Sonic Chain Gets a Taste of Geospatial Analytics

One of the keys to success for national restaurant chains is identifying the right location for new stores and franchises. For Sonic, which operates more than 3,500 Sonic Drive-In restaurants serving approximately 3 million customers a day, the task has moved to the center of the company’s business strategy.

“We are pushing to open 1,000 new locations over a 10-year period,” states Bradford Zygmontowicz, a geographic information system (GIS) analyst for Sonic Drive-In. “One of the big challenges is analyzing the market and understanding where restaurants should be located.”

In the past, the Oklahoma City-based firm, which operates fast food restaurants in 44 states, has relied on Excel spreadsheets and various software tools—including a mapping application—to compile, manage and analyze geospatial and other data focusing on demographics, population density, ethnicity and several other factors.

Unfortunately, “We previously had to deal with a lot of messy data, and this often resulted in a time-consuming and less-than-efficient analysis process,” Zygmontowicz explains. That wasn’t acceptable. “It’s extremely important to make sure that data about a market is displayed accurately before we authorize a new restaurant,” he adds.

Generating Maps and Reports on the Fly

To achieve the necessary level of accuracy, Sonic Drive-In turned to specialized software from data analytics platform provider Alteryx to feed data to GIS analysts faster and better. The solution blends data from a variety of sources and offers more than 60 prebuilt tools for spatial and predictive analysis.

“We are able to plug in the relevant data and generate maps and reports on the fly,” he says. “As a result, a task that used to require a couple of hours now takes only a couple of minutes.”

Along the way, the company also has been able to greatly increase the level of data accuracy because the analysis takes place within a single application.

The end result is rich data that allows the company to understand a variety of factors that determine the viability of a location. For example, “We can also see where the competition currently has locations and visualize instantly what opportunities exist both locally and across the nation.” Zygmontowicz explains. “This provides a much higher level of intelligence and helps us make decisions about where to open restaurants.

He adds that the flexible nature of the tool lets analysts zoom in and out and change parameters whenever needed. “It delivers a great deal of flexibility so that a person in finance or real estate can use it for different needs and purposes,” he adds.

On the front lines of the business, the Alteryx data analytics tool has delivered clear bottom line results. Zygmontowicz and other GIS staff now spend considerably more time addressing strategic market planning tasks, rather than simply compiling data and manipulating rows and columns in a spreadsheet.

“We are able to focus our energy on the heavy-hitting requirements of the business, rather than on tedious tasks and low-value activities,” he points out. “We have a rich set of tools available that deliver invaluable insights and help us run the business better.”