Buffalo Wild Wings (NASDAQ:BWLD) was founded in 1982, as founders Jim Disbrow and Scott Lowery had a craving for authentic Buffalo-style wings that simply couldn't be slaked in anywhere near the Ohio State campus in Columbus.
Today, the company presents wings, beer, and sports in 1,128 locations -- mostly in the U.S. and Canada, but with a budding intercontinental expansion strategy in the works.
The company still sees room for plenty of North American growth. Management estimates an addressable market of something like 1,700 locations in the U.S. and Canada, and is reaching for that opportunity with a mix of company-owned and franchised restaurants.
With a debt-free balance sheet and all kinds of impressive growth at its back, Buffalo Wild Wings is well positioned to stretch for that goal of operating 1,700 American restaurants. The current store count stands at 449 company-owned locations and 579 franchised restaurants.
In the recently reported second quarter, company-owned locations saw a 7.7% annual increase in same-store sales while franchises stopped at 6.5%. Many restaurant operators would kill for numbers like these.
How Buffalo Wild Wings franchising works
You'll find franchised B-Dub locations in every state except Kansas, Tennessee, Utah, and Wisconsin, where all locations are company-owned so far. Fifty-four net new franchised locations have opened in the past year. The company also opens several dozen company-owned locations per year, and occasionally buys out a franchised location to bring it in-house.
Starting a Buffalo Wild Wings franchise begins with finding a suitable site in a market where the company is looking to expand. The company keeps an online list, currently showing 20 target markets in 13 states. Buffalo Wild will help qualified investors identify and develop the right location.
The initial franchise fee is $40,000 for a single restaurant, with volume discounts for larger store networks.
Once the new restaurant is up and running, the franchise pays 5% of sales as royalties to the Buffalo Wild Wings corporation. The company also charges an advertising fee at 3.5% of sales, most of which goes into a centrally managed and nationwide marketing campaign.
The current franchise agreement allows Buffalo Wild to raise these royalty and advertising fees by 0.5% once every three years. Rates were last increased in 2005, and the company has no plans to raise them in 2014.
The investing angle
This is a fantastic franchising operation, ranking among the top 100 Entrepreneur Magazine franchise opportunities for the last five years. Even so, maybe the best way to make money on Buffalo Wild Wings isn't by opening a franchise but by investing in the stock.
You've already seen B-Dub's 10-year stock chart, showing a 786% return on your investment thanks to 1,060% higher earnings. This is a growth story through and through.
Many restaurant chains pay generous dividends in exchange for moderate growth. Buffalo Wild Wings prefers to use that cash for developing more store locations without taking on risky debt.
It may sound a little strange when I say that Buffalo Wild Wings plays it safe, given that it has doubled its store count and increased sales by 150% in the last four years alone. But it's the truth; CEO Sally Smith, who served as CFO before taking the helm in 1996, is bound and determined to grow her business with minimal risk.
Buffalo Wild Wings is serving both investors and potential franchisees with this careful growth approach. The stock has crushed the market for years, the store network keeps expanding, and everyone involved can sleep soundly at night. It's really a rare trick.
Anders Bylund has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Buffalo Wild Wings. The Motley Fool owns shares of Buffalo Wild Wings. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.