Former Sonic Franchisee Association President Rooted in the Family Business
If you are of the opinion that the family business is dead in this country, you need only visit the offices of Kinslow and Kinslow to find out that you are dead wrong.
Sonic Franchisee Association Past-President Gary Kinslow has been a member of the Sonic family all of his life and has been in the Sonic business since age 16 when he went to work for his father's Sonic Drive-In in Seminole, OK.
"It was a natural thing for me to do," said Kinslow. "I was a high school student, and like all high school students, I needed cash," Kinslow said he stayed in the business because he wanted to see what it was like from the other side.
Today Gary and his father, Matt Kinslow, one of the founders of the Sonic system, own 21 drive-ins in Oklahoma and Texas. They opened or rebuilt three new stores in 2000. Three more in Buna, TX, Dublin, TX, and Midwest City, OK, are underway. Gary's brother, Larry, also is involved in the Sonic business, supervising and owning part of several Sonics. It's clear that the family business in this case is very much alive and well. But it might not have been that way.
Gary's father, Matt, the first recipient of the President's (Troy Smith) Award in 1986, started off as a full-service restaurateur at a place called the Hi-Lo in Woodward, OK. It was there that he met Charlie Pappe, owner of the Woodward Sonic Drive-In. As the two of them became friends, and as Matt learned more about Sonic, he realized that he was running a full service restaurant while Charlie "was selling burgers and drinks." Once he compared the bottom lines, Matt knew Sonic was where he needed to be.
While Gary's first ownership came in 1975 in Vidor, TX, Matt got into the Sonic family in 1961 at the drive-in in Liberal, KS. At the time, there were only eight Sonic Drive-Ins in operation. For the past 40 years, Sonic has been a major part of their lives.
Gary, who jokingly complains (you are joking, aren't you, Gary?) that he served as Sonic Franchisee Association president longer than George Nigh was Oklahoma's Lieutenant Governor (16 years), says the Association has given franchisees strength and unity. "There are 1,700 or so franchise stores and thousands of different owners. We are all independent. We all run our own businesses. We all face some difference issues. The National Association of Sonic Drive-In Franchisees ties us all together." Kinslow says that while the Association's purpose is to represent franchisees, that doesn't mean the relationship with Sonic Industries is adversarial. "They represent the corporation and the stockholders. We represent the men and women who are on the front lines of ownership. Still our goals are usually quite the same," said Kinslow.
In addition to the family business, Kinslow and his wife, Debbie, enjoy ranching and watching their daughter, Brooke (17) play high school basketball and softball in Prague, OK. Brooke also shows championship cattle as did brother, Matt (21). Matt is now a junior business major at Oklahoma State University. Although it's a family business, Debbie also works part-time at her parents' insurance agency.
Kinslow says the best thing about his career in the Sonic business is the people. "I've gotten to know a lot of great owners and employees since I first started." He says the most challenging part of the job is recruiting, training and retaining good employees. "It's the most challenging part of the job, but it's also the most important. It is very rewarding to see Sonic employees that have started out on the bottom and are now very successful multi-unit franchisees."
Kinslow says he's pleased with the decision he made nearly 30 years ago to get a job with Sonic. The fact that his son, Matt, plans to follow him is testimony to a good company and an even better family.
"When I was a kid growing up, I was literally raised up knowing Troy Smith, Charlie Pappe, Marvin Jirous, Jim Winterringer, Ted Robertson, Dwight VanDorn, Ralph Mason and all of the early Sonic founders," he said. "I feel very fortunate to have known all these men. Sonic really has a rich tradition. I have the utmost respect for all of the founders. That is one reason why when Marvin Jirous asked me to go on the franchisee board when the association was firmed, I said, Yes!"