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Dunkin’ Donuts adds jazz to get less pit and more stop

The world’s largest doughnut chain has long sold itself as a pit stop.

“America runs on
Dunkin’ ” goes the company’s slogan, and its customers typically stop in for a pre-work sugar and caffeine jolt and then split.

Now, in an effort to get customers to stick around and visit after the morning rush, Dunkin’ Brands Group Inc. has set in motion one of the most radical store redesigns since the chain’s 1950 founding. With its earth tones and jazz soundtrack, the new look echoes Starbucks Corp., which has long provided a place for people to hang, sip coffee and surf the web.

Until recently, the attitude at Dunkin’ was that “life finished” at 11 a.m., Chief Executive Officer Nigel Travis, 63, said in an interview at the company’s headquarters in Canton, Mass. “We’ve attacked that mindset” with the new store designs because Dunkin’ has been losing out on the afternoon consumer, said the Britain-born executive.

“We haven’t always been conducive to that relaxed environment,” he said. “So soft seating, the ability to watch TV, to listen to appropriate music and just do things slightly slower than you would in the morning is what we think we’ve been missing.”

Dunkin’ is joining an industrywide rush to upgrade restaurants as quick-service joints jostle with boutique coffee shops and fast-casual chains such as Panera Bread Co.

Dunkin’, which plans to double its number of stores to 15,000 as it pushes west across the country, is also looking to retain its position in the fast-growing coffee and snack-shop category. Sales at U.S. coffee shops rose 8 percent last year, while those of limited-service burger eateries increased 5 percent and full-service restaurant revenue advanced 4.5 percent, according to Chicago-based researcher Technomic Inc.

Dunkin’ stores could use some improvement, according to a 2012 survey from Nation’s Restaurant News and WD Partners. The chain tied for the second-lowest atmosphere score among beverage and snack shops, coming in below Starbucks, Krispy Kreme Doughnuts Inc., Caribou Coffee and Tim Hortons Inc., the report showed. Starbucks received the highest score.

So far, Dunkin’ has opened about 90 of the new stores and plans to have as many as 600 by year-end. Franchisees can choose from four options, which cost between $175,000 and $250,000 for a remodel and between $400,000 and $700,000 to build new. The fanciest can include stained-poplar rails, faux-leather chairs and glass partitions with LED lights that change hues – bluish light is said to have a calming effect while store owners can switch to red or green for the holidays.

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