August 15, 2009-“If you give your customer cold drinks, hot food and friendly service, they’ll leave your lot happy, and be back.”
That’s sage advice from someone who should know. Marvin Jirous, president of the Naitonal Association of Sonic Drive-In Franchisees, has been operating Sonic Drive-ins for more than 50 years and has survived more than one economic downturn such as the one America is currently experiencing.
“We are all working very hard right now for every dollar. We are specializing the menu and doing whatever we can. But we’ll get through it. We have before.
“We keep offering good hot food, and good cold drinks and taking good care of our customers, and we’re home free,” said Jirous who is a former president of Sonic Industries and the owner-“curator” of a sizable collection of Sonic memorabilia.
Jirous’ experience and willingness to mentor new franchisors is part of the appeal of the National Association of Sonic Drive-In Franchisees. The group is marking its 20th anniversary with a membership drive and awareness campaign to tell the success stories of the men and women who operate Sonic Drive-Ins across America.
Gary Kinslow has made his career operating Sonic Drive-Ins and, along with Jirous, is one of the founders of the association.
“We really began the association for all of us to be connected and have a unified voice for our Sonic future,” said Kinslow who is from Prague, OK. Gary’s father Matt was one of a group of Sonic franchisee pioneers who helped lay the foundation of the Sonic chain.
When the Association was formed in 1989, one of the first actions of the fledgling group was to hire an executive director. They acted on a recommendation to hire Richard Hess. Hess operates Richard Hess & Associates, an association management firm in Oklahoma City specializing in assisting small non-profit and trade groups with organization, issues and operation.
“Richard is a great guy. We really feel like he was ‘a good bargain’ for us to get that caliber of a professional,” reflected Kinslow.
“He has done an outstanding job for us representing our interests to the community and helping us as an organization.”
Hess continues as the executive director of the Sonic Association and says that although it’s unbelievable that twenty years have passed, it has been an honor to watch the association grow and to serve this group.
“Sonic Drive-In franchisee owners are hard working, genuine and successful. They have great business acumen and, as a group, have accomplished much that benefits many,” said Hess.
One of the key membership benefits Sonic Association members receive is health and dental insurance.
“We know how expensive and difficult it can be for a small business owner to find affordable coverage. For more than ten years, the Sonic Association has offered coverage with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Oklahoma,” said Hess.
Kinslow said the coverage is affordable and competitive with other plans, and more importantly, no one who is a member of the association is denied coverage based on age or pre-existing conditions.
“It has been good for my family and my employees. I know that without the coverage the association offers, many folks would be uninsured,” said Kinslow.
Jirous and the rest of the Sonic Association board encourages all Sonic Drive-In franchisee owners to join the association.
“It doesn’t make sense not to join,” said Jirous. “We are here to help and happy to help. We have an outstanding relationship with Sonic Industries, which isn’t always the case with franchisees and franchisors. We present ideas to them and they present ideas to us.
“Just like we’ve always taken care of our customers, we take good care of each other too,” he said.
September 25, 2005
morning after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, amid the
devastation, losses and concern - Buddy McClain tallied 60 of his Sonic
Drive-Ins as inoperable. Those first several days are a blur of
assessing damage, accounting for his employees and cleaning up.
But what Buddy will never forget is the help he received from his Sonic family. Generators arrived to provide power to stores, RVs rolled in to provide shelter for Buddy’s employees who lost their homes, and cash rolled in to help cover so many losses.
“The Sonic family is awesome,” he said. “Everyone has been very helpful. We take care of each other.”
Within a few days, most of his restaurants had reopened, but three were leveled.
“We’ll open them in six months,” he said.
Fortunately, Buddy’s stores missed the destruction of Hurricane Rita that hit two weeks after Katrina. But now it was his turn to help. A day after Rita hit he loaded up some generators for a fellow franchisee, and drove them across a couple of state to help a fellow franchisee in Beaumont, Texas.
Buddy noted that having generators and so much help from the Sonic family enabled many of his restaurants to open quicker han other businesses in affected areas.
When Gary Kinslow hooked up his RV and horse trailer the
week Hurricane Katrina hit the gulf coast, he didn’t know how long he’d
be gone from his home in Oklahoma or what he would find in Alabama and
Mississippi where two of his restaurants had been hit.
The Kinslow & Kinslow Sonic in Picayune, Alabama, sustained little damage, mostly cosmetic, and reopened 12 days after the storm when the electricity was restored.
It is a different scenario in Pascagoula, Mississippi. This Kinslow & Kinslow Sonic is approximately one mile from the ocean and suffered a tremendous storm surge. The force of the surge and the 43 inches of ocean water it left behind flooded the store, toppled shelves, flipped fixtures and soaked all of the equipment. Everything was ruined.
The clean-up took several days and included the back-breaking and dirty tasks of removing the water, killing the mold, drying the walls and fixtures, throwing out cases of supplies and determining that every piece of equipment - from grills to freezers – needed to be replaced.
That process now is almost complete – but they await the arrival of new equipment, and electricity. While the restaurant was “down,” they decided to make some minor building revisions, and plan to reopen by the first of October.
When they weren’t cleaning up at the restaurant, Gary and crew logged more hours of clean up at the homes of his employees. Pascagoula managers Stephanie and Robert Maggard had just completed a remodel of their home earlier this year, and had about eight months to enjoy their new home before Katrina hit. Their house remains standing but a four-foot storm surge claimed nearly all of the contents.
“We’re doing okay,” Stephanie insists. “Gary is wonderful and they’ve really taken care of us.”
From cleaning up debris in the yard, to pulling wet clothes out of dressers to try to salvage, Stephanie said their Sonic family has done anything needed to help. She is especially grateful for the gift of several thousand dollars from fellow Kinslow sonic Group managers.
Stephanie and Robert have been staying in the living quarters of Gary’s horse trailer that is parked in their drive-way.
“I’ll never complain about a high electricity bill again,” said Stephanie. “It’s worth every penny.”
Stephanie notes that they are living a lot better – with air conditioning, a kitchen and bathroom - than a lot of their neighbors who didn’t have a place to go (or an available horse trailer) and are camping on their porches and sleeping on air mattresses until their homes are habitable again.
After the hurricane, it seemed the Maggard’s grill was the only one on the block that had survived. With a cooler full of meat at their Sonic, that backyard grill was quickly fired up and Stephanie cooked hamburgers and hotdogs for many of her neighbors.
Meanwhile, the Picayune Sonic is breaking sales records, even while adhering to the town’s curfew hours of 7:00 am – 7:00 pm. No doubt, being able to run to Sonic for a Cherry Limeade or some tots did a lot to help restore the town’s sense of normalcy.
The higher sales also can be attributed to the influx of about 30,000 evacuees to the area from New Orleans and other hurricane ravaged areas.
Gary doesn’t know when he’ll return home to Prague, Oklahoma. Many Oklahoma television viewers saw Gary, the horse trailer and the RV during the news on KWTV. He was interviewed by a news crew covering the effects of the hurricane as they both were traveling through Louisiana and happened to stop at the same service station.
The story conveyed Gary’s compassion, commitment to his employees and his concern to drop everything and go to help. Sounds a lot like him, doesn’t it? Sounds a lot like any of our fellow Sonic Association members.