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BUILD

With more than 3,500 locations already open, SONIC Drive-In is still chasing further growth with up to 60 new locations planned for 2016 and an upcoming move into the Hawaiian market.

Photo: David McNeese

WHEN YOU THINK OF DRIVE-INS WITH CARHOPS, MOVIES SET IN THE EARLY 1960S —say, American Graffiti—might come to mind. Outside of the cinema, however, the carhop is alive and well in SONIC Drive-In locations around the United States, and it’s an integral part of the restaurant’s experience. As the largest chain of drive-in restaurants in the country, SONIC serves about 3 million customers each day. Justin Ashby, the company’s vice president of design and construction, brought a master of science degree in construction management from Texas A&M, as well as considerable construction experience—mostly in the retail QSR segment—to SONIC when he joined the team in 2015. “I was attracted to the company because of its very aggressive growth plan and heavily entrepreneurial spirit,” he says. “I was enticed by the challenge of bringing my 25 years of experience to take the company’s development program to the next level and ramp up unit production to meet growth goals.” Ashby’s responsibilities include concept development, architecture, engineering, and construction management. In addition to setting strategic direction for his department, he assesses pipeline and workload needs, allocates and augments resources as necessary to meet growth commitments, and oversees an in-house team of nine designers, construc-

tion managers, and administrative support that provides a wide range of services for franchise partners. “We also complete a few corporate-owned locations every year where we provide a turnkey development service for the brand,” he says. Ashby describes his management style as collaborative, and adds that getting a team to buy in to that collaborative spirit leads to greater productivity. “I’m proud of my team,” he says. “They’ve embraced the idea of figuring out how to get more done without exponentially increasing staff. They keep a positive attitude and get positive results. We saw good results last year and are continuing the momentum this year.” That momentum only seems to be building. As of 2015, SONIC had expanded into its 45th state, Rhode Island, and recently announced plans to expand into Hawaii. “The company is searching for the perfect site for its first Hawaiian location and determining how best to integrate the SONIC brand with the spirit and culture of Hawaii,” Ashby says. This effort requires a little more planning than continental-US locations, as the company has to identify local resources to assist in design and construction as well as solve logistical problems such as getting branding elements (signage and canopies) into place. That includes determining whether to produce those elements locally or ship them in from the mainland. Another area that SONIC is moving into is cobranding with convenience stores. “We’ve already opened t wo locations with Love’s Travel Stops, and there are more on the horizon with Love’s as well as with Exxon and Cef-

“I’m proud of my team. They’ve embraced the idea of figuring out how to get more done without exponentially increasing staff. They keep a positive attitude and get positive results. We saw good results last year and are continuing the momentum this year.” Justin Ashby, VP, Design & Construction

americanbuildersquarterly.com

SONIC Drive-In by the Numbers

3,529

drive-ins in 45 states

50–60 stores

planned to open in 2016

~3 million

customers served daily

1 million+

drink combinations on the menu

¾ acre

average site size

1 acre

average site size of locations with dine-in service

16 stalls

average in freestanding drive-in locations

$5 million+

donated to education through Limeades for Learning with DonorsChoose.org

OCT | NOV | DEC 2016

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American Builders Quarterly #63  
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