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“We’re taking advantage of conversions and cobranding opportunities—all while staying true to our core strategy of being America’s drive-in. The sky’s the limit.” Justin Ashby VP, Design & Construction

Photo: Sonic, Portrait: KJane Designs

SONIC Drive-In recently began opening cobranded locations with other companies, such as Love’s Travel Stops.

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co,” Ashby says. The cobranded locations are already demonstrating success, so the company is developing prototypes that align with Love’s standard travel stop layouts. SONIC is also expanding into more urban markets, such as Newark, New Jersey, where it opened its first location in 2014. “Space is often at a premium in urban locations, but we design them to be accessible by car, and we keep the drive-in stalls [when] possible,” Ashby says. To choose sites for its restaurants, SONIC uses sophisticated market planning and market-research processes, then leverages that with the franchisee’s knowledge of the local market. SONIC offers franchisees significant support, providing not only site design and development assistance, but also an operations model that has been proven successful. Building a store from the ground up takes six to eight months on average. Conversions are generally faster, taking three to four months on average, although that depends on the configuration a nd c ond it ion of the existing property, as well as on municipal re qu i rement s. W he n pic k i ng sites, SONIC considers factors such as bidirectional flow—whether it’s easy to enter and exit the site—as well as visibility of the location. “ We have a d i f fe r e nt iate d offering that at-

tracts guests—we serve all day long, so we’re not as heavily dependent on traffic direction as some other brands are,” Ashby says, adding that the company’s primary indicators of a successful location are sales, traffic, and profits. “We use internal and customer-facing performance metrics and adapt business models and designs accordingly. For locations with dine-in service, we have additional performance metrics.” Even with the success and momentum built up in recent years, Ashby says SONIC always needs to make sure the economics work. “There’s a constant battle to keep costs under control,” he says. “We’re trying to mitigate the impact of inflation. We’re refining our prototypes, trying to make sure our buildings are right-sized. We’re testing more cost-effective materials and even exploring alternative construction methods.” As far as the future of SONIC, Ashby says there are still states and markets that haven’t yet been tapped, and the company has no shortage of ideas to keep its momentum rolling. “We have many avenues for serving customers—stalls, drive-through, dine-in—so we can adapt to the needs of local markets,” he says. “We’re taking advantage of conversions and cobranding opportunities—all while staying true to our core strategy of being America’s drive-in. The sky’s the limit.”

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OCT | NOV | DEC 2016

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American Builders Quarterly #63