Texas-based Wingstop has plenty to celebrate for its 20th anniversary. For the past decade, the brand has seen continual year-over-year same-store sales growth, with revenues up 9.9 percent system wide. Dave Vernon, Wingstop’s chief development officer, says the brand’s success has a lot to do with smart site selection and a thorough understanding of its consumer base.
“It’s pretty amazing, especially given the economy in 2008 and some of the years before that,” Vernon, who has been with Wingstop for three years, says. “It’s a testament to the fact that we’ve got an incredible product, a tremendous amount of brand loyalty, and bold, distinctive flavors.”
Vernon says traffic is up and continues to surpass expectations. Unlike many quick-serve chains, Wingstop’s openings in new markets tend to start slower, he says, partially because most units are located in strip malls. And while other chains see traffic decline at new units over the course of six months, Wingstop often sees the opposite as loyalty builds among consumers, Vernon says.
“I think one of the things we’ve done better over the years is get a deeper understanding of our consumer,” he says. Those consumers tend to be young and ethnically diverse—the brand’s 10 varieties of boneless and classic wings are especially popular with Hispanic, African American, and Asian diners, Vernon says. And this understanding of a core consumer base translates into Vernon’s site selection strategy.
“From a real estate development point, we take a bit of a different approach than some of our competitors,” he says. “We’ll start off in an area that’s more blue collar and a bit more ethnically diverse… From there, we’ll expand into the suburbs and more high-end areas.”
For the upcoming year, Vernon says Wingstop, which opened its 600th store in 2013, will focus more on East Coast expansion, specifically in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. “We have more development agreements in place than in the history of the company—we have commitment for 500 new stores,” he says.
Wingstop will also up the ante overseas, increasing unit counts in Russia and Singapore, and opening the first unit in the Philippines. Vernon says the brand will also increase the store count in Mexico from 18 to 26–28.
The growth plan, though aggressive and rapid, is disciplined and measured. “There’s pressure on a chief development officer to open stores, but you want to make sure that the stores you open will be successful,” Vernon says. “That means turning down a lot of sites.”
By Tamara Omazic