An interview with a successful multi-unit owner on why he’s investing in the future
Multi-unit franchisee Grey Simpson’s successful SONIC® career spans more than two decades, and he is just as excited about our iconic brand’s momentum today as he was when he opened his first location in 1993. With seven locations in his portfolio in the greater Charleston area, he is excited about his plans to develop five more SONIC Drive-Ins over the next three years.
“Today when you open a store in almost any market they know what SONIC is. SONIC has done a lot of work to have that pent-up demand and we’ve benefitted from that, allowing us to grow from one store to seven stores and soon to be 12 stores – and then who knows? It’s provided me and my family with a fantastic life and it’s allowed us some freedom. It’s still hard work, but I think any job worth it’s while is hard work,” Grey says.
Whether he’s working one-on-one with his team members behind the counter or interacting with the local PTA, he’s fully immersed in SONIC. The past five years have been pivotal for Grey, who hired a CFO in 2012 to grow his successful portfolio of restaurants. By 2013, SONIC’s Two Guys advertising campaign had rolled out nationwide, and in 2015 Grey saw the momentum building for SONIC and decided to pursue five more stores.
Grey is as committed to his employees as he is to growing the SONIC brand. He enjoys visiting locations and interacting with the men and women who make his SONIC Drive-Ins a popular community destination.
“Seeing them become successful within these restaurants has been the most rewarding part for me,” Grey says. “It’s definitely my favorite part of being a SONIC franchisee, the getting involved in these kids’ or young adults’ lives. It’s fun and it’s rewarding helping them move up the ladder and make a good living.”
His wife, Shelby, believes his commitment to his employees makes a huge difference and serves as a great example for their two children. “He genuinely cares about his employees and asks about them and tries to help them if they need help,” Shelby says. “They want to work for him and do well for him, and they don’t want to disappoint him because they care about him just as much as he cares about them.”
Grey recently shared his thoughts on his longtime career with SONIC and how the SONIC Drive-In brand continues to innovate and build brand awareness.
What sets SONIC apart from other QSR concepts in the industry?
We’ve always had something over other big players in the QSR business, and that is our one-on-one relationship with each customer. We deliver their food to their car, and we have the ability to check back with them like a full-service restaurant. Now with the 20/20 Vision strategy being put in place, the ability to interact with our customers through smartphone technology and digital platforms is really attractive and exciting for the brand.
What would you tell someone interested in becoming a SONIC franchisee?
The customer loyalty to SONIC is really high. I also like the ease at which you can work with SONIC on the corporate level and the level of franchise support they offer. They are very hands-on and very hands-off at the same time. They are very willing to help when they can.
How does our advertising strategy benefit franchisees?
Today when you open a store in almost any market, they know what SONIC is. SONIC has done a lot of work to build that demand, and we as franchisees have benefitted from that. It’s allowed me to grow from one store to seven stores and soon to be 12 stores – and then who knows? My career with SONIC has provided me and my family with a fantastic life, and it’s allowed us some freedom. It’s still hard work, but I think any job worth its while is hard work.
How does the SONIC’s strong daypart strategy maximize profitability?
Because of the five-part BLADE strategy that SONIC has developed, we do a better job than anyone else of exploiting the “off” dayparts — with our afternoon drink happy hours and the late-night business. SONIC has really gone after that business. It also makes our restaurants easier to staff because you do have business across all dayparts without any downtime. SONIC has also done a great job of adding variety to the menu, such as a lot of limited-time offers that have really been successful.
How do you stay connected to the local community?
We do a lot of fundraising, with our biggest efforts being local school Share Nights. We get involved with the local PTAs; there is actually a waiting list because our fundraising efforts have worked so well. School PTAs will come to one of our locations, and they work as our servers and carhops for the night. They promote the event and announce it, and they get a portion of sales for the evening — as well as 100 percent of the tips.
What do you enjoy about work every day?
It’s the people that I work with. I get most excited about improving the lives of people I work with and giving them an opportunity to be successful — because honestly in the industry we are in, it’s kind of a different crowd of folks. I like seeing kids that really just come out to work a part-time job, and they really get addicted to it and love it. The next thing you know, they are a unit manager and a partner with me and making a good living. I like the fast pace of it, and I like being able to make changes that can affect you pretty quickly.
What do you order when you visit one of your seven SONIC locations?
I still eat the SONIC brand favorites — a plain double cheeseburger with a milkshake every now and then. Those are my go-tos.