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The company lowered its guidance for franchised-restaurant openings to between 25 and 30 units in fiscal 2013, from “slightly more than fiscal 2012,” in which franchisees built 36 new locations.

Sonic officials would not point to bad weather, the resulting flat same-store sales of the third quarter, or the lending environment as the biggest factor behind the decelerating unit-growth projection. However, some locations that the brand had hoped to open this summer and that incurred delays would open in the first quarter of fiscal 2014.

The company remains confident that it can resume faster unit growth next year, having solidified the smaller prototype’s lower build-out costs and gained efficiencies from the move toward national marketing, Hudson said.

“The way we are looking at this versus 12 or 18 months ago, proving out that smaller building has caused us to … look at core markets differently than new markets in terms of how we would go about development and where we will open,” he said. “In the near term, you see more impact from smaller towns and core markets, and then by the time late 2014 runs into 2015, you’ll start seeing the developing new markets play a greater role.”

Sonic Corp. operates or franchises more than 3,500 restaurants in the United States.

Contact Mark Brandau at mark.brandau@penton.com.
Follow him on Twitter: @Mark_from_NRN