‘I’ve seen floods and shoot­ings. At Dunkin’ we are pre­pared’

The Es­sex-born boss of Dunkin’ Brands tells David Mill­ward how he mas­ters the myr­iad chal­lenges of the fran­chise sec­tor

The Sunday Telegraph - Money & Business - - Front page - The Sun­day In­ter­view Nigel Travis

Nigel Travis is in good form. It is the Dunkin’ Brands chair­man and chief ex­ec­u­tive’s 68th birth­day, and Wash­ing­ton is pre­par­ing a small gift – tax leg­is­la­tion that will ben­e­fit the com­pany’s 11,577 fran­chisees in the US.

Life is also look­ing good back in the UK, with Ley­ton Ori­ent, the club he now owns, hav­ing notched up four wins on the trot fol­low­ing a dire 15-game run with­out a vic­tory.

Hav­ing spent much of his pro­fes­sional ca­reer in the US, Travis’ of­fice in Can­ton, just out­side Bos­ton, Mas­sachusetts, has a dis­tinct transat­lantic feel. There is a cricket bat on the wall, a Mi­ami Dol­phins hel­met on a shelf, and a card from Ley­ton Ori­ent is proudly dis­played on a side­board be­hind his desk. Travis al­ter­nates be­tween drink­ing Dunkin’s cof­fee and mugs of tea. “I os­cil­late be­tween the two, be­ing a good Brit.”

His 47-year ca­reer spans both sides of the At­lantic. This is his sec­ond spell in the US, re­turn­ing there in 1998. “I am mar­ried to an Amer­i­can. I am not go­ing back.”

Travis has spent a huge slice of his life work­ing in the fast food in­dus­try with spells at Burger King and Papa John’s Pizza. There was, how­ever, a 10-year in­ter­lude with Block­buster.

As far as he is con­cerned, the tran­si­tions have been pretty seam­less with the take­away food and movie in­dus­tries hav­ing a lot in com­mon.

“When I was at Block­buster, I used to de­scribe Block­buster as be­ing fast food with movies, be­cause they are very sim­i­lar and I think there are a lot of sim­i­lar­i­ties, they are fast mov­ing, con­sumer driven.

“Tech­nol­ogy has be­come in­creas­ingly im­por­tant with all of them but was par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant with Block­buster.”

It is the smart use of tech­nol­ogy that Travis hopes will keep Dunkin’ Brands – which in­cludes the ice cream brand Baskin-rob­bins – ahead of the com­pe­ti­tion.

“There are now more mo­bile de­vices than there are peo­ple in the world. They are more pow­er­ful than com­put­ers were a decade ago.

“We have an in­dus­try-lead­ing app, it stores or­ders, perks, re­wards, and ev­ery­thing is done quickly.”

The em­pha­sis Travis vests in the app is a re­flec­tion of how the ef­fi­ciency with which meals are served has as­sumed ever-in­creas­ing im­por­tance in the US, where time and pa­tience can be in short sup­ply and tem­pers are often shorter.

There are plenty of al­ter­na­tives if the ser­vice is slow or the cus­tomer is given the wrong meal. Break­fast is ar­guably where com­pe­ti­tion is fiercest in the US fast-food in­dus­try. It is a bat­tle­ground where an­other Bri­ton – Wat­ford sup­port­ing Steve Easter­brook at Mcdon­ald’s – is among Travis’ main ri­vals.

There are, Travis says, 638,000 restau­rants in the US and an­other 131,000 con­ve­nience stores.

“Ev­ery­one serves cof­fee in some form. We are in a very com­pet­i­tive busi­ness – break­fast con­tin­ues to grow. We feel good about our morn­ing busi­ness over­all, which is ob­vi­ously driven by cof­fee, break­fast sand­wiches. Our dif­fer­en­tia­tor for us is dough­nuts, we are clearly the mar­ket leader in that.”

Most of the US fast-food in­dus­try is based on fran­chis­ing, and few know more about it than Travis, whose book on how it works, The Chal­lenge

Cul­ture, is due to be pub­lished next year.

Dunkin’ Brands is a 100pc fran­chise op­er­a­tion. “I would say that the fran­chise busi­ness is not nec­es­sar­ily for the faint of heart, you have to have strong con­vic­tions, a thick skin and prob­a­bly good re­la­tion­ship and com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills.”

In all, there are 12,435 Dunkin’ Donuts restau­rants across the world, and 7,944 Baskin-rob­bins shops. In the UK there are just nine Dunkin’ Donuts out­lets and 137 Baskin-rob­bins stores. But the very na­ture of fran­chis­ing places lim­its on what the par­ent com­pany can do, and clearly, this poses a threat to the com­pany’s cor­po­rate rep­u­ta­tion.

“The big­gest risk is food safety. We are in an in­dus­try where we take food safety very se­ri­ously. As I say to all my fran­chisees, it is job num­ber one.”

