What began in 1994 as a small buffalo-style chicken wing restaurant in Garland, Texas that put flavour first, has become a global favourite in the 28 years since and shows no signs of slowing down. Here, RLI speaks with Nicolas Boudet, President of International at Wingstop to discuss the company’s ongoing international expansion and what has fuelled this ambitious and exponential growth.
As the name suggests, Wingstop is all about wings. But they aren’t just in the wing business, they are in the flavour business and this combination of perfectly cooked chicken wings and exquisite flavours takes these wings to another level.
Today the company has more than 1,700 restaurants in seven countries. The US is their largest market and is home to over 1,500 units, while internationally they have sites in the UK, Mexico, France, UAE, Indonesia and Singapore. The largest international market is in Mexico, which has more than 100 restaurants, while there are 47 situated across Indonesia.
The last two years has seen markets suffer disruptions because of the pandemic, which has led to an obvious shift in consumer behaviour towards off-premises and digital channels that meant it has been critical for the company to pivot. It has required strong commitment by both brand partners and Wingstop Restaurant International to maintain the growth of the brand around the world.
“Focusing on understanding consumer needs in this new environment, such as asset shift, off-premises channel focus, along with supply chain readiness equipped Wingstop with the right tools to continue growth moving forward,” explains Nicolas Boudet, President of International at Wingstop.
“The brand has been resilient and performed well during the pandemic and it is poised to continue expansion in 2022 by offering the right product and the right customer service to consumers.”
With their four asset models, the company has been able to quickly extend their market penetration and increase their restaurant count, going beyond shopping malls and into new locations such as street locations, suburban commercial centres and ghost kitchens. Looking ahead, they are aiming to increase the size of the business by accelerating their new restaurant openings and in total doubling their unit count over the next two years. New markets on their radar are located in Western Europe, the GCC and North Asia.
Predominantly a franchise business with less than five per cent of their sites company owned, the Wingstop model offers the best in class sales to investment ratios when compared to many other brands and they are confident in this strategy moving forward.
“We are open to creative thinking in our franchise partnerships depending on the growth potential of markets, partnership dynamics and what the right approach is at the time of entry. We look for win-win partnerships and are open to operating structures that enable the brand and our partners to succeed,” says Boudet.
The customer experience is a more important factor than ever before, and Wingstop believe they have created a unique offering that all started from having in place the right people and inculcating the company’s core values of being service-minded, authentic, entrepreneurial and fun. Through these core values, Wingstop creates a thriving environment that makes each team member feel valued, knowing that they are part of something big and play a part in delivering a great experience for guests.
Covid-19 accelerated the adoption of technology across the globe and the first step in pushing the business towards a more digital future was to simplify its existing systems so that the company’s franchisees could be on the same page and trust that the investments would be sound.
“For example, making sure the POS systems were integrated with online ordering. Guests today can order via Wingstop-owned channels as well as via delivery service providers. All of these orders are integrated into the systems of brand partners and allows guests to order from various channels and maintain a seamless customer experience,” explains Boudet.
Whilst discussing the future of quick service restaurants, Boudet says that after two years of disruption in the industry it is difficult to judge what is around the corner. “My view would be that the adoption of technology, highly personalised digital marketing, improved content strategies, a focus on sustainability and an agile company philosophy against the backdrop of an ever more exacting customer will all be big factors in the success for future QSR brands. We must be where the consumers are and want to be.”
The President of International believes that it has been the simplicity of the brand’s business model, along with a combination of the brand’s uniqueness in offering an immersive flavour experience, a simple menu offer and low investment that have been key drivers of the success they have to date.
“Some insights we’ve drawn from our experience has been building an agile culture at Wingstop, transforming the digital levers to align with consumer behaviour, creating a distinctive, relevant and easy brand experience that allows consumers to ‘buy into’ the brand and join our ‘cause and purpose’,” he says.
As the interview draws to a close and the conversation moves towards the future and the challenges the company may face, Boudet says that the world and competition will continue to evolve and that businesses can stay ahead of the curve by anticipating headwinds and that they would benefit from rethinking strategies.
“We have exciting future ambitions for the Wingstop brand and aspirations to become a top ten restaurant brand with over 6,000 restaurants worldwide.”