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Nigel Travis Celebrates Dunkin’ Growth
Dunkin’ Brands’ new CEO talks about the growth of Dunkin’ Donuts, the possibilities for the new Baskin-Robbins Express concept, the wonders of the franchisee relationship, and more.

On Monday, June 15, Dunkin’ Brands marked the opening of its 15,000th store worldwide with a celebration at a new Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin-Robbins Express location in Raleigh, North Carolina. Among those on hand for the festivities were new Dunkin’ Brands chief executive Nigel Travis, who took time away from serving customers 15-cent coffee, doughnuts, and ice cream, to speak with QSR in one of his first interviews since joining the company.

What does this milestone mean for Dunkin’ Brands?

It’s very significant. We’re living in hard economic times, and the fact that we can open 15 stores around the world in one day demonstrates the growth potential of both brands.

It’s a dual celebration, really. Today you’re seeing the first formal opening of a Baskin-Robbins Express [which sells only soft-serve ice cream]. There’s a lot of opportunity to go into Dunkin’ stores, and even other stores, with this concept.

What’s your current thinking on growth?

In the last few years, we have managed to move Dunkin’ Donuts out of the northeast and develop markets like Charlotte, Indianapolis, Phoenix, Dallas, etc. Yes, we have to change the concept—the propensity for drinking coffee is not as strong as it is in the northeast—but we are making progress. We’re seeing as people get used to our doughnuts and bakery goods, they gradually hook on to the quality of our coffee, our specialty coffee drinks like our latte and cappuccino, and our iced platform, which is really strong. So the move west is on track.

Internationally we’re very pleased with Dunkin’. We’ve now got five stores open in China and more coming. On the Baskin side, we continue to go from strength to strength internationally. The B-R Express is going to give us enormous flexibility to go into more Dunkin’s and other concepts.

As Dunkin’ Donuts moves out of its core market in New England, does the focus on coffee change?

Coffee won’t reduce in importance; it’s a challenge we’re overcoming. We’re leveraging the doughnut name to get people to appreciate the quality of our coffee. And that seems to be working.

I didn’t really understand the strength of the coffee concept until I joined the company.

Your concepts are all franchised. How is the relationship with franchisees?

When I joined the company, I researched it, and I think the relationship on both brands is spectacularly good. I’ve been with a lot of brands, and the relationship is as good as I’ve seen. It’s a very open, collaborative relationship. I’ve encouraged a challenging approach from our franchisees, because that’s the way of getting the best answers.

What strategies have you brought with you from your time leading Papa John’s?

One strategy is to work hard on franchise relationships. Secondly, I’ve always believed in technology, and we’ve got some ways to go here, particularly with our point of sale, but we’re working with our franchisees on that and beginning to get real traction. Also, one of the things the pizza industry taught me is the importance of local store marketing.

It’s the same at all these brands. It’s retail, it’s detail. You look for your opportunities and you move quickly.

Do you have a list of goals for your first year with Dunkin’?

Not specifically. I obviously want us to get through the recession and come out with positive numbers. We want to move into China in a fairly big way on both brands. We want to continue to open a lot of stores—and even though we don’t disclose the numbers, being a private company, we’re opening lots of stores, which in this environment is pretty good.

We’ve got a couple of brands that are very strong. On the Dunkin’ side, when you look at the U.S., we’ve got so much opportunity west of the Mississippi, and not many brands can say that. We’re well positioned to take advantage.

In your remarks earlier today, you mentioned “the next 15,000 stores.” Is that where you’re headed?

You have to take it thousand by thousand. We see the next thousand very easily. I’d like to think during my time here we’ll hit 20,000.

Greg Sanders is the associate publisher of QSR.