Canadian wing king cries foul

“Even if this hurts me I’m still going to be here, I’m still happy, I’m still grateful and I still got the prettiest secretary in the world,” …“I invented everything, I did the design, I did the logo, I’ve had no help really from nobody, like nobody,” he said. One flavour, Brown Eyed Girl, is named after his 11 year-old daughter. Three are named after Ms. Barber.

National Post
August 23, 2010

Canadian wing king cries foul
Jameson Berkow

Rick_Smiciklas_Wild_wing-2%281%29.jpeg

Rick Smiciklas, founder of Wild Wing chicken wing chain, says he has no intention of allowing another (wild) wing chain onto his home turf without a fight. National Post

When Sally Smith announced plans to take her U.S. chain of sports bars, Buffalo Wild Wings, north of Buffalo to the Canadian market, she probably never expected Rick Smiciklas to stand so firmly in her way.

He is the founder of Canada’s own Wild Wing restaurant chain and has no intention of allowing another (wild) wing chain onto his home turf without a fight.

“[Buffalo Wild Wings] knew about me when they started this and now they think they’re going to muscle me? The law is against them,” Mr. Smiciklas said in a recent interview, referring to his forthcoming legal challenge of Buffalo Wild Wings’ application for a Canadian trademark.

Over lunch at a North Toronto Wild Wing location, the brash franchisor of mid-market, western-themed wing joints laid out an aggressive strategy to counter the rise of U.S.-based competition. Besides opposing the trademark claim, Mr. Smiciklas preemptively bought the web domain BuffaloWildWing.ca and intends to more than double his stable of about 80 Wild Wing outlets within the next three years.

But he will still face off against the industry’s Goliath.

Buffalo Wild Wings Inc. outlets are generally 6,000 square feet with 300 seats and the firm has a market capitalization of US$700-million. Wild Wing restaurants are each about 2,000 square feet and Mr. Smiciklas says the chain generates about $100-million in system-wide annual sales.

“[Buffalo Wild Wings] is the biggest wing chain in the world, they’re gunning for me and it's like, ‘No problem, you want to go? Let’s go, I’m not scared of you,’” he said.

Ms. Smith told the Financial Post last week that Buffalo Wild Wings, with nearly 700 locations in the United States, was reaching “critical mass” in its home market. Her company’s Canadian expansion would see between 50 and 70 locations open across the country within the next five years, creating about 3,500 Canadian jobs.

Meanwhile, according to a statement released just two days after the Buffalo Wild Wing announcement, the aggressive Wild Wing expansion will add 5,000 jobs to the Canadian economy.

“I could see [Wild Wing] having easily 1,000 stores within 7 or 8 years, like easily,” he said.

Mr. Smiciklas won’t comment on the convenient timing of his company’s expansion plan, other than to say it was Wild Wing’s “coming out party.”

“This is the renaissance of Wild Wing,” said Mr. Smiciklas. “I have a lot of life, a lot of fire in me and this [expansion] is going to be good for everybody,” he said.

Part of the company’s renaissance involves filing a formal statement of opposition to Buffalo Wild Wings’ request for a Canadian trademark. It has until Dec. 14 of this year to do so. The ‘Wild Wing’ brand became a registered Canadian trademark in March 2003, just one month before Buffalo Wild Wing first applied to trademark its brand in Canada. Mr. Smiciklas said more details on the legal challenge will be made available at a press conference to be held next week.

In a statement released by Matt Brokl, associate general counsel for Buffalo Wild Wings Inc., the Minneapolis-based company said they are “confident that we are entitled to use our established brand name in Canada.”

Though according to Lorraine Pinsent, a trademark agent in the Calgary office of Bennett Jones LLP, that confidence may not be well founded.

“From a trademark perspective, Buffalo Wild Wings is too similar to Wild Wings,” said Ms. Pinsent. “I would say that Wild Wing probably has a very good chance of stopping [Buffalo Wild Wings], unless of course they come to an agreement of some sort,” she said.

According to Mr. Smiciklas, the two parties have not sat down to negotiate a settlement and quite possible never will. In the meantime, he is not worried about any potential risks he may be taking by adopting such a hardline approach.

“Even if this hurts me I’m still going to be here, I’m still happy, I’m still grateful and I still got the prettiest secretary in the world,” said Mr. Smiciklas, gesturing to the young blonde that accompanied him to the interview. Her name is Lori Barber and according to the Wild Wing website, she is in charge of human resources.

A man who clearly understands the old business axiom “sex sells,” Mr. Smiciklas is also planning to host a boxing match featuring Canadian Heavyweight Champion Neven Pajkic on Sept. 4 to promote the expansion. The event will also feature the “Ms Wild Wing 2010” bikini competition in which seven girls, each representing different Wild Wing flavours such as “Blue Eyed Blonde” or “Dirty Nelly,” will compete for the title. “We’re bringing the class back to boxing with hot women,” said Mr. Smiciklas.

He expressed great pride in having invented all 107 Wild Wing sauce flavours. “I invented everything, I did the design, I did the logo, I’ve had no help really from nobody, like nobody,” he said. One flavour, Brown Eyed Girl, is named after his 11 year-old daughter. Three are named after Ms. Barber.

When the world’s largest wing chain is coming after him “with both barrels blazing,” as he puts it, Mr. Smiciklas knows how to respond.

“You treat us good, we’ll treat you better,” goes one of many Rick Smiciklas mottoes. “You treat us bad and we’ll treat you worse and [Buffalo Wild Wings] have treated me pretty bad so you know what? Let’s go.”

One of his first moves was to purchase the web domain www.BuffaloWildWing.ca, which links back to the main (Canadian) Wild Wing website. “We just wanted our Buffalo customers to know where to find Wild Wing,” explained a coy Mr. Smiciklas. Purchasing the domain got the American chain’s lawyers “fuming,” according to an email Mr. Smiciklas received from Peter Dillon, his own lawyer, during an interview.

“That is the whole point,” said Mr. Smiciklas. “sex sells, controversy is cash.”

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http://www.financialpost.com/news/Canadian+wing+king+cries+foul/3433448/story.html


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