Join Entrepreneur+ for $5
Learn More

This Innovative Move Keeps Wingstop Flying High

In our Franchise 500's Top 10, the aviation-themed restaurant franchise is betting big on international expansion.

By
This story appears in the January 2023 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Started Franchising: 1998 | Total Units: 1,873 | Cost to Open: $315.3K-$948.1K

Courtesy of Wingstop

Wingstop continues to spread its wings with an aggressive expansion of its marketing and its marketplace. The result is nearly 20 consecutive years of same-store sales growth, along with the brand's 22nd appearance in the Franchise 500. (This year also marks its second appearance in the Top 10.) But that's just the start of the brand's eagle-sized ambitions. "Our long-term strategy is to build a top global restaurant brand," says president and CEO Michael Skipworth.

Related: Considering franchise ownership? Get started now and take this quiz to find your personalized list of franchises that match your lifestyle, interests and budget.

Getting there will require complex thinking, while maintaining what Skipworth calls "a simple operating model." Its restaurants are designed to operate with as few as four team members, which both keeps costs low and helps franchisees avoid the labor challenges that many competitors face. Wingstop has been investing in digital tools to make those teams more efficient: It first launched delivery services in 2019, just in time for the pandemic, and has since more than doubled digital sales and expanded its delivery partners. It added Uber Eats in 2022.

The Wingstop menu is also evolving. Although the brand's name evokes bite-sized, bone-in chicken, it is continuing to push its boneless menu items, with the offering of boneless wings and the introduction of a chicken sandwich in 2022, and then made a big play for price-conscious consumers with its Boneless Meal Deal. (That's 20 boneless wings, four flavors, two dipping sauces, and a large order of fries for $16.99.) As a result, Wingstop expects its boneless offerings to make up 50% of its total menu mix in the future.

Related: The 10 Commandments of Franchise Ownership

In 2022, the brand also made a big shift in its marketing dollars. It converted its 1% local advertising fund — that is, a portion of funding that franchisees spend on their local marketing efforts — into the national advertising fund. That shift, combined with the many new Wingstop units that opened recently, gave the brand "a meaningful increase" in dollars to spend. In the fourth quarter of 2022, Skipworth said, the brand anticipated spending 50% more in national advertising dollars year over year — which has already helped it land premium spots in the NFL and elsewhere. He expects that growth to continue in 2023.

Related: 7 Things You Need to Know Before Becoming a Franchise Owner

And finally, there's location: Although only 11% of the brand's current units are outside the U.S., Wingstop sees big opportunities for international growth. The brand just opened the first of more than 100 planned restaurants in Canada and announced plans to double its presence in Indonesia. It also recently signed an agreement in South Korea, where, Skipworth says, "We believe there's a potential to operate between 200 to 250 restaurants."

View the 2023 Franchise 500 Ranking Now

Entrepreneur Editors' Picks