After its stock skyrocketed over 495% between the beginning of 2009 and the end of 2013, Buffalo Wild Wings (NASDAQ:BWLD) is only up a modest 4% in 2014.
In the past few years, rivals have used bits and pieces of Buffalo Wild Wings' slogan and philosophy of "wings, beers, and sports" to take advantage of this rapidly growing segment within the restaurant industry. BJ's Restaurants (NASDAQ:BJRI) and Brinker International's (NYSE:EAT) Chili's Grill & Bar are two examples of such competition.
However, increased competition doesn't completely answer why Buffalo Wild Wings' stock has only been a shadow of its former self this year thus far.
Buffalo Wild Wings' recent earnings against those of its competitors
During its first quarter of fiscal 2014, Buffalo Wild Wings saw its revenue climb 20.9% to $367.9 million as net income jumped 72.9% to $28.3 million. Significantly lower traditional chicken wing prices and the transition to selling wings by portions which began in July 2013 made major contributions to this net income growth.
Possibly most impressive for the chain was that same-store sales for company-owned and franchised restaurants were up 6.6% and 5%, respectively. In the year-ago quarter, both numbers were up just 1.4% and 2.2%, respectively.
BJ's Restaurants , coming in on the small side of restaurant chains in this segment with just 151 locations in 18 states, saw its revenue rise 9.1% to $205.8 million in its recent quarter. However, net income fell 43.7% to just $4.7 million. Even worse, same-store sales declined 2.9%.
Because of its small size and footprint across the US, severe weather heavily affected its sales and traffic. Additionally, its small size makes investments in new locations a bigger burden on the bottom line given the already-tight margins many restaurant companies are currently experiencing.
Chili's Grill & Bar saw revenue inch up 2% to $739.2 million in its most recent quarter while net income moved up 8.3% to $56.3 million. Same-store sales for the Chili's Grill & Bar concept were up 0.7%, a reversal of the 1.1% decline in the year-ago quarter.
In comparison with Buffalo Wild Wings and BJ's Restaurants, Chili's Grill & Bar has a much larger international presence. Its nearly 300 locations abroad saw their same-store sales increase for the 17th straight quarter.
Why Buffalo Wild Wings' stock isn't performing like it has in the past
A case of higher expectations is partly to blame for Buffalo Wild Wings' performance in 2014 so far. The figure below shows quarterly same-store sales since 2010 for the chain. Even though it beat on a year-over-year basis in its recent quarter, it hasn't matched the growth it experienced between 2012 and 2013. In fact, during 2013, its shares more than doubled in price.
This could have investors cautious about whether the chain is approaching some sort of market saturation point -- especially given the growing list of competitors in the segment.
Buffalo Wild Wings' recent earnings conference call also highlights an ongoing issue regarding commodity prices. A big reason for its year-over-year improvement was that traditional wing prices were down 35% from a year ago. However, wing prices are already going back up. How higher chicken prices will affect its bottom line during the rest of the year is still a big question mark.
Then we have the seasonal variations within the segment and its dependence on big sporting events. During the first half of the year these restaurant concepts benefited from the Winter Olympics, the anticipated NBA Finals, and the FIFA World Cup, in addition to the Super Bowl. However, what will happen to these restaurants when they don't have some of these quadrennial events on the calendar?
Nevertheless, external competition remains a problem for Buffalo Wild Wings going forward.
Although BJ's Restaurants is smaller by far than either Buffalo Wild Wings or Chili's Grill & Bar, small size has its advantages and recent metrics prove that is the case here . BJ's Restaurants currently leads the industry in average unit volume at nearly $5.7 million. Buffalo Wild Wings and Chili's Grill & Bar each produce about $3.0 million per location based on recent filings.
Additionally, BJ's Restaurants beats both competitors on sales and guests per square foot. These metrics should improve over the next few years as the chain begins to roll out its much smaller 7,400 square-foot concept with 11 openings this year and 15 next year.
Chili's Grill & Bar not only benefits from its international capacity, but its menu variety and recent restaurant renovation pace as well. In addition to making many restaurants better with bigger flat screens and more central seating environments, it recently finished the largest tabletop tablet network in the US two months ahead of schedule .
These 45,000 tablets are now at 823 Chili's Grill & Bar restaurants nationwide. Whereas Buffalo Wild Wings has tablets at just 255 locations and you can only play games on them now, diners can use the ones at Chili's Grill & Bar to order and pay bills.
Internal competition could also become an issue for Buffalo Wild Wings. Its new Stadia design, depicted above, poses a common dilemma. Will cannibalization of older locations occur as customers flock to new and better Buffalo Wild Wings locations?
Lastly, PizzaRev is a big question mark in the quarters ahead . Buffalo Wild Wings made a minority investment in the concept last year and opened the first location this past May in Minnesota. However, it reported a loss of $127,000 on PizzaRev for this past quarter.
National Restaurant News' Top 100 Report ranked Buffalo Wild Wings the ninth fastest-growing chain in the US. Given that the top 100 US restaurant chains are expected to reach $222.1 billion in sales this year, a 3.2% increase over 2013, it looks like full steam ahead for Buffalo Wild Wings.
However, Buffalo Wild Wings will need to prove that it is still the same growth engine it was in years past in upcoming quarters. Its second-quarter fiscal 2014 earnings are expected on July 29, 2014 and expectations remain high.