Wings & Rings’ same-store sales rose 0.5 percent in 2016 while its average unit volume climbed 0.4 percent. Meanwhile, overall same-store sales in the fourth quarter for casual dining restaurants dropped to negative 2.4 percent, marking the worst quarter for restaurants since the recession.

“We’re proud to report that we experienced sales increases last year while all other industry trends pointed to negative numbers. It proves that we’re doing something right—customers are still frequenting their local Buffalo Wings & Rings, and our system is continuing to expand in markets across the country,” Schram added. “It’s clear that there’s a major shift happening in the restaurant industry right now. Consumers are looking for a quality dining experience every time they go out to eat, even when it’s for wings. And franchisees want an investment that they can feel proud of. Our commitment to providing every one of our guests with a club level experience puts us in the perfect position to capitalize on this growing demand. Between our passionate franchisees and our excellent performance last year, I’m confident that the Buffalo Wings & Rings brand will continue to build on its strong momentum in the years ahead.”

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