Tough Times: Dunkin' Franchisee Survives Business Startup During Economic Low

Talk about starting a business during the worst of times. Jason Duffy knows just what that's like.

After all, as he says, "That's all I've known as a franchisee, since I opened my first Dunkin' Donuts store in Phoenix on Aug. 15, 2008 during the worst economic times in 50 or 60 years." But the 38-year-old made it through and is still going strong.

Having survived his baptism by fire and come out ahead, Duffy, recently named one of the "40 Under 40" to watch by the Phoenix Business Journal, now has 51 Dunkin' Donuts stores in four western states, Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, and California.

His path to franchising began with a fateful meeting nearly 20 years ago with Jon Luther, who would later become president, CEO, and chair of Dunkin' Donuts. A 19-year-old Duffy, who was working his way through college, had started a gutter-cleaning business. At one of the doors he knocked on, he met Luther, who hired him and spoke with him about hustling and paying his way through college.

Then Duffy had an accident, falling from a ladder and, in the process, damaging the side of Luther's house. "He had to fly out the next morning, and I assured him that I'd take care of everything," Duffy recalls. "He didn't know me or what would happen, but he went on his trip, and when he returned everything was done."

Through the years, the two stayed in touch as Duffy graduated with a finance degree from West Virginia University and Melbourne (Australia) Institute of Technology. Luther became something of a mentor to the ambitious young man who had helped care for his blind mother since childhood.

Later, in 2007, when Duffy was working in the finance industry, he "saw the handwriting on the wall" and decided to change professions. Cue Jon Luther. "I reached out to him, and he said he had an opportunity in Phoenix because Dunkin' was looking to open stores out West. I accepted, and this was my first foray into franchising."

If Duffy wrote an instructional manual for would-be franchisees, he says it would contain many of the lessons he's learned navigating the economic downturn. "First, I'd tell them, 'Understand the dynamics of the business you're getting into, and do that well in advance of making a commitment. Due diligence should include talking to existing franchisees who are willing to share information.'"

New franchisees should also "plan for the worst," he says. "Whatever capital you think you need, double it. A five-year plan on a spreadsheet feels different when you have to live it out. It's always harder than you think it is."

Another tip: find a good partner. In Duffy's case, that would be Bert Hayenga. "He is honest, hard-working, and a genuinely great person," says Duffy. "We work extremely well together and our skill sets complement each other, which enables us to get more done and enhance our productivity."

Duffy, who is excited about continuing to grow with Dunkin' and his team, also offers a piece personal advice: "Always surround yourself with good people, take on challenges outside your comfort zone, and live every day to the fullest."

Name: Jason Duffy
Title: Managing Partner
Company: First Cup LLC (Southwest Bakery Group, Wholesale Service Exchange)
No. of units by brand: 51 Dunkin' Donuts
Age: 38
Family: Wife Erin and three children, Olivia, Sam, and Miley
Years in franchising: 6
Years in current position: 6

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