Buffalo Wild Wings Sally Smith shares bizarre history at TU
BY KYLE ARNOLD World Staff Writer
Friday, January 13, 2012
1/13/12 at 4:44 AM
Sally Smith admits that national restaurant and sports bar sensation Buffalo Wild Wings has a bizarre 30-year history, even as recently as 18 years ago when she became chief financial officer.
"When I came on, I met with investment bankers to try to raise money to grow," Smith said. "They would ask for our balance sheet, and (co-founder Scott Lowery) would open his wallet and say, 'We have $27.' "
The company's co-founders, Lowery and James Disbrow, also developed recipes in their tiny apartment kitchen and performed the construction work on franchises themselves.
Smith, president and CEO of the popular sports bar and restaurant, shared the company's story of uneasy beginnings and recent rapid growth Thursday with a crowd at the University of Tulsa Friends of Finance luncheon.
Smith made the trip to town at the behest of Buffalo Wild Wings board member Michael Johnson, a longtime Tulsa businessman and former executive at Williams Cos. Inc.
With the help of Smith's leadership, Minneapolis-based Buffalo Wild Wings has transformed itself from having a small-town bar atmosphere into more than 820 locations, with plans to begin international expansion. But Smith said the growth hasn't always been easy.
She was appointed CEO in 1997 when, she said, the chief executive the company had hired decided not to show up for the first day of work.
While profitable, Buffalo Wild Wings had some cash-flow and other financial problems.
"We looked hard at our company, and in some years we closed as many restaurants as we opened," Smith said.
Buffalo Wild Wings also rebranded itself, from a college town-style sports bar colloquially known as BW-3, for Buffalo Wild Wings & Weck, the company's originally name.
Other changes included an expansive updating of franchise and company locations, complete with higher ceilings, brighter lighting and a more contemporary feel, Smith said.
"The franchises weren't happy (with the remodels) until they saw that sales were much higher at the remodeled locations, something like a 50 percent increase," she said.
Buffalo Wild Wings opened 100 restaurants in 2011, including a third location in Tulsa near 41st Street and Sheridan Road. The company has plans to open another 100 restaurants this year and reach 1,000 total by 2013.
Remaining 2011-2012 Friends of Finance calendar
Feb. 16: Thomas Petrie, vice chairman, Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
March 16: Todd Dobson, executive VP & CFO, MidFirst Bank.
April 17: Jerry Stritzke, president & COO, Coach.
May 16: Peter Kagan, managing director of energy, Warburg Pincus
Original Print Headline: Wing CEO recalls wild ride
Kyle Arnold 918-581-8380
Sally Smith, CEO of Buffalo Wild Wings, speaks at the Friends of Finance luncheon at the University of Tulsa on Thursday. TOM GILBERT /Tulsa World