QSR Magazine Calls SONIC a “Game Changer”

Iconic American drive-in franchise praised for its forward thinking customer experience strategy

SONIC, America’s drive-in franchise, is blazing new trails with a forward-thinking approach to customer service. By blending innovations in technology, savvy consumer marketing and consistent additions to what already is one of the most diverse menus in the QSR segment, SONIC also is winning high praise from the media.

sonic franchise

In a recent article published by QSR magazine titled, “Sonic’s Digital Strategy Could be a Game-Changer,” the publication lavishes praise on the iconic drive-in franchise for ushering in a new era for the QSR food industry.

“Around Sonic Drive-In headquarters, it’s referred to as ICE, or Integrated Customer Engagement,” the publication reports. “And it might just be the most dynamic strategy in the 3,600-unit brand’s history to date.”

One of the key points in the ICE strategy is the recent rollout of SONIC’s new Mobile Order Ahead app, which allows customers to customize their orders, pay-in-advance, choose their pickup location, while significantly reducing the wait-time for their food to be ready to mere minutes:

Sonic views this platform as a game-changer since it allows customers to decide when and where to order in a unique way. Guests use the app to customize, pay, and then select which Drive-In to go and pick up the food, as well as the time. Once guests check into the stalls, Sonic carhops bring the food out.

Another of the key facets to the ICE strategy is in digital media, which QSR reports accounts for 20% of SONIC’s overall marketing spend. In the article, SONIC CEO Cliff Hudson says that the overall goal behind SONIC’s focus on digital media is “probably our biggest priority over the coming months and years with an internal goal to grow our customer database fivefold over the next five years.”

“Our hope and expectation is that our unmatched potential for offering personalization to [quick-service] segment can increase our guest loyalty, drive incremental visits in the near term and increase average check over the long term,” Hudson said in the article.

From the development perspective, SONIC’s increasing brand equity is translating into new restaurants, with QSR reporting that SONIC has more than 500 commitments in the pipeline
for growth.

Learn more about SONIC franchise opportunities

For in-depth details about the SONIC Drive-In franchise opportunity, request a copy of our free franchise report. You also can learn more by visiting our research pages.

 

SONIC Franchise’s Pickle Slush a Summer Hit

SONIC franchise won big on delicious take on a playful
and popular food trend

SONIC, America’s Drive-In franchise, won national media attention for the roll-out of one of the most playful menu items in recent memory: The Pickle Slush.

Americans are wild about pickles, and in recent years, pickles have become trendy for their ability to enhance almost any flavor combination. By elevating them above add-on status, SONIC made pickles the star of their very own slushie drink.

SONIC Customer at Drive-In

“Quite simply, pickle juice is fun,” says Scott Uehlein, vice president of product innovation and development for SONIC. “Nothing says summer like a SONIC slush, and only SONIC could bring a completely on-trend beverage flavor into 3,500 restaurants.”

The Pickle Slush was a bona fide hit with the national media, as dozens of publications from USA TODAY, Time, People, Mashable and more rushed to cover the iconic franchise’s brand new frozen treat. In a recent profile of the Pickle Slush, Food & Wine explained what makes SONIC’s bold summer treat so unique:

“And the drink is exactly what it sounds like: a sweet slush flavored with pickle juice,” Food & Wine reports. “As could be expected, the beverage is bright green — in a way no brine of pickles ever has been — but this is SONIC, so everything should be a little fluorescent and playful.

“We tasted the drink at Sonic’s headquarters in Oklahoma City, and it’s surprisingly delicious (and makes a good accompaniment to burgers and/or tots and/or corn dogs),” the publication continued. “Sweet and tangy, the bright brine compensates for the over-savoriness you might have been worried about. You won’t understand why, but you’ll keep going back for more sips, likely until it’s all gone.”

Menu innovation drives sales and excites customers

SONIC Drive-In

While the Pickle Slush inspired think pieces and rave reviews by news outlets and fans on social media, this playful treat is part of SONIC’s consistent strategy to deliver exciting menu items that drive sales to franchisees and prod the brand’s millions of loyal customers into trying something new.

Recently, SONIC has rolled out a delicious new mushroom-infused burger that is more environmentally conscious without sacrificing the taste that SONIC is known for. SONIC also launched Crispy Tenders, a delicious update on chicken tenders. This continued commitment to updating what already is one of the QSR industry’s most innovative menus is a winning way to deepen the brand’s connection to its fans — and they return the favor. When SONIC rolls out a product, fans rush to YouTube and Facebook to post videos, many of which are viewed thousands of times.

