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Stepping away from the foundation of your business may be dangerous, but that’s just what Wing Zone did with the opening of its brand new flagship restaurant in the Atlanta suburb of Smyrna, Georgia.
The 1,600-square-foot location is not only the brand’s first drive-thru restaurant, but it’s also the brand’s first and only nondelivery store.
“We’ve been in business since 1993,” says CEO and cofounder Matt Friedman. “We’ve opened over 100 locations, with most of them, or really all of them, having a delivery focus. So this is big news for us.”
And it’s a move that Friedman says the brand will continue to stick with moving forward.
“The future direction of Wing Zone is that we will continue to open some delivery-based stores depending on the market—college markets and military markets still have a delivery play—but this is our model of the future,” he says. “We’re really moving the brand in a different direction, but I think—I know—the right direction.”
Though the brand has seen its share of success in the past, thanks largely to its delivery business, Friedman says the controversial move of turning toward nondelivery-only stores is the brand’s way of evolving.
“One of the questions we get asked is, Why? Why move away from delivery if it’s gotten you to the point of where you’re at?” he says. “And I think one of the things you have to do as a CEO of a company and as a leader is you have to say, Where is the company going? What are we going to build for the next five years or the next 10 years? You have to evolve.”
While delivery put the brand on its feet, Friedman says instituting that system has become harder and harder over the years, due to high gas costs, increased liability and insurance expenses, and more costly labor.
“So we look at this new model as—to be pretty blunt—a more profitable item, and we’re in business to run profitable restaurants,” he says. “That’s been a key part of looking at this and saying, How do we improve our profitability? And one of the key ways is really focusing less on delivery and more on takeout and dine in.”
Friedman says the new drive thru will allow the company to deliver on the speed and accessibility so many customers are craving these days.
“Our customers are in the need of convenience, whether it’s online ordering, whether it’s deliver in some of our stores,” he says. “And drive thru is just an extension of that. We really believe that the drive thru is a great opportunity for us to increase revenue and ultimately give our customers a great product in a faster and more convenient environment.”
But just because the drive thru is necessary by today’s standards doesn’t mean implementing it has been easy.
“The reality is that when you’re running a drive thru, there is tremendous pressure to get orders out as quickly as possible,” Friedman says. Fortunately, because the flagship store has seating for 48 guests, customers continue to dine in at the store or carry out.
Though the drive thru now accounts for almost one-fourth of business, Friedman expects it to represent 35–40 percent of business within a year.
Not only does the one-of-a-kind flagship feature a drive thru, it also boasts Wing Zone’s newly reworked brand design, from new seating and flooring packages to fully digital exterior menuboards and bold wall graphics, all with one focus: flavor.
“One of the things that we determined over the last 18 months is what the Wing Zone brand is all about and really what we own. We really are all about flavor,” Friedman says, pointing to the brand’s 17 proprietary chicken wing flavors.
The Atlanta flagship will also serve as a training store for every franchisee—domestic, international, and military—as well as an R&D testing ground for new menu developments and systems.
Wing Zone is now using the location to test three new dry rubs—Cool Ranch, Blackened Voodoo, and Sea Salt and Vinegar—as well as an expanded salad line and chicken wraps flavored in any one of Wing Zone’s 17 sauces.
Friedman says the store, which has been open since September 10, has already exceeded the company’s sales and revenue projections, proving that the big moves have so far paid off.
“It just takes a bold move to say, ‘OK, we’ve been successful and we really have had a great history in our company,’” he says. “But sometimes you have to go in a little bit different direction, and we feel very comfortable in the direction that we’re going and we’ll be building a lot of these stores.”
By Mary Avant