Buffalo Wild Wings serious about Asia
US casual dining chain Buffalo Wild Wings is in the process of securing master franchisees in at least six more Asian countries as its first foray into the region pays off.
In January BWW opened its first restaurant in the continent, in Manila, in partnership with Philippines master franchisee The Bistro Group. That restaurant, in Estancia Mall at Capitol Commons in Pasig City, proved so successful within its first few months two more sites are under development already as the rollout plan is accelerated. Those restaurants will open in Glorietta and Uptown Mall.
Buffalo Wild Wings CEO, Sally Smith told Inside Retail Asia in an interview the company will be signing a master franchise agreement in Vietnam in a fortnight with the first BWW outlet scheduled to open there sometime next year.
A separate franchise agreement has been concluded for a region in India with the first restaurant there likely to be trading within as little as six months.
Smith was in Hong Kong this week for talks with suppliers and potential partners and told Inside Retail Asia the company is already talking with potential partners in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia. She has also been taking a first hand look at the Hong Kong dining scene with a view to considering expansion there, too.
But she won’t be rushing into any of these markets.
“One of the things that is important to us is finding the right partner, so we are going to take our time. We want to be sure that our partner understands our business, that they understand our brand and that they share the same values as we do.
“When we select a partner, they visit us in the US, they train in the US and they visit a number of stores so they see how we operate – that’s all before they become a partner.
“We’re looking for great franchise partners,” said Smith. Not just anyone with a cheque book.
Smith says when entering a new market, BWW understands the need to tailor its menu and pricing points accordingly. Targeting locals rather than expats or tourists, Smith says the brand is realistic and trusts its franchise partner to work with it on both fronts.
In Manila, potentially the closest Asian market in terms of dietary habits to North America, BWW has added rice to its menu and it is considering a steak sandwich to meet local demand.
“We certainly work to take into consideration local flavours locals are looking for. But others still want that authentic Buffalo Wild Wings experience,” Smith said.
In Vietnam, where the ‘middle class’ by definition is on an income as low as US$500 a month, BWW is set for a long, patient growth cycle.
“I was in Vietnam last year and I was very excited. The general population is growing and there is some great news on the economic front. But we will take our time building out Vietnam and we will try not to overbuild.”
Smith says the franchise partner there is already evaluating real estate options.
A key factor in BWW’s portability into new markets is that chicken is an accepted part of the diet in most parts of the world – and sport captures the attention too.
A key component of the BWW concept is live sport, with large screens in the restaurants encouraging dwell time. In the US and the Philippines, American Football, basketball and ice hockey are staples on the sports menu; in Southeast Asia it will be English Premier League. Smith said during the Superbowl final early this year the Manila restaurant opened early and queues formed of locals wanting to eat and enjoy the match.
The company is also testing technology solutions that will enable customers in its restaurants to participate in online social gaming, playing against customers of other restaurants in the same country.
Buffalo Wild Wings already boasts 1094 restaurants serving 21 signature flavors of Buffalo, New York-style chicken wings. Its foray into the Philippines was its first step outside the Americas.