Alongside these delicious menu additions, SONIC is making its customer experience more convenient than ever. In late spring, SONIC launched its revolutionary mobile app, which allows SONIC fans to order from their local franchise restaurant with their phones. SONIC fans can customize their order to their liking, pay for their order and have their food in hand mere minutes after pulling up to the restaurant.

“At the heart of who we are is innovation,” says Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer Lori Abou Habib. “We are constantly looking for new ways to make the experience at SONIC greater and more memorable. The people who work at SONIC are incredibly entrepreneurial and want to make sure we are meeting our consumers’ needs and surprising them.”

Learn more about SONIC franchise opportunities

For in-depth details about the SONIC Drive-In franchise opportunity, request a copy of our free franchise report. You also can learn more by visiting our research pages.

What Makes SONIC a Standout Franchise Opportunity?

SONIC franchise CEO explains that and more in a Q&A

Cliff Hudson has served as CEO of SONIC for 23 years. In that time, SONIC has evolved from a hyper-regional brand to one of the most dominant brands in the QSR industry. Under Hudson’s leadership, SONIC pioneered a winning five-daypart menu strategy and won millions of loyal fans by offering wildly innovative products and appealing to them with humor in the enormously popular “Two Guys”, and the new “Two Girls” marketing campaigns. SONIC has grown to more than 3,500 locations across the country, and the brand is only getting started.

Cliff Hudson

In this wide-ranging Q&A, Hudson maps out why SONIC’s future is brighter than ever before and how SONIC collaborates with franchisees. He unpacks future growth plans, new products and the revolutionary new mobile app that is poised to change the way customers interact with SONIC forever.

How is SONIC enhancing the customer experience today?

Hudson: One of the big things that will enhance our customer experience is our growing integration of technology. We’ve had our first market test of what we call Integrated Customer Engagement. It includes a customer’s ability to order ahead using an app, pay ahead and pull into a stall. Because the food will have been prepared before the customer gets there, it is delivered to the customer’s car in less two minutes — now the customer can be first in line every time. The customer has the ability to completely personalize and customize their order on the app, so we’re enhancing the customer experience with 21st-century tools. We’re taking the strength of what we’ve had historically, and we’re stepping it up.

Why does SONIC stand out as a franchise opportunity?

Hudson: We are a national brand with a super-regional footprint. There’s still territory for which a new franchisee can purchase development rights. That territory will have had years of national marketing, so when a franchisee opens his first store, he already will have a high degree of brand awareness. There are many markets where that is true, and that is a real advantage for a new franchisee. In addition, we have something that is rare in the franchise industry, which is an ascending royalty rate. This means that we share some of the risk with the franchisees — if their sales are lower when they open, their royalty rate will be lower as well. As their sales climb, their royalty rate will climb. They get the benefit of a national brand, even going into new markets, and the benefit of us running the risk with them in new markets.

What does SONIC look like in the next five years?

Hudson: We are approaching 4,000 units and will be on a new plateau of national brands in the next 5 to 7 years. It makes us a better risk for a new franchisee opening in a new market. There are about five states where we do not have a presence, although in the near term, we will open our first store in Hawaii. Then we will focus on other states where we have no presence. In the next five years, we will continue to focus on domestic expansion and increase our brand awareness and customer loyalty.

One of the unique things about SONIC is the culture of collaboration between the franchisor and the franchisee network. How do you continue to deliver on this goal?

Hudson: One of the things that we’ve worked on really hard is to promote a culture of collaboration. We’ve worked hard to engage our franchisees in planning regarding technology, new products and marketing programs. The franchisees are involved in the development and testing of those long in advance. As a franchisor, we go a great distance in achieving alignment with our operators because they’re so involved in the process. We’ve all achieved a great deal of success together — and success begets further success. Even in times when things are more challenging, we’ve done a good job of keeping our operators on board by keeping them involved in the process.

There is the opportunity to have fun! Our brand lends itself — with products and customer experience — to having fun. We spend a lot more time at work than we do in any other aspect of our lives, so it’s important to enjoy the people you work with and the time you share together.

How does SONIC’s five-day part strategy help franchisees generate sales throughout the day?

Hudson: About 20 years ago, we started developing beyond the traditional lunch and dinner business — which all of our competition still relies on — when we introduced our Frozen  Fountain Favorites in 1996. This really blew out the afternoon and evening business. Four or five years later, we implemented breakfast, and that rounded out the five dayparts — Breakfast, Lunch, Afternoon, Dinner and Evening, or B.L.A.D.E., as we say. This has helped our franchisees leverage labor throughout the day. Rather than having a small lunch staff and a big dinner staff, our operators get to leverage their staffs all day.

