SHATTUCK — Before franchisee Dusty Girton opened the town's first Sonic Drive-In on Main Street in Shattuck last year, the Oklahoma City-based chain's nearest location was about 30 miles east in Woodward.
“People were very excited about it,” Girton said. “We've had people talking about getting a Sonic for probably the last 15 years.”
Looking for ways to expand it its core markets of Texas and Oklahoma, Sonic is increasingly looking at small, rural communities for new franchise growth.
Over the past year, Sonic has opened drive-ins in not only Shattuck, but also Valliant, a town of about 800 people in McCurtain County, and has signed development agreements with franchisees in small towns such as Cherokee, population 1,500, and Medford, population 1,000.
“When we look at our core markets, where we already have heavy penetration in urban areas, we are looking at new ways to grow,” said Mike Gallagher, vice president of development and franchising for Sonic.
“By focusing strategically on small towns, it gave us a way to kick-start our development,” he said.
The company also has reduced the building footprint of some of its new locations to minimize land acquisition and building costs, also making it easier for Sonic to expand to smaller communities, Gallagher said.
At first, Sonic's corporate office was skeptical that there would be enough business to support a drive-in on the main drag in Shattuck, a community of about 1,400 people in Ellis County, but Girton persuaded the company, he said.
“This town is really a hub for all of the little communities surrounding it,” said Girton, who grew up in the area around Shattuck.
Business at the 18-stall Sonic in Shattuck is bolstered by workers from the booming oil and gas sector in Western Oklahoma, as well as the area hospital, Girton said.
When deciding whether there will be enough traffic in an area to support a new Sonic location, the company looks not just at population, but also at the bigger picture of what is going on in the local economy and the traffic passing through the area.
“We try to look at the key driver of the area,” Gallagher said. “We look at each town on its merits and its vibrancy.”