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QSR Interview | By Carolyn Walkup

Nigel Travis Talks Dunkin’s Success
Fresh off his success at Papa John’s, Dunkin’ Brands CEO Nigel Travis is taking Dunkin’ Donuts from a New England treat shop to an international coffee chain.
Dunkin' Brands CEO Nigel Travis wants to take Dunkin' Donuts from a New England treat shop to an international coffee chain.

The midst of the worst recession in decades may seem like a tough time to take the reins of a restaurant company that sells discretionary treats not needed in the everyday diet. However, Nigel Travis, whom Dunkin’ Brands hired to head its Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin-Robbins brands in January 2009, quickly showed he was up to the task.

Fresh from a four-year record of achieving excellent results at Papa John’s, Travis set out to do the same at the privately held, 60-year-old treats company. Dunkin’ Brands’ board of directors chose Travis to succeed CEO and industry veteran Jon Luther. Luther, who joined Dunkin’ Brands in 2003, remains as executive chairman of the board and worked with the board to develop an orderly succession plan.

In announcing Travis’ appointment, Luther singled out his accomplishments in several companies he headed of building strong franchisee networks, improving sales, and furthering global growth.

In spite of the economic downturn, Dunkin’ Donuts opened 350 new stores worldwide in 2009, with 250 of those in the U.S. When counting sister Dunkin’ Brands treats concept Baskin-Robbins, franchisees opened 550 stores last year. Dunkin’ Donuts units alone number nearly 6,400 in the U.S. and 2,700 overseas.

“We think this trend will continue and get better,” says Travis, who predicts that Dunkin’ Donuts brand openings this year will exceed last year’s to total 500 newcomers worldwide.

“The recession caused some difficulties,” he says. “High unemployment had a negative impact. The biggest impact has been the lending environment and getting new people to come in.”

He’s optimistic, though, about recent talks with banks, and has found some that “seem very positive about our brand.”

“The recession is just a problem you have to attack with vigor,” he says. “We are focused on the top line and are reducing costs of operating and construction. Our franchisees worked with their store economics.”

The brand does seem to be faring well, according to restaurant consultant Aaron Allen, founder and chief executive of Aaron Allen Restaurant Consultants, who credits Dunkin’ with doing a good job of keeping costs in line.

Dunkin’s policy of allowing franchise agreements with no minimum number of store openings required, along with its flexible unit designs utilizing smaller footprints, encouraged franchise development in these challenging times. Design choices include kiosks, gas stations, in-line units, and end caps, as well as free-standing stores.

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