If you look at most of the sandwich concepts, 75% to 80% of their business comes from lunch and dinner, whereas about half of our business comes at lunch and dinner, and half comes from breakfast, afternoon and evening. SONIC offers a very differentiated business strategy that allows you to leverage fixed assets and labor in a way the competition does not.

Learn more about SONIC franchise opportunities

For in-depth details about the SONIC Drive-In franchise opportunity, request a copy of our free franchise report. You also can learn more by visiting our research pages.

New President of SONIC Drive-In Opens Up: a Q&A with Claudia San Pedro

Iconic drive-in franchise president explains what makes SONIC a unique, forward-thinking investment opportunity

Claudia San Pedro was promoted to president of SONIC® in February 2018, and after more than 12 years in high-profile positions with the iconic drive-in franchise, San Pedro is uniquely qualified to help lead the growing brand into the future.

In her new role, San Pedro will be primarily responsible for franchisee relationships, managing the supply chain, leading franchise development efforts and business planning. San Pedro’s ascension to president comes as SONIC is emerging as the rare brand that can leverage a 65-year history as a nostalgic, American drive-in franchise into being one of the most forward-thinking franchise systems in the industry.

In the interview below, San Pedro opens up in a wide-ranging conversation about what makes SONIC unique, how SONIC values its franchisees and why SONIC is a brand with a bright future.

What makes SONIC unique in the competitive QSR market?

San Pedro: The restaurant industry is incredibly competitive, and it’s so important to be able to differentiate yourself. One of the reasons I love the SONIC brand is that we’re differentiated on multiple levels. Physically, we’re a drive-in concept — which is more relevant than ever, given technology and how consumers want to access their food. With our concept, the customer controls the process. They decide when they want to order and how they want their food and drinks. Our customers can order anything on our menu any way they want it. Customization is built into our brand’s DNA. We have one of the most distinctive menus in the industry featuring unique sides like hand breaded onion rings, mozzarella sticks and tater tots, hamburgers, chicken sandwiches and six-inch premium hot dogs in addition to our real fruit drinks and slushes. Finally, we are differentiated in terms of our service model, which is our personalized carhop. In this day and age, having that personalized carhop experience is a nice way to build relationships with our customers

Why is SONIC so popular with consumers?

San Pedro: We’re not just serving food; we’re creating memories. We can make a bad day go well with good food and drinks. That’s important to us. It’s not food as a survival piece — SONIC is nourishment for the soul. When you come to SONIC, it’s a great way to spend time with your friends and family.

SONIC Drive-In FranchiseSONIC is well-known for its inclusive culture between its franchisees and the executive team. Why is this relationship vital to the success of the SONIC brand?

San Pedro: One of our core values is relationships as a way of life. That is important to us because the franchisor/franchisee partnership is critical to the success of the brand. One of the ways that we really work to live our values is in making sure our franchisees are involved from day one in providing input into any major aspect of our business. Whether it’s a marketing initiative, a development initiative, a technology initiative, or product innovation, our Franchisee Advisory Council is with us from the beginning. They work with us to ideate and test the initiative until we ultimately launch system-wide implementation. We understand that if it weren’t for our franchisees we wouldn’t be successful, so garnering their input and having good discussion and debate about how to move the brand forward is the best way we can all ensure success for the future.

While other brands struggle to recruit younger and more diverse buyers, SONIC is one of the industry’s leading brands in this regard. Why?

San Pedro: Small businesses are the backbone of the American economy. Many small businesses begin with one idea that is generated by an independent entrepreneur. What’s wonderful about the franchise business model is that it facilitates that dream. If you look at where we’re able to shine, it’s not only providing opportunities for entrepreneurs whose families may have been here for hundreds of years, and it’s about providing opportunities for new immigrants or second-generation immigrants who want to grow their business. Franchising is an excellent way to start small, and over time, build a large business.

What is special about the culture of SONIC?

San Pedro: The important part of our culture is that you take yourself seriously enough to run a good business, focusing on growing sales and profits. At the same time, you spend a lot of time with the people you work with, and you need to have a good time. We’re only on this earth for a short amount of time, so we really strive to take ourselves seriously when we need to, and we also want to have fun and meet great people along the way.

What is exciting about the future of SONIC?

