Sonic Corp. plans to open 1,000 new drive-in restaurants over the next 10 years, expanding the chain by about 30 percent.
Although Sonic already has about 270 drive-in restaurants in Oklahoma, there’s still room for expansion in the state, said John Budd, Sonic’s chief development and strategy officer.
“It can be a matter of pride in a lot of small towns when you get your first Sonic, so we still have a lot of towns around the state to grow,” Budd said.
There are now about 3,500 Sonic Drive-Ins throughout 44 states. Sonic has a goal of expanding into all 50 states. In comparison, Burger King, Sonic’s next largest competitor, has about 7,100 locations in the United States.
While the company’s core market has always been Oklahoma and Texas, Budd said other states might not be familiar with Sonic’s car-centric, drive-in format at first. The company has had to make adjustments to the design of its restaurants to suit other climates. In colder regions of the country, that means putting in dining rooms as well as the patio seating that is familiar to Sonic customers in Oklahoma. Adding drive-thru windows at some Sonic locations has also been important to expanding the Sonic brand to other states where the concept of a drive-in restaurant is unfamiliar.
“The core of the brand is as a drive-in, and we expect it will remain that way,” Budd said.
Sonic plans to ramp up restaurant growth over the next several years, opening 40 to 50 new locations in the next year, 60 to 70 locations the following year, and adding 80 to 90 new locations in three years.
“Eventually, we hope to be in the triple digits every year,” Budd said.
While Sonic expects it will grow its employment from about 150,000 workers systemwide to 200,000 in the next 10 years, those numbers won’t necessarily translate in a massive boost in employment growth at the company’s Oklahoma City headquarters in Bricktown. Because Sonic is based on a franchise model, most of its employment growth will be in terms of restaurant workers, Budd said.
The company also could consider expanding into international markets, Budd said. For now, Sonic is still cautious about expanding oversees. The company believes most of its growth will be focused on the United States.
“We will look at international expansion, but it really has to be the right opportunity for us,” he said. “It’s easy for us to go strike a deal overseas, but we want to be very cautious and see how the Sonic brand will succeed over there.”
As part of its strategy for growth, Sonic already has beefed up its spending on national advertising, with television spots in markets where there might not be a Sonic restaurant for miles, but there could be one coming soon.