This Wings-Loving Regular Became a Franchisee to Save His Favorite Restaurant From Closing Up Shop
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Franchise Players is Entrepreneur’s Q&A interview column that puts the spotlight on franchisees. If you're a franchisee with advice and tips to share, email email@example.com.
Chad Ragland was spending hours a week at Wild Wing Cafe in the years before he was a franchisee. In the early 2000s, Ragland was a regular at the wings restaurant. So, when he heard the owners were selling their location, he sprang into action. In a matter of weeks, he had signed a franchise agreement to take over the Wild Wing Cafe – despite the fact he had no idea how to run a restaurant. Here's what he's learned over the last decade.
Name: Chad Ragland
Franchise owned: Wild Wing Cafe in Charlottesvile, Va.
How long have you owned a franchise?
Wild Wing Cafe in Charlottesville opened its doors in February of 2001. I purchased the franchise from its original owners in the spring of 2003.
Franchise ownership was never my main objective. In fact, I was not exploring opportunities to own and operate my own business before I joined the Wild Wing Cafe family. Rather, when I learned that the original owners were looking to sell the business, I reached out to the home office team for more information about franchise opportunities. From there, I signed an agreement to purchase the existing location in my community.
In the months and years prior, I had become a regular at the location in Charlottesville. The fresh, made-from-scratch wings and lively entertainment are just two of the reasons I had become such a fan of the concept. Unlike other restaurant franchise brands, Wild Wing Cafe is the full package–great food, exceptional music and an inviting atmosphere where friends and family can get together for a good time.
What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?
Prior to investing in Wild Wing Cafe, I served as a marketing manager for Clear Channel Radio. My responsibilities included the development and execution of the station’s marketing strategy, including management of all aspects of the marketing mix from advertising and in-store promotions to public relations.
Today, I use my marketing background to support Wild Wing Cafe in Charlottesville, including the implementation of new events, campaigns and promotions.
Why did you choose this particular franchise?
Wild Wing Cafe is unmatched within its segment. There are a number of differentiating qualities that I found impressive.
For one, I was impressed with the connection the restaurants’ employees have with the customers. Many of our servers and bartenders have been working at our location for more than five years. Our staff members have connections that run deep within the community.
Additionally, as the brand grows and evolves, the vibe and food quality has remained consistent. The feeling you get when you walk through the door of a Wild Wing Cafe is unmistakable. We have taken steps to ensure this feeling never gets away from us.
Finally, Wild Wing Cafe is at the heart of our local music and entertainment scene. We bolster our connection to the community with events such as “Last Band Standing,” “WingStock” and “The Wild Wing Voice Off,” among others. We regularly have local bands performing in our restaurant, as well as “meet and greet” events with bands and artists.
How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?
The capital investment per site can range from $500,000 to $1.3 million for a conversion to between $1.5 million and $1.9 million for new construction. Current franchisee criteria include at least $500,000 in liquid assets, a net worth of at least $1 million and $50,000 for the initial franchise fee and $40,000 for each additional location.
Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?
The majority of my research was done on location. As I mentioned, I became a brand advocate after visiting the Wild Wing Cafe in my community. I was impressed with Wild Wing Cafe’s menu offering, entertainment value and atmosphere.
Tom Lewison, the newly named CEO of Wild Wing Cafe, has served as an important advocate for me in growing and developing my franchise location. Tom brings an extensive background in the restaurant franchise industry, which has become instrumental in helping me navigate the challenges of the franchise business. I look to him for guidance on any number of topics including marketing, sales and operations.
What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?
One challenge that we had to overcome in the early phases of reopening our restaurant was rebuilding our customer base. Since the restaurant opened in 2001, we had amassed a phenomenal group of fans. Once we reopened in 2003, we needed to reconnect with our loyal following and bring them back to Wild Wing. This challenge proved less daunting than we anticipated.
Not only did we reconnect with former customers, but we also brought in crowds from throughout the region, further proving that Wild Wing Cafe is a destination. People will drive significant distances to come spend time at our restaurants, listen to music and enjoy their friends and family. We’re a good time for everyone.
What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?
There is no secret to success in franchising. The key is hard work and perseverance. Every day, I roll up my sleeves and get involved in the running of my business. I wipe tables, run food, pour drinks, you name it. I will do whatever it takes to exceed our customer’s expectations.
The additional piece of advice that I would share with aspiring franchisees is to remain teachable. I am constantly learning how to operate my business more efficiently. I have learned new strategies from customers, vendors, the corporate team, fellow franchisees, my family and even businesses down the street. I am always keeping my ears open to absorb as much insight and experience as I can.
What’s next for you and your business?
This is an exciting time for Wild Wing Cafe in Charlottesville.
For starters, it’s football season, which means that we have a number of on-going promotions at our restaurant including a limited-time menu featuring game-day grub, a digital loyalty program and Super Bowl ticket giveaway, among a number of other NFL season festivities and celebrations.
Additionally, Thanksgiving is quickly approaching, which means we are selling fried turkeys and all the fixings ahead of the holiday. We will also be hosting a pre-turkey bash with live music, specials and more.
Furthermore, we are actively involved with the University of Virginia Athletics and the vibrant student population. We promote UVA athletics by hosting radio broadcasts, tailgates, pre and post-game events and team meals. We provide a home for students by providing space for club events, hosting department formals, and supporting various student-run nonprofit associations.
Of course, this is just a sampling of the events and promotions that we have coming up in the next several months. If you want to see what else is in store be sure to visit our website.