The Economics of Operating in Small Markets Made Sense for the Popular Restaurant Franchise
“We’ve been extremely successful in smaller communities, either on the outskirts of metropolitan areas or in small rural towns like Elko, Nev.; Mountain Home, Idaho; Richfield, Utah; Pocatello, Idaho,” says Eric, who serves as president and CEO. “We’ve been able to put together just the right package and right unit economics that really can make these markets work for us.”
Starting with a small diner opened in 1993 in Bountiful, Utah, Wingers Alehouse now includes 23 locations in five states in the Mountain West, with others in development in Texas and Oklahoma. “We hadn’t looked to expand until recently,” Eric says. “Now we feel like we’re in a good position to expand to the Midwest and continue to grow in the Mountain West.”
Going Small to Make it Big
The economics of operating in smaller markets made a lot of sense from the beginning for the Slaymakers, who had many years of experience as franchisees with large brands including Sizzler, Tony Roma’s and TGI Fridays.
With a smaller footprint of 3,800 to 4,500 square feet (versus the 6,000 or more square feet typical for large national brands in metropolitan areas) and smaller staff, it’s less expensive to develop and operate restaurants in smaller markets.
While a larger metropolitan restaurant may require annual revenue of $3.5 to $5 million, “We’re profitable at a lower level, in the $1.8-2.5 million range, so that opens up a lot of opportunities for us to be very successful in places a lot of our national competitors can’t even consider,” Eric says.
The Secret Ingredient to Small-Town Appeal
Wingers Alehouse’s appeal has always been its great food and drinks served in a casual, friendly, sports bar-like atmosphere. The diverse menu includes pastas, salads, innovative burgers, vegetarian and gluten-free options, Southwestern favorites, and – the star attraction – fresh, hand-breaded chicken wings and fingers (aka “Sticky Fingers”) coated with Wingers’ “Original Amazing Sauce.”
A 2016 rebrand and new alehouse concept included remodeling, menu upgrades featuring more freshly prepared options, and increasing the number of beers on tap to 40, which resulted in double and even triple the sales at one location, the Slaymakers say.
All these ingredients combined to create an experience that’s especially appealing in smaller markets. “We bring that contemporary, fun, gastropub experience to smaller towns that many patrons might expect only in larger metropolitan areas,” Eric says.
“We have locations in metropolitan areas too, and whether you’re in Boise, Idaho, Salt Lake City or Oklahoma City, the experience is really not going to be different than if you go into a Wingers Alehouse location in Elko, Nev. We focus and we train to make sure we keep that experience consistent.”
We are very much in a relationship business.Scott Slaymaker, co-founder of Wingers
Small-Town Pros and Cons
Maintaining the highest standards is paramount, even if there’s little or no competition in a smaller market. “Word of mouth gets around so fast, and if you’re creating poor experiences for employees or poor experiences for guests, it’s like everybody knows really quick,” Eric says. “At the end of the day, we have to execute, and we have to be on our standards in a smaller town just as much as we have to in any other larger market.”
And a single restaurant’s successful reputation, even in a small town, can extend far beyond the city limits. The Slaymakers see opportunity for Wingers Alehouse in small to mid-sized markets throughout North America. “A big piece of success in small towns involves being accessible to that traveler base also,” Eric says. “So, we like to locate our alehouses near freeway exchanges, local freeway exits and local hotels to get a good combination of both the locals and travelers who come through.”
Eric and Scott Slaymaker emphasize the importance of the employee experience in addition to that of the customer. “We are very much in a relationship business,” Scott says. “Our mission statement is very simple: ‘Creating amazing experiences.’ And that goes for guests as well as team members, franchisees and vendors.”
That philosophy has served the brand well, particularly at a time when staffing shortages have crippled other restaurants.
“Wherever there’s a Wingers Alehouse, we want to be the best place to work in that town, and we want that reputation, in addition to wanting to be the best place to eat and have a drink,” Eric says. “Part of that whole equation is if you’re the best place for an employee, then you become the best place for customers.”
For more information about the Wingers Restaurant & Alehouse franchise, visit https://wingerbros.com/franchising-opportunities/.
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