Buffalo Wild Wings has not been as successful over the past two years with slumping sales as well as 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 acquire 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 very next day, Brown sat down with Business Insider to speak about Inspire Brands along with his prepare for Buffalo Wild Wings. “There may obviously be some changes towards the menu, changes for the experience, and changes towards the marketing,” Brown said. And while Buffalo Wild Wings isn’t planning to transform into Arby’s 2., the sandwich chain’s turnaround within the last 5 years – which primarily involved shifts in its menu and marketing – has developed into a blueprint in the future in the chicken-wings chain.
Brown says Buffalo Wild Wings’ biggest problem is it lost what set it up in addition to the competition. “I think that if you gaze back when Buffalo Wild Wings really was, really, really successful, it had been really the only person on the market doing exactly what it was doing,” Brown said. “We experienced a nationalized local sports bar, then more competition has come in, and i believe that a few of that competition has become a bit more innovative.”
Brown continued: “I believe there’s the opportunity to find out the 21st-century incarnation of the items made it so successful during particularly the early 2000s.” A “sea of sameness” has emerged as a very common problem inside the sit-down casual-dining industry in recent years. Buffalo Wild Wings, which includes sought to promote itself less as a sports bar and a lot more being a general casual-dining chain, was distracted by the business sales slump as increasing numbers of millennial diners ditched the sector.
In May, Buffalo Wild Wings’ CEO at that time, Sally Smith, wrote in a letter to shareholders explaining its slumping sales that “millennial individuals are more attracted than their elders to cooking at home, ordering delivery from restaurants, and eating quickly, in fast-casual or quick-serve restaurants.” Brown intends to emphasize what makes bw3 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, much 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 huge amounts of money per year. Brown took over as CEO in 2013 and drastically revamped the chain’s menu and marketing plan. In 2016, Arby’s reached $3.7 billion in sales, making around $1.1 million in sales per US store, up 20% from the time Brown joined the chain. Arby’s had realized that it necessary to serve menu things that customers couldn’t buy elsewhere, Brown said. And if the product was sold elsewhere, Arby’s needed to have 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 become little changed over the years, Brown plans to roll out a comparable strategy: searching for things that other chains aren’t serving but that Buffalo Wild Wings provides.
“There’s been a lack of product development at Buffalo Wild Wings with time, partially because casual dining currently has not yet done as much of this,” Brown said. Inspire Brands desires to fix that with a “systematic approach” that Brown says allowed Arby’s to rapidly churn out creative new menu items.
Arby’s success has additionally been linked with its creative and often borderline bizarre marketing strategy. The chain debuted the bold “We Have the Meats” campaign in 2014. Its social-media manager was given more freedom that year after a tweet comparing Pharrell Williams’ hat at the Grammys to Arby’s logo went viral. Brown described the approach as “make the personality, the brand, use earned media and all sorts of forms of earned media to create a persona around it as well as an awareness around it.”
“If you think about it, the Buffalo Wild Wings brand is perfect for that,” he stated. He suggested Buffalo Wild Wings’ “persona” wouldn’t be a rip-away from Arby’s but would involve taking similar risks. “When we sit here per year from now avnnkf that Buffalo Wild Wings is sounding a lot like Arby’s, then we failed,” Brown said. Brown continued: “I do believe that will function as the key – how we actually consider the learnings as well as the capabilities from what we’ve done and leverage those learnings, leverage the infrastructure, and do it in a manner in which the brands look completely different from each other.”
When asked what customers can expect to change at Buffalo Wild Wings, Brown said, “Nothing.” A lot of the job to transform the chain around will likely be occurring behind the curtain, at least for the upcoming month or two, he explained. Brown says he’s already met with many Buffalo Wild Wings franchisees. And in January, before the deal officially closed, Inspire Brands started consumer research to determine what exactly is going wrong at the chain and determine what Buffalo Wild Wings’ new era should look like.