San Pedro: If you look at the heritage of the brand, we’re more than 60 years old. Many people think of us as a nostalgic, drive-in brand, but the reality is that we’re all about the future. If you had to build a new concept today that could leverage technology in the most relevant, meaningful way to the consumer, providing personalized food and drinks, the ability to order ahead to reduce the friction of waiting in a drive-thru line or having to get out of your car to go indoors, you would build a drive-in model. What’s perfect about it for us is that our heritage is based on doing it the way the consumer wants. So if you want an onion ring on your hamburger, that comes completely naturally to us because that is a part of our brand DNA. Consumers now more than ever want to be able to have as many choices as they can. If you think about the future and how we need to leverage technology to drive a much better customer service experience, we are uniquely suited to deliver on that proposition.

What is the future of SONIC’s franchise development?

San Pedro: We have franchisees who have been a part of our system for 20 and 30 years, and we also have franchisees who have just joined our system. They may start off with 10 drive-ins, and have goals of owning 200 drive-ins over the next 10 years. We have a wonderful balance of new franchisees coming into the system, where SONIC is their first foray into the restaurant industry, as well as franchisees who own multiple other concepts and have significant experience in the restaurant industry.

When you think about SONIC, there are very few brands that garner the brand awareness that we do and have the marketing power that we do, while also having so much green space available to be built upon.

Learn more about SONIC franchise opportunities

For in-depth details about the SONIC Drive-In franchise opportunity, request a copy of our free franchise report. You can also learn more by visiting our research pages.

SONIC Drive-In CEO Named to Nation’s Restaurant News’ Power List

Iconic SONIC franchise CEO is highlighted on prestigious annual list of Top 50 most influential people in foodservice

Nation’s Restaurant News (NRN) has named SONIC® CEO Cliff Hudson to The Power List 2018, its prestigious annual list of the 50 most influential people in foodservice.

Billed as “the definitive list of industry leaders who are not only setting trends today, but also shaping them for tomorrow,” the leading restaurant industry publication made a fine choice by selecting our CEO.

NRN describes Hudson as  “The Menu Innovator,” and the publication praised his exemplary track record leading the iconic SONIC brand as chief executive officer since 1995.

“J. Clifford Hudson has led Oklahoma City-based quick-service chain SONIC Drive-In as its CEO for the past 22 years,” NRN  reports. “During that time SONIC has grown to more than 3,500 units and led the way in soft-drink innovation — a customization play that Hudson cites as a factor in drawing a disproportionate number of millennial customers. SONIC also has carried out culinary innovations during Hudson’s tenure, including the introduction of hot dogs. Last year, SONIC took a bold move by testing a premium “blended burger,” made with 25 percent to 30 percent mushrooms blended with ground beef.”

The magazine correctly points out that Hudson is known for, “expanding the long-standing quick-service burger chain and bringing it into the 21st century,” and his inclusive and collaborative approach is one of the key reasons why our brand is rapidly growing across the country.

“Hudson has quietly created a leadership team that is unusually diverse for the industry, with most of his senior officials either women or ethnic minorities,” NRN reports. “SONIC is also testing order ahead.”

We encourage you to click here to read the full article on why Hudson has been recognized as one of this year’s most influential people in the foodservice industry.

SONIC is America’s Drive-In®, serving more than 3 million customers a day at more than 3,500 locations nationwide. An iconic brand with a rich heritage encompassing more than 60 years, SONIC believes in excellent customer service and developing core relationships with customers in the communities where our franchise owners operate. We are in the middle of a major nationwide expansion and joining SONIC now makes more sense than ever.

Learn more about SONIC Drive-In franchise opportunities

For in-depth details about SONIC Drive-In franchise opportunities, request a copy of our free franchise report. You can also learn more by visiting our research pages.

SONIC Drive-In Ranks #6 on Entrepreneur’s Franchise 500

Iconic SONIC franchise moves up 33 spots to the top 10 on the franchise industry’s most prestigious list

Entrepreneur magazine, a leading business publication, recently unveiled its annual and prestigious Franchise 500 list, and we’re pleased to announce SONIC® ranked #6. This news is especially meaningful considering that SONIC jumped 33 spots from last year’s ranking.

With more than 4,000 franchise systems in the U.S., earning a spot in the prestigious top 10 of the most popular franchise ranking list is a major accomplishment. The Franchise 500 list is widely used by entrepreneurs to select top-performing franchise opportunities and the competition for ranking is fierce, with 80 percent of franchise brands failing to make the list.

What explains our tremendous climb on the 2018 Franchise 500?

