Music drives traffic at Wild Wing Cafe

BY Laura Klepacki

After 24 years of patchwork-style growth, Wild Wing Cafe is getting serious about expansion. The chain has debuted its first-ever prototype design and, true to the brand’s roots, live entertainment is critical to the format. From the low-rise stage equipped with a special VIP entrance for musicians to an oversized video wall comprised of more than 20 screens, Wild Wing Cafe takes its motto — “Where Great Food Rocks” — seriously.

“People can go anywhere to get food,” said David Leonardo, chief development officer, Wild Wing Cafe, Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. “We like to create great, quality, fresh food, but also be entertaining.”

Founded in 1990 in Hilton Head, South Carolina, Wild Wing Cafe began as a single location that combined good food — with an emphasis on fresh chicken wings — with quality music entertainment. Indeed, Hootie & The Blowfish and Zac Brown Band gained acclaim playing at the restaurant. Founders Cecil and Dianne Crowley grew the format, eventually offering franchise opportunities.

In 2012, investment group Axum Capital Partners, Charlotte, North Carolina, purchased the company with an eye toward expansion. (The founders have retained partial ownership.)

Wild Wing Cafe’s new prototype will guide future development of the 33-unit casual eatery as it seeks to grow to nearly 75 locations by 2016, mainly in its core southeastern market. The first restaurant to showcase the new look opened in March, in Asheville, North Carolina, which was followed by one in Statesboro, Georgia. Now under construction is a location in Pooler, Georgia. (Currently, 13 units are corporately owned and 20 franchised. )

While Wild Wing Cafe’s menu has expanded over the years, chicken wings in assorted flavors remain its signature offering. And live music remains central to its DNA and appeal, particularly in the later evening hours when the bar and music scene rev up.

“A goal [of the prototype] was to make the stage a center focus and an attraction,” said Leonardo, who came on board after the company was acquired by Axum Capital Partners, bringing experience from Burger King, Wendy’s and Arby’s. “We like to promote local bands and singers.”

The stage does double duty. When bands aren’t playing, it’s used for karaoke, trivia games and even bingo. Wild Wing Cafe uses a central talent agency for entertainment bookings so as not to burden local owners.

Because Wild Wing Cafe has grown largely by converting existing spaces, its footprint varies, ranging from 4,500 sq. ft. to 11,000 sq. ft. The new prototype sets the ideal at 7,200 sq. ft. to 7,400 sq. ft., with seating for 250. It includes a two-sided bar serving both indoor and al fresco diners. Glass garage doors can close in the brick patio side of the bar in bad weather. Blue and red drive the color scheme. A new option is a rooftop bar, which select sites will boast.

The company is open to all opportunities.

“We still feel there is lots of commercial real estate available,” said Leonardo. “We are not limited to being a freestanding prototype.”

Wild Wing Cafe is also big on sports. The prototype includes a memorabilia wall for local teams and numerous TVs hanging overhead. And the video wall “will be really cool for the big games and will brings lots of customers in,” predicts Leonardo.

Wild Wing Cafe prefers 1.7- to 2-acre sites, with 90 to 110 parking spaces. Ground-up costs range from $1.5 million to $1.9 million, while a conversion can go from $500,000 to $1.3 million.

Average annual revenue per store is about $3.4 million, higher than the typical franchise restaurant, according to Leonardo. Wild Wing Cafe’s ideal location has a population of 100,000 and household income of $50K-plus within an 11-minute drive.

“We don’t want to put a lot of stores in a market,” explained Leonardo. “We like to be closer to a residential area, more so than just be a tourist attraction. We get the moms in with our fresh food and value prices, and when they leave the young professional crowd comes.”

Laura Klepacki is a contributing editor to Chain Store Age.


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Energy Reduction: The Next Level

BY Lee Norman

It’s a common retail scenario: Last year, several sites deployed consistent schedules and set-points and also staged energy-consuming assets into groups that engaged at different times of the day. These executed measures led to significant kWh savings.

As a result, the CFO wants to know what other energy reduction initiatives stores can take to save the organization even more money. Adopting a three-step approach of assessing the current situation, implementing cost-saving measures identified during the assessment, and analyzing the results can help steer sites into the green and an organization’s savings into the black.


It is important to gain a better understanding of an organization’s consumption footprint. As it is improbable to visit every site, consider deploying utility grade meters in individual locations. Installing meters can yield insight into your demand (kW) and consumption (kWh) and serve as leading indicators of problems.

First, identify the consumption distribution by type of site. This does not mean that you must understand the distribution of each site, as this would be too costly with too little payback. However, retailers have sites that have a similar demand profile, which is driven by variables such as design characteristics (number of HVACs or square footage), offerings (refrigerated goods sold at this location) and sales (high-traffic site or poor performer). The goal is to understand which assets drive energy consumption by location type through physical or virtual submetering.

Next, use this information to favorably impact your organization. In the scenario shown in the accompanying charts, submetering identifies lighting as roughly 64% of the total consumption for retailer #1, but with retailer #2 lighting accounts for 22% of the total. (Both stores are freestanding.)

