East Coast Wings + Grill, known for its selection of over 55 wing flavors and an easygoing atmosphere, has rolled out a new facet of its franchise program aimed at combating post-pandemic challenges and attracting a multitude of candidates.
Mark Lyso, East Coast Wings + Grill’s SVP of brand development, noticed a growing problem in the industry among independent restaurant owners: shuttering stores, ballooning inflation, and fragile supply chains. He also noticed multi-concept franchisees becoming more cautious about adding to their portfolio and shifting into what he calls “acquisition mode.”
He knew it was a solvable problem—something East Coast Wings + Grill, with its executive team boasting a combined 150 years of restaurant knowledge and 50 years of franchising experience, could offer a solution to.
“Because of our years of experience, we know how to manage and run businesses better … we saw people coming to the term of their franchise agreement and unsure of if they want to stick with their original brand [because of economic pressures], so we wanted to offer them one with intellectual capital and proper procedures,” Lyso says.
The 30-year-old concept spent the better part of the past few years reworking its franchise systems to account for a post-pandemic new normal. The recently developed incentive and conversion program, which debuted in late November of last year, aims to give prospective franchisees a leg up in an uncertain atmosphere.
The incentive program will run until the end of March and is being overseen by ECW+G’s National Franchise Service Center, which will provide guidance and mentorship to candidates interested in franchising. Once someone becomes a franchisee, owners will have priority over undeveloped markets with the aim of increasing profitability and exposure.
Additionally, the system will allow for increased networking through regular meetings, fostering a streamlined method of communication and encouraging the sharing of education between franchisees.
Franchise disclosure documents report that operators can save approximately $140,000 through the conversion program, significantly lowering entry costs for prospective franchisees. “For the operator who wants to change their flag, we’re giving them a lower investment model for the conversion,” Lyso says. “For multi-unit owners, they can get into a new franchise brand at lower costs and add us to their portfolio at a lower risk.”
He says the main thrust of the first-of-its-kind project is to attract and retain three distinct categories of candidates, including the independent owner, conservative multi-unit operator, and multi-concept franchisee.
The amount of support given to franchisees from the system remains the same no matter what their experience level is, as it is aimed at mentoring and maximizing the entrepreneur’s potential while acting as a symbiotic growth vehicle for the brand.
For current franchisees, the brand has created a separate incentivization initiative, one which Lyso believes will assist in reaching the goal of achieving generational wealth for those enrolled in the system.
At a recent conference, Lyso says a current franchisee got up and shared his journey with the brand with tears in his eyes. He went from being a delivery driver to a multi-unit franchisee with the company and was able to put his family through college. This, Lyso says, is an example of the program’s true purpose.
“We’re not trying to discount to get unit count,” Lyso says. “We’re trying to create a program with an audience we know wants to listen to it … while at the same time having something to help us with continued growth.”
The casual-dining brand is on track to get to 40 franchised locations by the end of 2024, and 50 by the end of 2025. While the growth push is nationwide, target markets include Philadelphia; Memphis, Tennessee; and Raleigh, North Carolina.
“We wanted to create a way to help keep the industry strong and keep people who have put their heart into their business find a different way to grow,” Lyso shares. “This is our holistic approach to achieving the numbers [we want to see] by 2025.”