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Columbus design firm helps Buffalo Wild Wings with rebranding strategy

Special to the Legal News

Published: July 24, 2012

When Buffalo Wild Wings decided to reexamine its branding the national restaurant chain, which started with a single restaurant near The Ohio State University campus 30 years ago, turned back to Columbus for guidance.

The chain hired the Columbus office of design consultancy firm FITCH to oversee the project.

The results, after a year and a half of research and development, are a revamped company logo and soon a new look to the interior of its restaurants.

“They wanted to know ‘How can we take it to the next level?’ It’s going to be even more ‘B-Dubs’ than ‘B-Dubs’ is today. They wanted to turbo charge it, take it up a level,” said Christian Davies, executive creative director, Americas, for FITCH, referring to the restaurant’s nickname.

From its humble High Street beginnings the chain has grown to more than 820 restaurants, but Davies said the company didn’t want to rest on its laurels.

“One of the first things we did was ask them, ‘Why do you want to do this?’ They said they wanted to maintain differentiation,” he said.

Indeed, Buffalo Wild Wings, which is headquartered in Minneapolis, has a lot of competition nowadays and company officials said they wanted to continue to find ways to stand out from the rest of the pack, said Davies.

The process started with a meeting among FITCH and Buffalo Wild Wings representatives that took more than four hours.

“They said to us, ‘We’d like you to come in and take the pulse of our restaurants,’” said Davies.

The next step was to collect customer feedback, and not just from forms and surveys. FITCH representatives actually spent several nights visiting Buffalo Wild Wings restaurants with groups of its regular customers.

“We ate a lot of wings,” said Davies. “What we were trying to get to was to take the pulse of the feeling around the brand.”

It didn’t take long for FITCH representatives to discover that Buffalo Wild Wings customers already loved the restaurant.

Davies said that made the project easier since they knew they didn’t have to start from scratch to find ways to make people like the brand. It really was more about just taking it to the next level.

“The feedback was an incredible feeling of love for the brand,” he said. “There was no need for a refresh or change in (marketplace) positioning. ...This is not a complete sea change.”

Once the feedback was collected and analyzed FITCH workers studied every component of the Buffalo Wild Wings dining experience, from the moment a customer walked into the restaurant to how the space unfolded to the decor and media.

Davies said they would look at a design proposal and ask themselves, “Does that feel more Buffalo Wild Wings than before or does it feel less?”

All it takes is one trip to a Buffalo Wild Wings to discover that televised sports is a major focus of the experience and that factor will only be heightened in the new design, he said.

“Buffalo Wild Wings is definitely a destination for big sporting events,” said Davies.

The challenge was to increase business when there wasn’t a big game on TV.

“How do you do that on a Thursday afternoon when there’s no big event?” asked Davies.

The restaurant will use a growing trend within the industry called “day parting,” which means a restaurant can have a different look or feel depending on the time of the day.

“How do you keep the essence of Buffalo Wild Wings and modify it?” asked Davies.

The answer is that part of the new-look for restaurants will include allowing more daylight to shine inside during the afternoon hours.

“The first thing you’d probably notice is the heightened energy level. It’ll be brighter, very warm,” said Davies.

With sports such a focus of the restaurant, he said they want the customer experience to be as close to the feeling of actually being at the game as possible.

Even the new entryway will have a “tunnel experience” similar to when a someone enters a sports stadium.

The focal point of the new look will be a large TV over the bar area that will serve as the primary screen.

If TVs were integral at Buffalo Wild Wings before, they’ll be even more of the center of attention in the redesign, said Davies.

The remodeled restaurants also will have more separation between the bar, the sit-down and the patio areas.

“They’re all different experiences,” said Davies.

Of course with such a focus on sports, the restaurant takes a risk of alienating half of its potential customers — women, a fact FITCH workers certainly were considering.

“I think with this idea you’ll have slightly different experiences at different times of the day,” said Davies. “A mom with two kids can have a fantastic experience. We’ve tried to be quite sensitive to that.”

The remodeling of the restaurants will start in the fall and one of the first will be a location near Cincinnati.

Meanwhile the new logo is similar to the previous logo, but with a tweaked buffalo design, new typeface and “Grill and Bar” has been replaced with “Wings. Beer. Sports.”

Davies said he wasn’t allowed to disclose how many workers at the Columbus office were involved in the project, but added that some employees from the firm’s Phoenix and Minneapolis offices also collaborated on the project.

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