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03/29/2012

Dunkin' Donuts, Jerry Jones, Troy Aikman team up on North Texas venture

Dunkin’ Donuts, which re-entered North Texas several years ago with plans for an aggressive expansion before encountering problems with locations and brand awareness, is hitching its star to two of the region’s highest-profile businesspeople and personalities: Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and Troy Aikman.

The company, Jones, and Aikman said Thursday morning they've entered a limited partnership that will initially own 11 of Dunkin' Donuts' 19 Metroplex stores, and serve as Dunkin' Donuts' primary expansion vehicle in the region.

The partnership agreements calls for up to 50 stores over five years, but Aikman called that a “minimum” and Jones said he views that number as a “starting point.”

Still to come: What kind of a public face Jones and Aikman, who won three Super Bowls with the Cowboys, will put on the venerable franchise.

“We clearly see this as a growth opportunity,” Nigel Travis, CEO of the Massachusetts restaurateur, which has more than 10,000 locations in 32 countries, said. “I think people identify very closely with Jerry, and Troy is a person a lot of people have great respect for. We’ve got three great partners, all of which bring a different piece to the partnership.”

Under their agreement, Dunkin’ Donuts, based in Massachusetts,  will operate the stores, and the Jones family and Aikman will be responsible for strategic planning, expansion and marketing.

In interviews, the three declined to disclose the financial terms of partnership.

“Obviously, there is a financial transaction, and everyone is looking for a return on their invesatment,” Travis said.

Jones said he thinks the partnership could eventually double or triple the 50 stores outlined in their agreement.

“That would be a goal of mine,” he said.

The partnership is unusual for Dunkin’ Donuts, whose business is heavily focused on franchises, and it’s only the company’s third joint venture, behind two others in Asia, Travis said.

The agreement grew out of a longtime friendship between the Jones family and Travis, former CEO of Papa John’s and former president of Blockbuster in Dallas. Papa John’s became the long-running Official Pizza of the Dallas Cowboys and Jones a joint owner of dozens of Texas Papa John’s, and Jones, Cowboys players, and cheerleaders have appeared in Papa John’s advertising.

Travis became Dunkin’ Donuts CEO little more than three years ago, and the company became the Official Coffee of the Cowboys in 2009.

Aikman said he became familiar with Dunkin’ Donuts as a board member of the Wingstop restaurant chain, serving with Jon Luther, who also is chairman of Dunkin’ Donuts parent Dunkin’ Brands.

“He and I got to talking about Dunkin’s interest in getting a bigger footprint west,” said Aikman, who also is a Wingstop investor and endorser.

Travis, Jones and Aikman said they haven’t yet sat down to discuss how to incorporate the personalities into the advertising and marketing for the stores.

They were quick to say what worked in the Papa John’s relationship might not work for Dunkin’ Donuts. But all three said they expect a meld of the personalities and Cowboys’ profile into the Dunkin’ Donuts marketing plan.

“You grow your brand through the association with other great brands,” Jones said.

“Jerry controls the Dallas Cowboys property; that’s something we may talk about,” Travis said. “Papa John’s did ads with the Cowboys; that could be part of it, but we’ve not discussed anything specific.”

After several years away, Dunkin’ Donuts re-entered North Texas in 2007, with plans to sell more than 100 franchise stores over several years. Those plans didn’t come to bear, and Dunkin’ Donuts ended up buying back the franchise stores that are part of its deal with Jones and Aikman.

The stores in the deal include two in Tarrant County – one on White Settlement Road in Fort Worth and another on Precinct Line Road in Hurst – and others in Dallas, Plano, Carrollton, Frisco, Rowlett, Highland Village, and McKinney. A 12th store, set to open in Southlake in mid-April, also is part of the package. The chain’s D/FW Airport stores are not part of the deal.

The partners said they see significant opportunity for new stores in growing parts of the Metroplex, as well as “infill” locations in more mature areas.

“It’s coffee, it’s tea,” said Jones, who recalled frequenting a Dunkin’ Donuts shop during his youth in Springfield, Mo. “It speaks to a lot of cultural aspects of our country and our commerce.”

Sixty percent of Dunkin’ Donuts sales come from beverages, and the rest from donuts, breakfast sandwiches, and other baked goods.

Aikman, as a sportscaster for Fox Sports, says he’s a regular consumer of Dunkin’ Donuts, consuming it out of a Keurig machine he bought.

The partnership will be Dunkin’ Donuts’ main growth vehicle in the North Texas area, which includes Dallas, Collin, Tarrant, Denton, Fannin and Grayson counties, Travis said.

Travis said he views the partnership as the gateway for the “Northeast-centric” company’s expansion in the South and Southwest.

- Scott Nishimura

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Really Jerry? You need to spend time preparing for the Draft and trying to get the Cowboys back to prominence in the NFL. We don't need more marketing!

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