New plans cooking for Indiana

Sonic Drive-In is the nation’s largest drive-in chain with more than 3,500 locations in 44 states. But the company has struggled to gain a major foothold in the Indianapolis market since it began targeting the area for growth starting in the early part of the century.

That won’t stop the Oklahoma City-based franchisor from trying.

Sonic announced Dec. 7 that it aims to open 10 locations in the Indianapolis metropolitan area over the next five years. The company said it is looking for multi-unit franchisees to open locations in Carmel, Fishers, Zionsville, Westfield, Noblesville, Greenfield and Lawrence.

Right now, Sonic has just three restaurants here, including one that opened last month at 1262 N. Emerson Ave. in Greenwood.

The other two area Sonic locations — in Avon and Camby — opened in 2002 when about a dozen struggling Dog ’n’ Suds restaurants were converted into Sonics by franchisees Marka and Carl Unger.

The rest of those restaurants, including locations in Noblesville, Castleton and on Indianapolis’ southside, have since closed.

A company representative was not available to explain why Sonic has had difficulties in the central Indiana market.

But the company appears to be making some recent progress.

Sonic said franchisee Todd Fugate, who just opened the Greenwood location, would like to open four more.

Another franchisee, Drew Keriwala, plans to open a Kokomo location in the spring. The company also has solid brand recognition thanks to its “Two Guys” television advertising campaign featuring improv actors T.J. Jagodowski and Peter Grosz, which regularly airs on local stations.

“Sonic has experienced incredible success operating in suburbs surrounding major metropolitan areas like Indianapolis,” Drew Ritger, the company’s senior vice president of development, said in a written statement. “With only (three) Sonic Drive-Ins in the market, we see significant untapped potential to develop more franchised restaurants, especially in Boone, Hamilton and Marion counties, with their strong population growth over the last year.

“Coupled with Indianapolis’ thriving restaurant scene and business-friendly tax environment, now is a perfect time for Sonic to grow in the greater Indianapolis area,” he said.

Opening a Sonic franchise takes a total investment ranging of about $1.1 million to $2.4 million, the company says on its website. Franchisees typically need to have a net worth of at least $1 million and $500,000 in liquid capital.

In the fiscal year that ended Aug. 31, the company earned $64.1 million on revenue of $425.8 million. In the same period a year earlier, Sonic earned $64.5 million on revenue of $436.0 million.

Same-store sales for the year rose 2.6 percent, despite a 2.0 percent decline in the fiscal fourth quarter.