When Nader Masadeh, the president and CEO of Buffalo Wings & Rings, went incognito as part of filming CBS’s Undercover Boss, he did so in order to get an unfiltered look at how the brand’s mission was playing out within the four walls of the brand’s franchise-owned restaurants. But even before filming, Masadeh was no stranger to the dozens of franchisees within the Buffalo Wings & Rings system. His presence and the access he and his corporate team offer to franchisees is ample, especially in an industry when interactions with C-level franchisors can be non-existent.
This approach to the business is of paramount importance to Masadeh, who has always subscribed to a servant-leadership strategy toward creating a successful brand and a positive culture.
“The servant-leadership mindset is important for success in our model,” said Masadeh. “In this business, serving people comes first. Our highest performing franchisees share the core beliefs and values on which we have built the Buffalo Wings & Rings brand.”
That philosophy has been infectious. It’s not just Masadeh who subscribes to those beliefs, they are shared and lived day-to-day by other members of the team like Tyler Skaggs, a field construction associate at Buffalo Wings & Rings who joined the team a little over a year ago.
“First and foremost, it seems that everybody is putting others in the company first,” said Skaggs. “We try to lead through servant-leadership. It plays well throughout our whole industry. We lead franchisees by serving them. A lot of times, franchisees come to me with questions about why something costs a certain amount and if there are any alternatives, so the best way I can lead them is by serving them. There are a lot of aspects to the industry that a lot of franchisees couldn't pull off on their own, so we provide guidance on those.”
Skaggs, who worked for a home builder in the Cincinnati area prior to joining BW&R, was familiar with the company visiting the restaurant for lunches and to catch games with buddies. Now in his role of supporting franchisees going through the real estate and construction process, Skaggs said he tries to act as if every dollar they are spending is coming out of his own pocket in order to help the operators make the best decision for long-term success. It’s an approach he’s learned from Masadeh and others on the team, including Chief Development Officer Philip Schram.
“Whenever you deal with Philip, a lot of what he says, even if it's constructive, comes across positive,” said Skaggs. “Any sort of change or news from corporate that we have to make to plans or related to franchisees, I try to put in the most positive way possible. It's important to explain the this is why we do it; it's important to always been informed. Philip has challenged me to be informed because franchisees are going to ask questions. It's important to know the reasons why. When I go to our vendors, I'm able to have a more intelligent conversation with them because I'm educated. Philip has been a huge help in that area.”
Skaggs added that there’s a general feeling within the company that everyone is part of a family.
One family that has found success with Buffalo Wings & Rings are the Roses. Cincinnati-area franchisee Si Rose owns and operates two locations with his wife, Christin, who works in marketing at corporate; their son, Tyler, who serves as general manager at one of their restaurants; and their daughter, Kim, who works as an assistant general manager at their other location. The Roses’s approach to business follows the same positive path seen at the corporate level.
“It’s a servant mindset,” said Si Rose. “I don’t know if anybody has ever heard me call any of my team members an ‘employee,’ nor do we suggest that anyone ‘works for’ our management team. It’s all about getting things done with the cooperation of others. We work with people. You can’t run a successful restaurant without them.”
Si focuses a lot of his time with his team members on this idea of servant leadership, and he stresses the importance of interacting with guests with that philosophy in mind.
“We don’t know what people face outside our restaurants,” Si said. “If the only kindness and happiness they get during their day is when they’re with us, then I’m glad to provide that.”
While not officially a member of the Rose family, Adrienne Lyman, the general manager of their Finneytown location, said that she’s felt like family since joining the team.
“I started as the assistant general manager under Tyler Rose before he moved to open the new restaurant. His sister is my assistant GM,” said Lyman. “So I’m the only one who’s not in the family, but I feel like I’m their adopted daughter in a way. I’m invited to family parties, Tyler sends me pictures of his new baby, Si has season tickets to the Bengals and lets me use them. But it’s not just me. Our servers, our hosts, everyone feels the same way. One of our hosts graduated from high school and I was invited to her graduation party. I know everyone on the staff’s families when they come in. It’s a great atmosphere. Si is really involved in the community. We do all sorts of fundraisers with the local schools. We gain customer loyalty and promote the brand that way.”
One way that the Rose family promotes the servant leadership culture is with a “Buffalove Wall” they have in the back of the house. The wall is dedicated to recognizing good deeds that members of the team have done around the restaurant; anything from giving a child a dollar to play the arcade games to holding the door open for someone in a wheelchair. At the end of the month, Kim Rose collects all of the Post-It notes and decides who wins the title of “Buffalove Ambassador” for the following month and gets one of a variety of rewards such as gift cards or free food for a month.
“We’re encouraged to be positive and do great things for people and also acknowledge that people are doing these great things,” said Lyman. “People really seem to enjoy it. Customers will pass by and see the wall, and ask what it is. It’s something that we’re proud of.”
The company understands the importance of continuing to cultivate and communicate a strong, positive culture. Demonstrating a belief in servant leadership is one of the key factors the brand looks for in new franchisee prospects.
“When we are vetting candidates, first and foremost they need to be someone who believes in our values and goals,” said Masadeh. “An ideal franchisee candidate is someone who has passion for the elevated service and elevated food that we provide at Buffalo Wings & Rings, and someone who is good at following a proven system. We want candidates who are financially sound and business-savvy, but it's equally important that they have a servant-leadership mindset.”