Last month, I visited the 9/11 Museum and Memorial at the site of the World Trade Center towers in New York City, which were knocked down by terrorist attacks 17 years ago.

The memorial is a stark but solemn reminder of that horrific day when America came under attack. During my visit, I recalled how, for weeks after the towers fell, Americans came together as one – liberal/conservative, Democrat/Republican, black/white/Asian, Christian/Jew/Hindu/Muslim – to embody this nation’s slogan, E Pluribus Unum (From Many, One). One America, where perhaps we didn’t agree on everything, but we all agreed that we were one people, seeking what was in our mutual best interests: Peace, safety and prosperity.

Later that night I went to the Guys and Dolls fundraiser in Manhattan to benefit the Dunkin’ Brands Joy in Childhood Foundation, where franchisees come together again for one important purpose: Raising money to help some worthy organizations support worthy causes. And that’s when the similarities jumped out at me.

It struck me how we can come together when we, as a people, as a nation, or as a franchise owner community, face a common foe or a common challenge. That is the rule – disparate interests may exist, but they are secondary to the common mutual interest. As the old saying goes, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

In that context, we note that Tim Hortons franchisees never saw the need for their own independent franchisee association, until the company was bought by Restaurant Brands International, which virtually eliminated the influence and independence franchisees had previously enjoyed. The Tim Hortons franchisee community came together as one in the face of that common challenge and created the Great White North Franchisee Association (GWNFA). Today, the GWNFA is involved in significant litigation with their own brand on both sides of the border. Having an effective functioning independent franchisee association never seemed important in the Tim Hortons system. That is, until it was.

Likewise, Jack in the Box opened its first restaurant back in 1951 and grew to about 1,200 stores by 1992 when a leveraged buyout and an E.coli epidemic was enough for its franchisees to recognize the wisdom of the independent franchisee association, and in 1995 created the Jack in the Box National Franchisee Association (JIBNFA). Twenty-eight years later, the association boasts a membership consisting of 90 percent of the franchised stores in the Jack in the Box system. Citing an “unsustainable loss in sales and transactions,” the association, speaking with one powerful voice, announced a vote of no-confidence in the current CEO. There wasn’t much need for the JIBNFA to take any action for almost three decades. That is, until there was.

And in the face of continuing demands for more franchisee modernization and investment along with more franchisor control, some 400 McDonald’s franchise owners (representing 25 percent of the company’s U.S. stores) met last month and created an independent franchisee association of McDonald’s franchisees. Heretofore blind to the need and the benefit of joining together as one voice, franchise owners in the McDonald’s system now see the benefits of joining together for a common goal. The plateaued success of individual stores in the McDonald’s system was sufficient to meet franchisee needs. That is, until it wasn’t.

In the Dunkin’ system, we’re fortunate on a couple of fronts. For nearly a decade, Dunkin’ has been more mindful of franchisee concerns and cognizant of the need for greater balance in the franchisee-franchisor relationship. And, new Dunkin’ CEO Dave Hoffmann has thus far shown himself to be very much aware of and, to an extent, in sync with franchisee needs and interests.

However, as bright as the relationship horizon may seem, and as closely aligned on issues as the franchisor and franchisees appear, there are always disparate interests just below the surface. One looks at the top line, while the other lives by the bottom line. As a case in point, the unilateral changes made to the franchise agreement back in 2015 were completely logical and understandable through the lens of Dunkin’ Brands. But they were anathema to the franchisee when viewed from the franchise owners’ perspective. Fortunately, this independent franchisee association had its eye on the ball and quickly mobilized to analyze the changes and explain to the franchisee leadership the devastating impact they could have on the entire Dunkin’ franchisee community. For some, having DDIFO available and prepared to review and identify those significant changes was just not that important. That is, until it was.

In September 2001, members of the Congress of United States stood together on the steps of the U.S. Capitol and sang God Bless America. Democrats and Republicans, with tears in their eyes, joined together as one to stand against the common enemy, the terrorist threat. The image stands in stark contrast to the recent Congressional confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, which both Democrats and Republicans called “a national disgrace.” Some Americans wonder if today there is any reason for our elected officials to stand together as one. History tells us there isn’t, until there is!

Ed Shanahan
DDIFO Executive Director