Wingstop Wings

Wingstop is one of the fastest-growing chains in the nation. Credit: Wingstop Restaurants,

Watch out, Buffalo Wild Wings (NASDAQ:BWLD) investors, because soon there could be another publicly traded wing establishment hitting the market.

According to a recent Wall Street Journal report, Richardson, Texas-based Wingstop has been chatting with underwriting banks about potentially pursuing an initial public offering. Sources familiar with the situation say Wingstop's IPO could raise up to $100 million, and value the more than 670-location chain at roughly $500 million.

For perspective, when Buffalo Wild Wings went public with 220 locations in late-2003, it raised around $51 million, with a market capitalization of just $167 million. The previous year, Buffalo Wild Wings had generated net income of just $3 million on $96 million in sales. Today, B-Dubs is a $2.8 billion, 1,040+ restaurant business, which grew revenue last quarter by 18.3% to $373.5 million. That translated to 21.7% growth in quarterly net earnings to $21.8 million.

The "McDonald's of the wing industry"
So how does Wingstop stack up? First, it was recently ranked by QSR magazine as one of the top five fastest-growing restaurant chains in the nation. In fact, following its most recent quarterly results, Wingstop noted that it had opened a company-record 19 new locations during the month of June alone. 

That also means Wingstop would be starting its tenure as a publicly traded company from a significantly larger base than B-Dubs investors enjoyed. What's more, note that for the first six months of 2014, Wingstop had already signed development agreements for 138 new restaurants, putting it well on its way to achieving its stated goal of 1,000 locations by 2017. For perspective, Buffalo Wild Wings wants to grow to 1,700 locations in North America over the next ten years.   

But there's one key difference between the two chains: While B-Dubs is primarily a sit-down, casual dining specialist, Wingstop is first and foremost a fast-casual/quick-service concept.

To be sure, for Buffalo Wild Wings, it's all about creating the ultimate dining experience and keeping consumers in their chairs spending money as long as possible. To do so, B-Dubs employs strategies including everything from tabletop tablets to stadium-style seating, Guest Experience Captains, scores of TVs and, of course, an enticing variety of beer, wings, and sports.

By contrast, back in 2012 Wingstop executive chairman Jim Flynn better outlined their opportunity by stating, "I want to say we're going to be the McDonald's of the wing industry, and basically, we are at this point. Because there's nobody else this big." That said, Wingstop does operate a small number of "Wingstop Sports" test concepts, but the vast majority of its locations focus solely on dishing out delicious wings. 

Here's what drives Wingstop's growth
At the same time, this also means Wingstop relies overwhelmingly on a lower-margin franchise business model. At the end of last year, 95% of all Wingstop locations were owned by franchisees, compared to around 56% for Buffalo Wild Wings. Given its fast-casual focus, it's also no surprise carryout orders represent more than 70% of Wingstop's business. Within that, alcohol only generates around 2% of total Wingstop sales, compared to the 20% share of total revenue alcohol generates for Buffalo Wild Wings.

For that reason, Flynn insists they don't consider Buffalo Wild Wings a direct competitor. But given the option, one can't help but wonder whether any meaningful number of consumers might opt to grab their wings from Wingstop to watch the game at home rather than trek out to their local Buffalo Wild Wings.

If one thing is sure, it's that WingStop's approach is effective. Its website boasts over 10 consecutive years of comparable-store sales growth, most recently capped by an impressive 15.3% increase in comps for the quarter ending June 30, 2014. Wingstop also achieves high average annual unit volumes of around $974,000 -- not too shabby considering diners' outsized carryout preference enables relatively small restaurant footprints of between 1,350 and 1,800 square feet.

All things considered, if Wingstop does choose to pursue a new life as a publicly traded company, its stock could prove even more enticing than its tantalizing menu.

Steve Symington owns shares of Buffalo Wild Wings. The Motley Fool recommends Buffalo Wild Wings and McDonald's. The Motley Fool owns shares of Buffalo Wild Wings. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.