Widely regarded as the franchise industry’s preeminent list for entrepreneurs who are seeking a best-bet investment, Entrepreneur rigidly compared more than 1,000 franchise systems to determine their ranking. When we consider that Entrepreneur measured the growth potential of a brand, the level of franchise support provided to franchisees, brand equity and a myriad of other factors, it is no small wonder why SONIC enjoys such a high position on this year’s list.

“We’re tremendously pleased with our high ranking on this year’s Franchise 500,” says Claudia San Pedro, President of SONIC. “This is an incredible time to be a part of SONIC, as our continued investments in new technology, new indoor dining models, menu innovation and our ongoing national advertising campaign positions us for another year of growth. As a franchisor, we work hard to ensure that our franchisees have the tools and resources needed to be successful, and we’re going to continue to find ways to deliver for our franchisees in 2018 and beyond.”

What makes SONIC a Best-Bet Investment in 2018?

SONIC is in the midst of an aggressive expansion that is bolstered by the resounding success of our wildly popular “Two Guys” marketing campaign. The enormous brand equity SONIC enjoys across the country makes it easy for entrepreneurs to bring America’s Drive-In to new communities, where large populations are already craving our delicious and memorable food. In the markets where SONIC is already established, the ease of our business model and the demand for our innovative menu makes scaling up to multiple locations a wise investment for many in our franchise system.

sonic franchise - two guys

Unlike other QSR brands, SONIC franchisees benefit from our five daypart strategy of breakfast, lunch, afternoon, dinner and evening, as well as a robust and innovative menu that offers customization and choice. Recently, SONIC invested in a new mobile app that is encouraging our customers to connect with us in new ways, such as mobile-ordering and payments.

SONIC is America’s Drive-In®, serving more than 3 million customers a day at more than 3,500 locations nationwide. An iconic brand with a rich heritage encompassing more than 65 years, SONIC believes in excellent customer service and developing core relationships with customers in the communities where our franchise owners operate. We are in the middle of a major nationwide expansion and joining SONIC now makes more sense than ever.

Learn more about SONIC franchise Opportunities

For in-depth details about the SONIC Drive-In franchise opportunity, request a copy of our free franchise report. You can also learn more by visiting our research pages.

SONIC’s New App Revolutionizes Drive-In Experience

The new SONIC app is quickly growing in popularity

SONIC® is the forward-thinking QSR franchise leveraging new technology to improve the customer experience. The latest advancement is an easy-to-use app.

Since launching on the App Store and Google Play, the app is quickly growing in popularity while empowering the customer in a new way.

Whether brand new to SONIC or a longtime and loyal customer, the app is making the drive-in experience more convenient than ever before. It’s menu perfectly mirrors the look and feel of SONIC’s iconic drive-thru menu screens in a fun and interactive way. The app also has key features which are personalizing the SONIC experience for customers who are:

● Finding the closest SONIC Drive-In locations and hours in their area.
● Browsing the menu and checking out nutritional information.
● Conveniently paying for orders through the app.
● Sending and receiving gift cards in exciting new designs to friends and family.
● Loading and reloading their MySONIC cards.
● Receiving monthly rewards.
● Viewing new promotions and specials on the app’s menu screen.

“In cooperation with our franchise owners, we’ve made significant technology investments to connect with our customers in a more personalized, individualized way,” says Doug Cook, Chief Enterprise Architect. “Our new app helps make SONIC far more competitive as a brand. Having built the app and supporting digital platform from scratch, we are well positioned to rapidly create new business capabilities and interactions with our customers. This app places us amongst the most innovative brands in the QSR segment, and it will increase our ability to win market share in the communities we serve.”

SONIC, an iconic brand with a rich heritage encompassing more than 60 years, believes in excellent customer service and developing meaningful relationships with our customers. The new app is building upon those relationships by enhancing SONIC’s ability to connect directly to customers.

In the near future, the app will track critical customer data, such as details about order preferences and the dollars spent. This useful information is incredibly advantageous for a growing brand to have, as SONIC’s strong marketing initiative can be tailored much more closely to the individual consumer.

“My view is we are going to provide a different experience for the customer versus our competition trying to use the same tool,” says Cliff Hudson, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of SONIC Corp. in a recent interview with Nation’s Restaurant News. “We will provide a different experience, more personalized experience and we will get more information about them to able to be market to them in a way our QSR competition will have a difficult time matching.”

Learn more about SONIC franchise opportunities

For in-depth details about the SONIC Drive-In franchise opportunity, download our free franchise report. You can also learn more by visiting our research pages.