How Wingstop Aims to Fly Above the Fast-Casual Competition After Its Surging IPO

How Wingstop Aims to Fly Above the Fast-Casual Competition After Its Surging IPO
Image credit: Wingstop | Facebook

This fast-casual chicken wing chain is going public and ready to spread its wings.

Wingstop surged nearly 60 percent in its market debut today. The stock priced last night at $19 per share, exceeding both the original offering range of $12 to $14 and the adjusted range announced on Tuesday of $16 to $18.

As of 1 p.m. ET, Wingstop was trading at about $30 a share after trading as high as $31.99 earlier in the day.

"We are certainly the category leader of fast casual chicken wing oriented chains," says Wingstop's CEO Charlie Morrison on the stock's attractiveness to investors. "In fact, we're the only national fast-casual chicken wing-oriented chain in the U.S."

Wingstop, known for its array of chicken wing flavors and fresh-cut fries, has more than 750 locations, 97 percent of which are franchised. The company has reported 11 consecutive years of same-store sales growth, with a 36 percent increase same store-sales in the last three years.

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The chicken wing chain has been growing consistently in recent years, increasing domestic restaurant count 40 percent since 2011. Now that the company is public, Wingstop is determined to continue that growth. The chain believes there's a market for up to 2,500 Wingstop locations across the U.S., and plans to increase in restaurant count 10 percent every year, operating under the assumption that the fast-casual market will stay hot.

"Fast casual is all about fresh, cooked to order, using fresh ingredients in everything we do, and that's what Wingstop is all about," says Morrison. "That's what customers want, that's why fast casual has been very successful in comparison to QSR chains."

Wingstop follows in the footsteps of a number of other fast casual restaurant companies that have gone public in recent months, including the Mexican chicken chain El Pollo Loco and the burger-centric Shake Shack. Many of these companies saw success immediately after the IPO, but not all have been able to continue to increase profitability. El Pollo Loco, for example, saw prices soar immediately after going public, then drop as enthusiasm among analysts and investors cooled. As of Friday at 1 p.m. ET, the company was trading at $20.93, about half of its high of $41.70.

However, Morrison says that Wingstop has the ability to stand out against other fast-casual investments.

"We present to investors the best of both worlds: we have all the growth characteristics of a fast-growing fast casual concept and we marry that up with best in class franchisor economics," he says.

Morrison says that the chain additionally distinguishes itself from other restaurant chains with who consistently shows up to eat at the restaurants. Nearly half of Wingstop customers are millennials, with a strong Hispanic and African American customer base. 

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Edition: October 2016

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