Assuming a 10% reduction in kWh due to a T8 retrofit or EMS controls implementation, retailer #1 will see an overall kWh decrease of 6.4%. Retailer #2 will witness roughly a 2.2% reduction.

Weighting impacts should be factored into the overall cost-benefit analysis of the options under consideration. Organizations seeking to drive efficiencies in the areas that account for the greatest percentage of their overall consumption see the most success. In this case, retailer #1 might try lighting improvements first, while retailer #2 could target refrigeration.

Make Time of Day Work for You

Concurrently, identify the period of the day when the least amount of activity occurs onsite. For most retailers, this is in the middle of the night.

First, identify the average overnight kW lows by site type. Then, proactively find the worst outlying 10% to 20% of sites and identify what is driving the deviation. Site by site, consider whether it is cost-effective to gain control of that load.

Also, consider improvements that can be coupled with other, perhaps unrelated initiatives that require site visits to each location. These yield a higher ROI or payback. One such example is to gain control of plug loads so they may be turned off during unoccupied periods. Motion sensors can be used to turn lights off after hours in employee areas but can also turn them back on as needed.

Perhaps most importantly, view this effort as a continuous way of operating, rather than a project with a discrete beginning and end. To be self-sustaining, a company must standardize processes across sites and functional areas. For example, how do you plan to bring new construction locations up to the most recent codes and standards? Will new technologies be incorporated into the drawing sets?

Also, while energy management is the group that provides focus to these opportunities at the corporate level, without the involvement of other stakeholders, such as operations, facilities, marketing and finance, success will be limited or even diminish over time.

Review the Results

Lastly, review the team’s results. Identify key metrics as well as a vehicle by which to disseminate the actual results relative to the goals with regular frequency. Then set incremental improvement targets annually (e.g., achieve 20% improvement in average overnight kW). Finally, ensure that each stakeholder constituency is incentivized commensurate with the targets. For instance, if energy reduction is the goal, operations stakeholders might have a percentage of their bonuses contingent on target achievement in that area.

Summing it up, implementing easy-to-achieve energy reduction initiatives is commendable. But such projects tend to be “one and done.” Tackling the next step is harder because it requires cross-functional alignment at the corporate level, cooperation and buy-in of retail locations, and process definition. Excelling at energy efficiency is an ongoing process and, in essence, an organizational mind-set. Implementing such savings measures can benefit headquarters and retail sites alike.

Lee Norman is director of client services for the retail and commercial systems group at Siemens Industry Inc., Austin, Texas ([email protected]).


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Lighting Rebate Trends

BY Marianne Wilson

Rebates for lighting upgrades are alive and well, with rebate organizations having updated their rebate and incentive programs for 2014. Currently, 71% of the country is covered by an active commercial lighting rebate, according to BriteSwitch, Princeton, New Jersey, which helps large national companies take advantage of rebate and incentive programs that exist across the United States and Canada.

Here is a review of major rebate trends from BriteSwitch:

There are more prescriptive rebates for LEDs.

More organizations are now offering prescriptive rebates for a larger variety of LED solutions, such as LED high-bay fixtures, LED outdoor pole lights, TL fixture replacements and even some LED T8 replacements.

In 2014, LED rebates have continued to expand with 16% more prescriptive rebates than last year. Also, the dollar amounts have remained relatively stable compared with last year, which is surprising given the falling prices of LEDs.

Depending on the location, an operator may be eligible for a sizeable rebate when installing LED solutions in an existing facility or new construction project. Rebates may be available for a variety of LED replacements, including:

• LED lamps (PAR, MR, A-shaped, globe)

• High-bay LED fixtures

• Street and parking lot lighting

• Fluorescent replacements

T12 rebates continue to decline.

As expected, T12 to T8 rebates took a tumble this year compared with 2013. Because it is becoming harder to find replacement T12 lamps and ballasts, many rebate programs feel they no longer need to offer incentives for people to upgrade. Between this year and last, the number of rebates available for T8 installations decreased by 18%.

While the dollar amount of the rebate remains relatively stable from last year, many programs are requiring the use of high-performance or reduced-wattage T8 lamps. In fact, 60% of T8 rebates require lamps and ballasts that satisfy CEE specifications.

It can be more difficult to get these rebates than it was in the past. Previously, standard T8 lamps and ballasts would qualify for incentives in many programs. Today, however, the remaining programs may have more stringent requirements, such as a reduced-wattage lamp, low ballast factor or use of a reflector. And over 60% of prescriptive T8 rebates require the use of a CEE-approved lamp and ballast combination. It’s important to fully understand the program’s requirements before making any decision on equipment.

Between 2013 and 2014, the number of rebates for T12 to T8 upgrades decreased by 18%. For T12 fixtures that will need to be upgraded to T8 fixtures, you should act soon in order to take advantage of rebates. In the future, BriteSwitch expects the rebates for this category to continue to decrease and possibly disappear as rebate and incentive programs are revised.

Programs are getting more funding.

In 2013, quite a few rebate programs, such as Consumers Energy in Michigan and SureBet Nevada, exceeded their budget, ending the programs earlier than planned. This year, they have new funding again and are accepting applications for 2014 projects.


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