≡ Menu

Management Lessons From Buffalo Wild Wing’s Sally Smith

Buffalo Wild Wings is said to be soaring and blazing, as its stock continues to fly high. The chain’s profits rocketed by 34% on the fourth quarter of 2011, exceeding industry analysts’ expectations; and its net income has now grown from just more than $10 million two years ago to $13.6 million last year.

The person who has driven the chain to success, as we all know, is its CEO and president, Sally Smith. Sally Smith was the chief finance officer in 1996 when the chain’s newly assigned chief executive did not show up on his scheduled first day. The board members gathered together after that, and later told Smith that she got the post. She says she doesn’t remember saying yes to the offer—it was just presumed that she would take up the job as CEO.

So she organized the books, shook up the supply chain, revamped the departments, diversified the customer base, removed “Weck” from the company name, and in 2003, made the company public.

Now, as it continues to focus on beer, wings and sports, Buffalo Wild Wings has since expanded to 750 restaurants. They have now opened some stores in Canada and have plans to spread out further in London. Truly the brand has ably withstood the U.S. recession.

“When I first got here, our restaurants were actually college bars. I found nothing wrong with that, but I did realize that there’s a small chance of raising money in that,” said Smith. “So we started bringing food to the tables, fixed our ceilings and windows and made it higher. We broadened the scope of our menus, modified our logo and improved our restaurant marketing collaterals, including menus and check presenters.”

When asked how she keeps Buffalo Wild Wings’ known culture of fun and high-energy despite its subsequent growth, she answered, “We provide our employees with career mobility. We spend time communicating with our restaurant management teams, concentrating our efforts on helping our servers reach their full potential and do the best that they can. One good way to do this is finding out what is the most important thing that matters to each of our employees. I once observed one of our waitstaff, she worked daily from 9am to 2pm. The schedule was perfect since she had children who come out of school later in the day.”

Smith can tell that the employee loves what she’s doing–she spends good time getting to know her lunch guests while they’re waiting for their bill placed in the restaurant’s elegant check presenters.

She was asked also about the qualities she looks for in applicants, and she said, “I need them to be passionate about something—it could be sports or it could be reading. Before I became CEO, I once stayed at one of the chains’ offices temporarily, and I noticed that the garbage was getting fuller by the day. So I went to my friend and asked where the cleaning service is, they’re supposed to clean out the trash. And I was surprised when my friend said, ‘I don’t think they’re coming at all—we take the garbage out ourselves.’ So I always think of that when I hire people—will they be willing to take the trash out? Will they help and chip in?”

Although much of the chain’s victory over its competitors is attributed to her, Smith is quick to say that her success was brought about by her team, citing solid teamwork as one of the reasons why they made it.

Company rebranding, remodeling and revamp; passion, full potential, communication, teamwork and willingness to chip in –these are Smith’s buzz words for restaurateurs who want to turn the tables in their restaurants. If they heed the advice, pretty soon they’ll also be soaring and flying high in sales and profits, much like what happened to Buffalo Wild Wings.