Competition for the highest honor at Cincinnati-based elevated sports restaurant franchise Buffalo Wings & Rings’s annual conference has intensified every year as the brand continues to add new franchisees to the system as part of the brand’s growth. Winning Franchisee of the Year is a goal of any franchisee who joins the brand. But what does it take to earn this annual distinction?
The 2017 conference was held in Clearwater, Florida, and during the awards gala the Franchisee of the Year honor went to Mike Weyer and Ann Bennett, owners and operators of two successful Indiana locations in Jasper and Bedford.
Weyer was inspired to open his own Buffalo Wings & Rings after visiting the Richmond location in 2007. At the time, he was a long-term and active football, soccer and baseball coach, and his Little League team had made it to the State Championships. The team and their families visited the Buffalo Wings & Rings every day during the tournament because they loved the product so much, which ultimately led to Mike’s decision to bring the brand to his hometown of Jasper in 2008.
“In our smaller markets, we feel like 90-95% of our customers are repeat customers. That ingrains in us that we have to be perfect all of the time,” said Weyer. “You don't have the margin of error that you might have in a larger market. We've had to step our game up in the last few months in both locations to double down to make sure that we're treating our customers the best that we can because we've run into considerably more competition in both Bedford and Jasper.”
Weyer had already acquired a vast amount of experience in running a business prior to opening his first Buffalo Wings & Rings restaurant. He worked as an insurance broker and then sales manager at Prudential before opening his own insurance agency in 1995, followed by another commercial real estate firm two years later. But Weyer credits his partner, Ann Bennett, who actually started as a general manager in Jasper and was later given the opportunity to invest in ownership, for the success they’ve enjoyed nearly a decade after their first opening.
“Ann takes care of everything inside of the doors. Out of the two of us, she's more important than I am in winning this award,” laughed Weyer. "Without her I would never have gotten in the business. She had a small restaurant of her own previous to Buffalo Wings & Rings and just knows the customer service piece of the puzzle. I know the real estate side and the financial side. But she makes it work day in and day out.”
According to Nader Masadeh, CEO of Buffalo Wings & Rings, the corporate team goes through a rigorous process each year to determine their franchisee of the year. In particular, Masadeh said they look for franchisees who exhibit operational excellence, but also those who challenge them to be better as a corporate team, aiming to reward those who approach the relationship with the franchisor as a way to make the entire brand more successful.
"Sometimes we mistake those franchisees who challenge the corporate office as renegades, where in turn, those guys are only trying to make the system better,” said Nader Masadeh, CEO of Buffalo Wings & Rings. “So, this is part of the stuff that we look for in franchisee of the year - do they actually challenge us to make us better?"
Weyer noted that he’s not afraid of confrontation by nature, and believes that hard discussions and tough conversations are important pieces of continuing a healthy relationship between franchisor and franchisee, with the ultimate goal of making both more successful in the long run. Currently, Weyer and Bennett are putting plans together for a third restaurant location in Indiana and are working closely with the corporate team on ways to maximize its efficiency and build on the success of the other two stores – and he anticipates that they will engage in a give-and-take throughout the process.
"We've very fortunate to have a franchise community that is truly collaborative and believe in what we believe and have similar visions and values. It's like a family, it really is. We fight and we argue, and we walk away as one team and one voice,” said Masadeh.