Although Thighstop is virtual right now, Morrison said the product will eventually fold into Wingstop’s in-restaurant menu. The CEO said it made the most sense to roll out Thighstop as a virtual brand since only 14 percent of domestic locations have reopened dining rooms.
“It certainly was launched to make sure we generated a lot of news and noise,” Morrison said. “As many of you have asked me over the last few years, 'What’s going on with all these virtual brands that are popping up,' so we said, ‘You know what, we can do that, too.’ And we launched Thighstop as a way to demonstrate that Wingstop in effect is a great virtual brand concept."
To build excitement around Thighstop for franchisees, the first $100 million in sales will be royalty free. The other major benefit is that the virtual concept is believed to be highly incremental.
“It has a real benefit from a costs perspective because it helps us achieve our goal of utilizing more of the chicken, which is critically important to our long-term supply chain strategy,” the CEO said. “From the consumer standpoint, they love the product. They’re infatuated with this product. We’re excited about what the potential holds.”
The virtual brand is yet another benchmark on Wingstop’s journey to digitize every transaction. In recent years, the digital strategy has shifted from a promotional approach to a more 1:1 customer focus in which Wingstop intends to understand guests, identify patterns and preferences, and bring solutions tailored toward their needs. The chain is also implementing a strategy to globalize the U.S. digital platform to ensure success for the international business.
Going forward, the expansion of ghost kitchens will play a major factor in growing digital and placing even more cash in the hands of operators. As Morrison noted, opening a ghost kitchen requires a fraction of the cost and comes with comparable, if not better rent structures. Additionally, the nontraditional locations generate the same volume—if not more—as a traditional restaurant. The CEO said the sales to investment ratio is three to four times better than a streetside store.