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SONIC Franchise Review: Q&A with Lori Osley

Senior Director of Franchise Sales opens up about what makes SONIC a great opportunity

SONIC, America’s Drive-In®, is one of the fastest-growing brands in the nation. With more than 3,500 locations open from coast to coast, SONIC has millions of fans, extraordinary brand recognition and a tremendous legacy of community involvement, technological innovation and staying far ahead of the latest and greatest trends.

SONIC also is one of the most highly regarded brands in the entire franchise industry. Entrepreneur magazine ranked SONIC as the No. 3 franchise opportunity on their prestigious annual “Franchise 500,” list for 2019, and it’s easy to see why. SONIC offers a proven business model, exceptional support, one of the most beloved menus in the QSR industry and a 60-year legacy of helping entrepreneurs thrive and prosper. In 2019, SONIC is stronger than ever before. The brand launched new restaurant models, expanded into new markets, and continues to help franchise owners drive revenue with the advent of state-of-the-art technology and constant innovation.

Since 2006, Lori Osley has been at the forefront of SONIC’s rapid growth. In her role as Senior Director of Franchise Sales, Osley is responsible for welcoming the best entrepreneurs into the SONIC franchise family. As part of the SONIC leadership team, you will not find a person more passionate about how the SONIC opportunity can change lives, make communities stronger, and provide a brighter future for entrepreneurs than Osley.

What is it about SONIC that makes it stand out as an exceptional franchise opportunity?

Osley: Well, first of all, it’s our history. We’ve been around for 65 years, with a proven history in this space. We’ve continued to innovate the brand, and are very differentiated in the QSR space. When you come to SONIC, you’re going to get a much more unique experience than you would get at one of our competitors. If you want a burger, you can have a burger. If you want a hot dog, you can have a hot dog. If you want one of our million-plus drink combinations, ice cream and more, we have something for everybody in the car, and every age group.

What is it about the guest experience that makes SONIC unique?

Osley: The guest gets to control how they use the brand. If they want to go through the drive-thru, they have that option. If they want to sit on one of our patios and enjoy some ice cream and drinks outside, they have that option. We now have inside seating in many of our markets across the country, especially in cold climates. I get asked a lot about if SONIC would work in cold weather climates, and the inside seating addresses that. We have a model for every market.

Another big change is that many folks are using our mobile order-ahead app. They order from the comfort of their homes, they drive up to a stall, pick up their food and leave.

How would you describe the future of Sonic? Where do you see this brand going?

Osley: I’ve been with the brand since 2006 and I’m still just as excited about SONIC as I was the day I walked in. I see SONIC evolving as a brand, and we’re evolving based on what the customer wants. From a franchisee’s standpoint, one of the best things about my job is that I get to meet future entrepreneurs. I love seeing their passion for the brand. When I look for a franchisee, I look for somebody who is passionate about my brand first. Of course, they’ve got to have some relevant experience, and they have to have the financial ability. But for me, it’s really about finding that person that connects with my brand. I like to say, “I don’t sell this brand. I’m here to give you the information that you need to be successful so you can make an informed decision.”

You were recently purchased by Inspire; how has that transaction been going and what does it mean for future franchisee’s?

Osley: The transaction has been very smooth for our existing franchisees thus far and I am very excited about the combined synergies of the brands under the Inspire portfolio (i.e Arby’s, Buffalo Wild Wings, Rusty Taco).  We are now part of the 5th largest restaurant brand with the combined purchasing power of over 8000 restaurants. Becoming a franchisee of Inspire will allow you to grow your brand portfolio across multiple concepts; that’s exciting for us and for their future.

What do you think makes SONIC relevant to new markets? Why is SONIC a growth brand from coast to coast?

Osley: I personally like to think that weather is not relevant to our brand, because I think our brand works everywhere. It’s about the food, isn’t it? The food is what brings people to SONIC. The fact that we’re constantly innovating. Last summer, we did the Pickle Juice Slush. Think of all the new folks we got to come to SONIC just to experience it. We had cake-batter shakes this summer and mocktail slushes. We have the BBLT out there right now, with double the bacon. We keep innovating to keep our guests excited and coming back.

How is SONIC able to become a part of the communities it serves?

Osley: That’s originally how we started as a brand. We started in a lot of small communities, and we became part of them. Many of our franchisees were local; I think whatever business you’re in, being able to be part of the community is tremendously important.

We have a program called Limeades for Learning, which is there to help teachers get funding for special projects and school supplies. We are very much about education as a brand. With these national programs that we have, we try to set the stage for our franchisees and for our guests to feel like they’re a part of something bigger.

Why is SONIC a great franchise to invest in?

Osley:  I think when you look at a brand and you’re trying to decide if the opportunity is right for you, there are a few things to consider. You have to look at what the history of the brand. Fads are here today, gone tomorrow. Really look at that brand and the product offering. Is it still relevant for today?

It’s also extremely important to talk to other franchisees. Make sure they have good relationships with corporate and with each other, because we’re all part of a family. A franchise system is only successful when their franchisees are successful.

I would also look at the level of support that is provided. SONIC offers exceptional ongoing support from the moment you sign the franchise agreement.

Who are you looking for as a franchisee? Who should apply?

Osley: I like to think that everyone wants to be a SONIC franchisee. I think our brand has something for everybody, and I have been really excited over the last several years to see the different makeup of our brand with folks from all areas of the United States and different parts of the world. I love that. They are just as passionate about our brand as we are. So above anything else, I want to look for folks who want to be in this business, who love the brand and want to work with us together to help build this brand. We have over 3,500 locations and a lot more runway space. We’ve got a lot of areas that are virtually untapped, especially in the Midwest and the Northeast. We’re still one of the few large QSR brands where you can do multi-unit deals. We have acquisition opportunities from time to time. I want to talk to anyone and everyone who loves my brand.

Learn more about SONIC franchise opportunities

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