Putting flavour first since 1994, Wingstop is headquartered in Addison, Texas and operates and franchises over 1,600 locations worldwide.
Here, RLI sits down with company CEO Charlie Morrison to discuss how the business has navigated the pandemic and what their upcoming global expansion plans are.
The experts in wings are dedicated to offering an unparalleled guest experience and an offering of classic wings, boneless wings and tenders, always cooked to order and hand sauced-and-tossed in fans’ choice of 11 bold, distinctive flavours. The Wingstop menu also features signature sides including fresh-cut, seasoned fries and freshly-made ranch and blue cheese dips.
Back in June the company launched virtual brand Thighstop which features crispy bone-in thighs and thigh bites sauced and tossed in their 11 signature flavours, with the bone-in thighs and thigh bites being added to the regular Wingstop menu in September.
A key to the company’s meteoric rise since its inception is the Wingstop Way, which includes a core value system of being authentic, entrepreneurial, service-minded and fun. This value system extends to its environmental, social and governance platform as Wingstop seeks to provide value to all stakeholders.
“Today we operate and franchise over 1,600 locations worldwide with over 100 of these outside of the US,” says Wingstop CEO Charlie Morrison. “We now operate in six countries outside of the US in the UK, France, Mexico, UAE, Singapore, Indonesia, with a seventh, Canada to be added next year.”
Despite the difficult situation faced with the Covid-19 pandemic, Wingstop was well-positioned for the unforeseen event by way of their investment in technology and delivery platforms that they believed would create growth well into the future. Morrison explains that the pandemic posed challenges in their international markets, but the shifting consumer behaviours have validated their growth strategy, which is focused in markets where they have a premium brand positioning and can operate a high off-premise and digitally focused business.
“These past 12 months have been a unique year for the company, navigating through pandemic impacts both domestically and internationally. We have set records in both sales growth and restaurant development, opening over 200 restaurants in the last 12 months,” Morrison explains.
The business has also deepened their international global expansion further by growing in the European market with multiple locations in the UK. “We also recently announced plans to open 100 locations over a ten-year period in Canada, one of the largest expansion deals in our history. In addition, we are looking to grow further in the Asia- Pacific region as well as the Middle East. Finally one of our focus areas of growth is continental Europe including Germany, Benelux, Spain, Italy and the rest of Western Europe.” In the last 27 years the company has evolved to become a techsavvy, digitally focused brand that offers their menu to consumers in convenient ways. This offer led them to launch their exclusive partnership with DoorDash nationwide in the US in 2019, and offer delivery in their international markets. This shift in delivery has yielded explosive growth in recent years, both in average unit volumes and in total number of restaurants.
Now a true global business, Wingstop continues to put guests first and the guest experience and the success of their brand partners are always the main priority of the company. When considering new products or brand initiatives, they first identify if there is a need in the specific market. From there, they explore potential solutions in an effort to serve the best products and offer the best experience to their guests and sustain the remarkable top line growth their franchise partners have been able to enjoy.
Morrison highlights social and digital media as a key growth driver for Wingstop, particularly through CRM and one-to-one communication. To help fulfil their stated goal of digitising every transaction, they are planning to heavily advertise delivery, 100 per cent of which is digital.
“We have an always on approach to social media to be consistently engaged with our guests on these social platforms. Social media is constantly evolving and changing and Wingstop is right there with our guests, engaged on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok,” says Morrison.
In a category on its own, Wingstop offers consumers a craveable, shareable chicken wing experience unlike any other. Their model is their strength, and the concept is simple to operate and provides convenience for their global guests who are digitally savvy, including those who seek the convenience of delivery and takeaway.
“In a world where consumers have more options than ever before, this enables our adaptability for both on- and off-premise channels around the world exceptionally well,” Morrison comments.
Looking forward, the brand is on the road to reaching 6,000 restaurants worldwide and becoming a Top 10 Global Restaurant Brand. Morrison feels the greatest challenge in the way of this are those things out of the company’s control, such as the unforeseen pandemic.
“We are executing against key initiatives to mitigate wing cost volatility, continue attracting and retaining great talent to operate our restaurants, and serving our customers’ flavour both with our menu products and the overall Wingstop experience. We are laser focused on growing top-line sales, protecting unit economics, and continuing to offer best-in-class returns for our franchisees,” says Morrison.