Jon Chesto reports in the The Patriot Ledger that a dramatic change in Dunkin’ Donuts’ franchising policy to make it easier for new franchisees to open a Dunkin’ shop has helped fuel the chain’s growth during the first half of this year.

Canton-based Dunkin’ Donuts reported on Wednesday that it enjoyed a net increase of 338 new locations worldwide in the first six months of 2010, including 75 new stores in the United States. The company currently boasts of more than 9,000 locations worldwide.

The chain, run by Dunkin’ Brands Inc., changed its policy to allow new franchisees to sign a development agreement for as few as one to three locations. Previously, Dunkin’ had required first-time franchisees to sign development agreements for at least five locations.

Grant Benson, vice president of franchising and market planning at Dunkin’ Brands, said the company made the change about a year ago, partly to help new Dunkin’ franchisees land the financing they need. Benson said the change certainly helped continue to propel the chain’s expansion through the headwinds of an economic downturn.

“We have provided franchisee candidates more flexibility by allowing smaller development commitments,” Benson said. “In some cases, it could be as few as one, (but) we would like to be able to see at least two or three.”

Benson said much of the recent U.S. growth took place in the Southeast and in the Midwest, while overseas growth was strong in Korea and China.

Benson attributed the flexibility of the Dunkin’ Donuts model – shops can be opened in hospitals, train depots or gas stations – as a key element of its success. “That flexibility doesn’t exist with a lot of other concepts,” Benson said.

Jim Coen, president of the Dunkin’ Donuts Independent Franchise Owners association, said this is the first time he’s seen Dunkin’ Donuts allow development agreements for one-location franchises since he’s been involved with the chain. However, Coen said he expects most franchisees will continue to pursue multiple locations.

“The average franchisee nationwide owns at least six shops,” Coen said. “There’s an economy of scale, a point where you reach critical mass, that you really need.”

The company didn’t provide comparable growth numbers for the same six-month period in 2009. Benson said there were 171 net new locations in the U.S. in all of 2009, and 351 net new locations worldwide.

“It speaks to the staying power of the brand and the profitability of the brand,” Benson said. “It’s not a fad. It’s here to stay and built to ride out some of the turbulent times.”

The Patriot Ledger