Main­tain­ing stan­dards over a sprawl­ing arm’s length em­pire is just one of the chal­lenges that Travis faces in an in­dus­try where one has to ex­pect the un­ex­pected. “I have seen plane crashes, hur­ri­canes – I was at Block­buster when Hur­ri­cane An­drew de­stroyed South Mi­ami. I have seen the ef­fect of tor­na­does and earth­quakes. This year was very un­usual be­cause we had one after an­other of very sig­nif­i­cant strength. Puerto Rico was ob­vi­ously pretty dev­as­tat­ing and is still pretty dev­as­tated.”

Dis­as­ters can be man-made as well as nat­u­ral. “It is not just ter­ror­ist at­tacks, it can be a shoot­ing. It can be peo­ple on drugs, you name it. You have to be pre­pared, it sounds like the boy scouts, but you have to be pre­pared for ev­ery­thing,” he adds.

Just the day be­fore Travis was in­ter­viewed by The Sun­day Tele­graph, a Baskin-rob­bins branch in Bak­ers­field, Cal­i­for­nia, was robbed at gun­point.

Other chal­lenges are less dra­matic. With the US econ­omy boom­ing and the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion get­ting tough on im­mi­gra­tion, find­ing work­ers is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly prob­lem­atic.

“You take the great state of Maine along with New Hamp­shire and Mas­sachusetts and the av­er­age un­em­ploy­ment rate is about 3pc, which means we strug­gle to get em­ploy­ees,” Travis adds.

“I would say we need a con­struc­tive dis­cus­sion about im­mi­gra­tion en­sur­ing that the bor­ders are pro­tected, that the peo­ple who come in go through an au­tho­rised process, and when they work they are prop­erly qual­i­fied.”

But im­port­ing work­ers from abroad is not the only way of plug­ging the gap.

“One of the things we are work­ing on is de­vel­op­ing an ap­pren­tice­ship of our in­dus­try, to demon­strate the at­trac­tive­ness of our in­dus­try be­cause we believe that com­pa­nies like Dunkin’ Brands ed­u­cate Amer­ica’s work­force.

“It’s not only that Barack Obama’s first job was at Baskin-rob­bins, but in fact, about 60pc of Amer­i­cans had their first job in quick ser­vice restau­rants.

“I believe if there was some kind of ap­pren­tice­ship that peo­ple re­ceive, that would make the in­dus­try more at­trac­tive. Peo­ple learn about turn­ing up, clock­ing in, point of sale, deal­ing with cus­tomers – all the dis­ci­plines you need when you are work­ing and that can set them on the stair­case for fur­ther­ing their ca­reer.”

Travis wants the brand to grow across the US from its north­east­ern heart­land.

“I think we are dif­fer­ent than most brands of any ma­tu­rity in that we have got that op­por­tu­nity to build Dunkin’ out and dou­ble the store foot­print from about 9,000 stores to about 18,000 stores over the next 20 odd years.”

He is, of course, sim­i­larly am­bi­tious for Ley­ton Ori­ent, a club Es­sex-born Travis has sup­ported since child­hood – his first game was a 1-1 draw with Sun­der­land in 1959.

The 136-year-old club has fallen on hard times, los­ing its Foot­ball League sta­tus, and in March it was served with a wind­ing-up or­der.

Travis’ in­vest­ment has been sub­stan­tial and he has sought the advice of the big­gest names in US sport – the Krafts, who run the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots NFL team, and John Henry, the owner of the Red Sox, as well as Liver­pool.

“We in­her­ited a team with­out credit card pro­cess­ing, a bank ac­count and only nine young play­ers, and it was two weeks be­fore pre-sea­son.”

Travis gets over to the UK ev­ery six weeks, and oth­er­wise watches the games on a pri­vate feed – when he is not coach­ing foot­ball him­self.

He sees sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween foot­ball and the fast food in­dus­try.

“It’s like run­ning Dunkin’, you have peo­ple prob­lems, you have fi­nan­cial is­sues, you have mar­ket­ing is­sues. But what we have done, we have tried to build a great cul­ture at the club.”

Travis is a man of re­lent­less stamina – he took 140 flights over the last year and thinks noth­ing of fly­ing overnight from Bos­ton to Lon­don to catch a match be­fore re­turn­ing the fol­low­ing evening.

“I think if you are or­gan­ised, you can get most things done,” he adds.

“Two things wreck my life. One is Ley­ton Ori­ent los­ing and two is if we have bad num­bers here.”

‘Two things wreck my life. One is Ley­ton Ori­ent los­ing and two is if we have bad num­bers here’

Nigel Travis, chair­man and chief ex­ec­u­tive of Dunkin’ Brands, be­lieves the smart use of tech­nol­ogy will keep the firm one step ahead of the com­pe­ti­tion

Ley­ton Ori­ent play­ers cel­e­brate a goal. Travis has sup­ported the club since child­hood

Break­fast is the key bat­tle­ground for Dunkin’ Donuts, says its chair­man

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.