Buffalo Wild Wings has struggled within the last a couple of years with slumping sales along with a monthslong battle between executives and an activist investor. On February 5, the parent company of Arby’s, Roark Capital Group, closed a $2.9 billion deal to get Buffalo Wild Wings. Paul Brown will function as the CEO of the newly formed holding company Inspire Brands, which encompasses Arby’s, Buffalo Wild Wings, and R Taco.
The following day, Brown sat down with Business Insider to talk about Inspire Brands along with his prepare for Buffalo Wild Wings. “There will obviously be some changes towards the menu, changes towards the experience, and changes to the marketing,” Brown said. And while Buffalo Wild Wings isn’t likely to transform into Arby’s 2., the sandwich chain’s turnaround in the last five-years – which primarily involved shifts in the menu and marketing – has developed into a blueprint for future years from the chicken-wings chain.
Brown says Buffalo Wild Wings’ biggest problem is that it lost what set it up apart from the competition. “I do believe that if you appear back when Buffalo Wild Wings really was, really, really successful, it absolutely was really the only person out there doing what it really was doing,” Brown said. “We had a nationalized local sports bar, then more competition comes in, and I think that a few of that competition has been a little bit more innovative.”
Brown continued: “I believe there’s an opportunity to find out the 21st-century incarnation of what made it so successful during particularly the early 2000s.” A “sea of sameness” has emerged as being a prevalent problem inside the sit-down casual-dining industry in recent years. Buffalo Wild Wings, that has sought to promote itself less being a sports bar and a lot more as a general casual-dining chain, was distracted by the market sales slump as more millennial diners ditched the sector.
In May, Buffalo Wild Wings’ CEO at the time, Sally Smith, wrote in a letter to shareholders explaining its slumping sales that “millennial consumers are more attracted than their elders to cooking in your own home, ordering delivery from restaurants, and eating quickly, in fast-casual or quick-serve restaurants.” Brown plans to emphasize exactly what makes Buffalo Wild Wings menu prices distinct from other sit-down chains. “When it was growing gangbusters, it didn’t position itself against its traditional cast of casual-dining players,” Brown said.
Brown has signaled that Buffalo Wild Wings needs a new menu strategy. Currently, most of the chain’s success is dependent upon chicken prices, which may be extremely volatile. “Ultimately, if you’re inside the restaurant business, it comes down to food and innovation,” Brown said. To update Buffalo Wild Wings’ menu, Inspire Brands is turning to Arby’s for inspiration.
When Arby’s spun off from Wendy’s this year, it was losing millions of dollars a year. Brown took over as CEO in 2013 and drastically revamped the chain’s menu and marketing strategy. In 2016, Arby’s reached $3.7 billion in sales, making typically $1.1 million in sales per US store, up 20% from the time Brown joined the chain. Arby’s had found that it necessary to serve menu items which customers couldn’t buy elsewhere, Brown said. And when the item was sold elsewhere, Arby’s needed to achieve the lowest price.
The chain kept its iconic roast-beef sandwich and Jamocha shake but began rolling out limited-time offerings like the Meat Mountain, that contains every meat on Arby’s menu between two buns. At Buffalo Wild Wings, whose menu has been little changed through the years, Brown wants to roll out an identical strategy: searching for things that other chains aren’t serving but that Buffalo Wild Wings can offer.
“There’s been a lack of product development at Buffalo Wild Wings over time, partially because casual dining to date has not yet done the maximum amount of of it,” Brown said. Inspire Brands desires to fix by investing in a “systematic approach” that Brown says allowed Arby’s to rapidly churn out creative new menu items.
Arby’s success has also been linked with its creative and quite often borderline bizarre marketing strategy. The chain debuted the bold “We Have Now the Meats” campaign in 2014. Its social-media manager was given more freedom that year after having a tweet comparing Pharrell Williams’ hat at the Grammys to Arby’s logo went viral. Brown described the approach as “produce the personality, the company, use earned media and all of types of earned media to create a persona around it plus an awareness around it.”
“If you think about it, the Buffalo Wild Wings brand is made for that,” he said. He suggested Buffalo Wild Wings’ “persona” wouldn’t be considered a rip-away from Arby’s but would involve taking similar risks. “Whenever we sit here a year from now avnnkf that Buffalo Wild Wings is sounding much like Arby’s, then we failed,” Brown said. Brown continued: “I think that is going to become the key – the way we actually go ahead and take learnings as well as the capabilities from what we’ve done and leverage those learnings, leverage the infrastructure, and get it done in a manner in which the brands look totally different from each other.”
When asked what customers can get to modify at Buffalo Wild Wings, Brown said, “Nothing.” Much of the job to change the chain around will be occurring behind the scenes, at least for the following few months, he explained. Brown says he’s already met with a few Buffalo Wild Wings franchisees. As well as in January, prior to the deal officially closed, Inspire Brands started consumer research to determine what is going wrong at the chain and determine what Buffalo Wild Wings’ new era need to look like.