Hedge fund Marcato takes Buffalo Wild Wings fight to franchisees

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 06, 2016 9:05 AM

By Svea Herbst-Bayliss

BOSTON (Reuters) - Hedge fund manager Mick McGuire on Tuesday took his fight for change at casual restaurant chain Buffalo Wild Wings directly to franchise owners, saying they could have better access to innovations and grow more if his ideas were applied.

In a letter to the company's franchisees, McGuire encouraged them to keep track of the dialogue between his hedge fund and management through a new public website - www.WinningAtWildWings.com.

Turning more of the eatery's restaurants over to franchisees is a critical component of McGuire's plan for change at Buffalo Wild Wings and instrumental to his forecast that the company's share price could triple if a number of changes are made. The share price, which closed at $170.85 on Monday, has climbed 15 percent since McGuire announced his investment in a public filing in July.

McGuire's San Francisco-based hedge fund, Marcato Capital Management, is Buffalo Wild Wing's fourth largest shareholder with 5.2 percent of the stock. After months of negotiating in private where the fund manager said many of his overtures have been ignored, he is taking a more public stance.

If there is still no progress, the hedge fund could push for board seats and announce a proxy contest early next year.

Besides trying to persuade management to shift its strategy toward a more highly franchised business model, McGuire also has asked for management to overhaul how it allocates capital and has urged it to add people with relevant restaurant and finance experience to its management and board ranks.

"We believe all stakeholders would benefit from seeing the system transition to a 90 percent or higher franchise mix," McGuire wrote in the letter, seen by Reuters. "To achieve this target approximately 600+ company units would be refranchised, inclusive of expected future system growth," the letter said.

This would allow more franchisees to have a say about innovations such as using tablets to order and pay and loyalty programs and give them access to new systems and marketing initiatives, the letter said. Right now the company has "retained many choice 'greenfield' markets" in California, Florida, Texas and Washington, D.C., for itself, the letter said.

McGuire is the latest hedge fund manager to create a public website to chronicle the back and forth with a company after Daniel Loeb and William Ackman also used them.

(Reporting by Svea Herbst-Bayliss; Editing by Bill Trott)