A Veteran SONIC Franchise Owner Shares His Success Story
One of the most successful franchisees with SONIC, America’s Drive-In®, Ted Kergan has spent 40 years growing his franchise group to 59 locations that span Central and Southern Louisiana — and if you ask him, it almost didn’t happen.
“I was 25 years old, and I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur — I just didn’t know how,’” Kergan said, laughing. “I went to college for a couple of days but that didn’t really stick. I lived all over the country looking for the right opportunity. In 1977, I heard about some friends who had moved to Louisiana and got into SONIC. My brother got into the business with them and he spent six months trying to convince me to come down and join them. I thought, ‘Do I really want to flip burgers? I don’t think so!’ But when my brother started sending me copies of his dividend checks I thought, ‘I’d better go down there and check this out.’”
Eight days after Kergan became an unpaid trainee, sleeping on friends’ couches while he learned the business, he became a manager. Over the next year, he mastered the business to such an extent that when the franchise group was ready to sell their SONIC locations, he felt confident that he was ready for business ownership.
“It could never happen today, the way it happened for me,” Kergan said. “But it really changed the course of my life, and I’m extremely grateful to have had the opportunity.”
Kergan immediately set his sights on growing his business and scaling up to multi-unit ownership, a goal that continues to this day. He recently inked a deal to open a new SONIC location in New Orleans and is ready to celebrate the grand opening of a new restaurant in Baton Rouge. While SONIC is now one of the most recognizable brands in the QSR market, with more than 3,600 locations open across the country, Kergan remembers growing his business when the brand was still relatively unknown.
“When people tell me, ‘Hey, old timer, you got into the business at the right time, I say, ‘Are you kidding me?’” Kergan said. “In the 1970s and 1980s, SONIC was far from the iconic brand it is today. It took a lot of effort to build an audience and become a part of the communities we serve. In the 1990s, under the direction of Cliff Hudson [former CEO of SONIC], SONIC really became the brand we know today. It became a brand that’s synonymous with fun. It became a true franchise system with world class support. It became iconic.”
One of the reasons Kergan has been able to achieve such rapid growth is because SONIC restaurants do well in almost any market, large or small, urban or rural. In Louisiana, Kergan has locations in every type of market imaginable.
“We’re in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Lake Charles, Lafayette and in mid-sized markets as well as small towns,” he said. “There’s not really a difference in performance. We do well anywhere. The secret to this is getting the right location, and that is a kind of art form. We’re very careful about running demographics and making sure a market can support a SONIC restaurant over the long term. The truth is, of course, that there’s such an acceptance of SONIC, and so many people really love this brand, that we’re always looking for new places to expand.”
The other reason why Kergan says he is able to grow is because SONIC provides an atmosphere that encourages people to have fun and has an innovative menu of food that allows people to enjoy themselves.
“I eat SONIC every day, and I work out four days a week as a result,” he said, laughing. “SONIC is a reward for a lot of people, it’s a place where people can let loose and have fun. I cannot express to you how important it is that when people think of SONIC, they think of having fun. That’s something that other brands don’t give you.”
Because Kergan got his life-changing start in business through an act of generosity, he has always believed in paying it forward. In April, Kergan took his entire staff of 300 employees and their families on a vacation cruise.
“I operate on the Troy Smith [founder of SONIC] principle of helping men and women become entrepreneurial,” he said. “I was lucky to know Troy, and I share his belief that all managers should be equity partners, and that you need to provide opportunities to good people. My team is amazing. I always say that between me and my team, we have 1,000 years of SONIC experience.”
Kergan serves as the President of SONIC’s Franchisee Advisory Council, where he works with other franchisees and SONIC’s corporate leadership on new initiatives and building for the future. This is a role he relishes, as it gives him the opportunity to be a voice for SONIC franchisees, connect with other owners and ensure that the brand continues to thrive.
“If someone asked me to start a franchisee advisory council for their franchise system, I would tell them to copy SONIC’s,” Kergan said. “SONIC really cares about its franchisees and wants to give them a voice within the brand. The leadership is outstanding, and they are really there to help. Joining SONIC doesn’t mean you’re in business alone. You have corporate support, but you also have the support of hundreds of franchisees. How do you know we will help you? Because someone helped us. We pay it forward.”