If Buffalo Wild Wings (NASDAQ: BWLD ) could just get major sports to hold global events every quarter, investors would never fret about whether it could remain on the torrid growth trajectory where it currently finds itself.
The wings and beer crib reported stellar first-quarter earnings largely because of fans flocking to its bars to watch the Winter Olympics. Revenues surged 21% to $367.9 million from $304.4 million last year as same-store sales jumped 6.6% at company-owned restaurants and 5% at franchised locations, generating profits of $28.3 million, or $1.49 per share, a 73% increase from the $16.4 million, or $0.87 per share, in the year-ago period. With both the NBA and NHL playoffs in full swing now, and the FIFA World Cup scheduled to begin in Brazil in June, Buffalo Wild Wings looks to have its second quarter safely in hand and can begin looking toward baseball's playoffs and World Series in the fall along with the start of football.
Hey, it looks like B-Dubs does have all its quarters covered, at least for the next year; no wonder its been driving performance higher like a boss.
I noted last month how the chain has grown revenues at a 25% compounded annual rate since 2008 with net earnings on a similarly steep path higher. It has over 1,000 restaurants in its stable at the moment, 56% of which are franchised, but it has a goal of becoming a 3,000-unit beast, one which also dabbles in sideline businesses such as its recent investment in fast-casual pizza shop PizzaRev.
But while I thought its decision to also invest in technology upgrades like converting its restaurants into glossy, high-tech "stadia" could incrementally help revenues, I feared the high up-front costs carried risks. However, the latest quarterly results suggest they are indeed an example of the motto "You gotta spend money to make money."
The stadia model seeks to capture the energy and social interaction sports fans would find at any ballpark or stadium. Think of it as tailgating without the hibachis while immersing customers in enhanced audio-visual systems. Most new B-Dubs opening in the future will be in this new design where possible, which features natural lighting, lighter colors than are typically found in sports bars, and acoustics that allow for normal conversations despite any raucous cheering that may be occurring as a result of the games on the big screens.
Of course, as exciting as the changes are and as successful as the results have been, it's still not a course taken without risk. Buffalo Wild Wings is embarking on increasing its capital expenditures at a time when other restaurants are looking to cut theirs. And the casual-dining restaurant segment B-Dubs belongs to is suffering from a secular decline in sales and units as fast-casual dining grabs the attention and wallets of patrons. Furthermore, it's expanding the size of its restaurants even as its rivals shrink their square footage.
Not every sporting event will generate the same enthusiasm the Olympics do, though the World Series and Super Bowl could perhaps compare. And where the World Cup has a global following, it may not translate as well here as in other countries. Banking on these big events also means revenues may be lumpy, surging around when a big game happens but coming in slack at other times.
With rising commodity costs also interfering with long-range planning, it's not guaranteed Buffalo Wild Wings will hit a home run with its makeover. But so long as fans enjoy gathering together in a social atmosphere to take in the game, the beer-and-wings leader has a better than sporting chance of coming out ahead.
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