For independent doughnut shops, competing against Dunkin’ Donuts is no easy task

Shaun Tolson writes in the Worcester Business Journal that by 8:30 a.m. on a chilly Thursday morning in December, the Morningside Donuts shop in Fitchburg is filling up. Only one of the shop’s eight, navy blue-colored booths lining the walls remains empty. Mothers with young children in tow and police officers who left their cruisers idling in the parking lot are moseying up to the counter to get their morning caffeine fixes, and the shop’s drive-thru window is seeing its own steady flow of traffic. The shop is filled with laugher and boisterous conversation as the regulars catch up and shoot the breeze.

It’s plenty of business to keep the shop’s manager, Sandra McAneany, and her co-worker Kalie Clayton hustling from station to station.

“When we get busy, between the counter, the drive-thru and the restaurant, we’re running,” McAneany said. Yet, the Morningside Donuts shop serves as an example that appearances can be deceiving. The shop’s owner, David Howard, who took over ownership in January 2009, says that after almost a year, he’s yet to turn a profit.

“We’re barely able to stay afloat,” he said. “We’ve made just enough to sustain the business, but there’s no profit.”

The shop is a family-owned business, with Howard’s mother-in-law and two sisters-in-law on staff full-time.

“It keeps my family employed and it keeps us together, which is good,” he said. “But if we start losing money then our business isn’t going to make it. You can only lose money for so long.”

Challenging Corporate America

Such is not a concern for Dunkin’ Donuts.  With more than 6,300 shops located in 34 states across the country, it’s hard to argue with the slogan that “America runs on Dunkin’.”

The coffee and doughnut chain, which opened its first store in Quincy in 1950, has since grown exponentially thanks to an aggressive franchise strategy. And its growth hasn’t been limited to the United States. It has more than 2,400 locations in 31 countries, from Peru to China, New Zealand to Saudi Arabia.

Inventory sales for the company are as staggering as its number of locations. The corporation sells 2.5 million doughnuts everyday and more than 1 billion cups of coffee in a given year.

With Dunkin’ Donuts’ global sales peaking at $5.5 billion in 2008, it’s an achievement that there are any local, independent coffee and doughnut shops in existence in the shadow of the D&D headquarters at all. How the mom and pop shops manage to compete, however, is another matter entirely.

Making The Dough In Doughnuts

Sixty-four-year-old Robert Sbrogna, who owns Donut Café and Donut Café II in Worcester, can say without any exaggeration that he’s devoted his life to doughnuts.

Sbrogna’s doughnut career began when he was 15 years old, washing dishes at Cottage Doughnut, a local chain that once had locations in Worcester, Marlborough and Westborough, among others, though now many of those locations exist as Dunkin’ Donuts stores.

Read more at: Worcester Business Journal