Inspire CEO Paul Brown spoke from a less concrete perspective about Buffalo Wild Wings’ issues soon after the purchase, telling Business Insider, "I think that if you look back when Buffalo Wild Wings was really, really, really successful, it was really the only one out there doing what it was doing. We had a nationalized local sports bar, and then more competition has come in, and I think that some of that competition has been a little bit more innovative."
In other words, Buffalo Wild Wings' concept itself was once all the innovation it needed. Then, the brand stagnated as the sports bar category grew more competitive and saturated by the day. "I think there's an opportunity to figure out the 21st-century incarnation of what made it so successful during particularly the early 2000s," Brown said.
Smith once wrote to shareholders that Buffalo Wild Wings was struggling since a growing number of millennials preferred cooking at home, especially compared to older diners and previous generations. They also, more and more, lean toward convenience, fast casual and quick service, as well as delivery, instead of spending time and money in an experience-driven dining environment. “Mall traffic has slowed,” she added in the letter. “And, surprisingly, television viewership of sporting events [important for us, especially] is down.”
Brown’s response to this change in consumer behavior, and how it affects Buffalo Wild Wings, was straightforward: When the chain was at its best, it wasn’t positioning itself against the traditional cast of casual-dining players.
The chance for Inspire, he said, resided in stepping back and letting Buffalo Wild Wings define its own category. This includes a new menu approach and persona that’s willing to take risks, a la Arby’s and the “We Have the Meats,” campaign (venison or duck sandwich, anyone?)
Immediately, Inspire’s scale and experience with Arby’s started to show. Buffalo Wild Wings explored loyalty and improved its off-premises footprint. It’s learning from the operational efficiencies, like speed of service and convenience, Arby’s thrives in.
Brand president Lyle Tick, who joined the company in September after a marketing career that’s included stops with Walgreens and Bacardi, echoed Brown’s thoughts.
Buffalo Wild Wings needed to start acting as casual-dining company in a category of one.
“If you can create an environment that gives them the freedom to engage in a way they want to engage; to feel comfortable in your place; to not feel like it’s structured where you have to go appetizer, entrée, dessert, and out but to be able to own the experience, you’re kind of creating an environment in alchemy for that,” Tick told QSR earlier in the year.
Before getting into how Inspire brought some of these promises to life, there is one way we can peek into Buffalo Wild Wing’s current progress.
Diversified Restaurant Holdings, one of the largest Buffalo Wild Wings franchisees with 64 stores across five states, recently released preliminary unaudited sales results for the fourth quarter and year that ended December 30.