Wingstop Takes Flight

  • Armed with the marketing, infrastructure, and know-how, Wingstop is poised to be the quick-service brand that finally takes wings national.

    Andy Howard, left, and Jim Flynn have helped Wingstop to fast growth nationally.

    In fact, 10 years ago, marketing was foremost on executives’ minds. Howard had the idea to get one of Wingstop’s customers to publicly express his love of the brand, a common advertising technique known as customer testimonial. So it was that Jordan Bazant, the New York–based agent for former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman, received a phone call from Howard in 2003: “This is Andy Howard from Wingstop. I want to talk to Troy about becoming our national spokesman.”

    Bazant related the message to Aikman in vague form.

    “He tells Troy, ‘Hey, I have this Wing Shack or Wing Joint’—I guess we didn’t have any presence in New York,” Howard says with a laugh. “He tells Troy, ‘They want you to become their national spokesman.’ And Troy says, ‘Well, is it Wingstop?’”

    Aikman had apparently been a fan of the brand for years, a regular at his local Texas store who visited once a week. With the company’s identity confirmed, Aikman accepted Howard’s proposal immediately. In 2011, he also joined Wingstop’s board of directors.

    After nine years of Aikman as the symbol of the brand, “You wonder, has it run its course?” Howard says. “But as we keep saying, if he keeps helping us sell wings, then he’s going to keep being our spokesman. And he’s actually continuing to do that year after year, so it’s been terrific.”

    Wingstop utilized the fourth quarter of 2011 to market through a new avenue: interactive, online advertising. Android and iPhone users got a taste of the Wingstop app, and the brand simultaneously leveraged its first Facebook campaign. The focus of Q1 this year was Twitter.

    “We had a national Twitter campaign that launched with March Madness,” explains Jason McEachern, vice president of technology at Wingstop. “We’re doing Foursquare, we’re starting to get into Yelp and some additional channels, but the majority of it is going to be Web-based Facebook and Twitter.”

    The Twitter campaign increased followers by 200 percent and online traffic by 300 percent.

    Roark Capital Group purchased Wingstop in 2010, and the result was a greater emphasis on franchise development. Flynn says it has paid off; four months into 2012, Wingstop had sold 75 new development agreements, more than half of the year’s goal of 130.

    “We’re going to substantially outdo that for the year,” Flynn says.

    Sales, meanwhile, show little sign of slowing down.

    In February, as the New York Giants beat the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI, Wingstop was quietly accomplishing a record off the field: 5.6 million wings had been sauced, tossed, and carted out the door that day, a 12 percent boost over Super Sunday in 2011.

    “We are just jammed throughout that day,” Howard says. “We fill up every time slot from opening to, literally, the close of the day.”

    The brand proved it is unafraid to test itself when it broke ground on a fast-casual sports prototype in Texas in March, though Flynn is quick to assure “we’re not going the route of Buffalo Wild Wings or a sports bar.” The concept features a menu with grilled food, added seating, and more televisions.

    “It was obvious when we first took over the company that sports have a big thing at home and people like to sit down and eat wings,” Flynn says. “It really does have a positive impact on sales.”

    With its attractive value proposition, Stibel says he is confident Wingstop will do more than just break into the QSR 50 in the coming years.

    “I think they’ll break your top 40,” he says. “These guys are growing so fast, that they’re likely to be in your top 40 pretty quickly.”