Jim Coen, DDIFO President, addresses the 3-4-10 DDIFO Members Meeting. Photo by Susan Minichiello

Throughout its 20-year history, the DDIFO has always held meetings for its members, giving franchise owners the chance to get together and catch up. But as the organization has grown and evolved so have these meetings, taking on additional relevance and importance.

From focused content that gives attendees access to the most current developments at the Brand and legislative levels, to highly relevant and informative outside speakers and to sponsors offering advantageous products and services, today’s DDIFO Members Meetings are powerful and compelling events designed to keep members informed and demonstrate opportunities to maximize efficiency and profits.

The latest New England regional meeting on Thursday, March 4, was no exception.

“I thought the meeting was very informative, and the exhibiting sponsors were practical and useful,” said Kristina Sampalis, a franchise owner in Rhode Island. “Since Jim Coen has come on as DDIFO president, there have been a lot more relevant topics and speakers at these meetings. The topics and presentations are things we really need to be aware of and that benefit us as franchisees.”

Another franchisee remarked, “We have gotten more out of these last two DDIFO meetings than all the meetings I have attended in 10 years.”

More than 100 DDIFO members representing over 1,200 Dunkin’ Donuts shops gathered at the Doubletree Hotel in Westborough, Massachusetts. Prior to the official start of the meeting, franchise owners spent an hour mixing and mingling and interacting with the 15 DDIFO sponsors exhibiting at the meeting.

Two vendors that came on board as DDIFO sponsors just prior to the Mid-West Members Meeting in December also exhibited at this meeting. Jamie Gersten of Comcast Business Services and Larry Dunning of Payless ShoeSource both had positive reactions. “It’s valuable for me to talk with franchisees directly and see what they need. Many people here today seem to have multiple stores and seem interested in what we have to offer them in terms of their telecom options,” Gersten said. “For me personally, it’s great to finally put faces with names, plus interacting with the other sponsors and building relationships with them. I really appreciate that these regional meetings are large enough to meet a lot of people but small enough to really connect with everyone.”

Dunning agreed, “Especially since we’ve just started our relationship with Dunkin’ Donuts, these events give us the chance to meet new franchise owners and make them aware of our slip-resistant footwear products and how important they are to their business.”

In the official opening remarks from DDIFO President Jim Coen, he spoke with guarded optimism about the changes at Dunkin’ Brands and his hope for improved relations and collaboration between the Brand and franchisees. “I believe we will look back and see this time frame as a pivotal period for improved relations with franchisees and Dunkin’ Brands. I’m not suggesting we break out the champagne and celebrate anything just yet, but there is real optimism out there,” said Coen. “The management team of the Brand today appears to be taking Dunkin Donuts in a new and very welcome direction. Plus, the franchisees have a BAC that is made up of empowered and engaged franchisees with 14 out of the 26 BAC members also being DDIFO members.”

Coen discussed a change in the editorial direction of DDIFO communications with a stronger focus on stories about franchise owners, their interests and their commitments to local communities. One method for spreading this message, Coen suggested, is by publicizing owners’ charitable endeavors. He stressed that in order to do this, the DDIFO communications team needs to hear from franchisees directly. Any owner with a story to tell should contact Jim directly at jim@ddifo.org.

Coen also addressed government affairs. “Our Government Relations Coordinator Joe Giannino is working hard to help each and every legislator on Beacon Hill understand that every franchise owner is a small business operator investing in his/her community. One of the key drivers to accomplishing our goals on Beacon Hill is the Dunkin’ Donuts Franchise Owners Massachusetts Political Action Committee. If you walk out of here today with one thing, I tell you to contribute to the PAC, because we can make great things happen with your support.” said Coen. “You may say, ‘My stores are in Rhode Island. How does someone on Beacon Hill help me?’ Well, first of all the Brand is headquartered in Massachusetts and secondly, Massachusetts is considered one of the bellwether states for cutting edge legislation. Thirdly, I will help you in your state. I am here to help you gain influence in your state any way I can.”

Joe Giannino, DDIFO Government Affairs Coordinator, Photo by Susan Minichiello

During his turn at the mic, Giannino acknowledged the DDIFO continued emphasis on government relations. “Over the past year, because of Jim (Coen) and the DDIFO’s efforts, Beacon Hill knows who runs Dunkin’ Donuts shops.” He said that while the DDIFO has had some noteworthy successes in the areas of menu labeling and tip pooling, the DDFO MassPAC raises the game by speaking in one voice on behalf of 1,400 shops employing more than 25,000 individuals. In addition to encouraging financial support the DDFO MassPAC, Giannino urged franchise owners to make sure legislators know who you are. “Remember, all politics is local. Introduce yourself to your legislators. Connect with them. Make it personal. Put a face on your store. You all have wonderful stories to tell. Tell them.”

Mark Slutsky, Street Fighter Marketing. Photo by Susan Minichiello

Featured speaker Marc Slutsky, Chief Operating Officer of Street Fighter Marketing, spoke about making advertising and marketing more cost-effective with a grassroots approach and “guerilla” style tactics. “Street fighting is an attitude that helps you break through the clutter of commercial messages,” said Slutsky. “It’s all about creatively promoting your business on the community level.” Throughout his presentation, Slutsky was lively and humorous, keeping attendees riveted with real-life examples of successful “street fighter” schemes–including cross-promotions with local non-competitive merchants and “low liability” community involvement/fundraising–and with interactive exercises that required audience members to identify targets and sketch out ideas that they could take home and implement with ease. In every aspect, Slutsky stressed the importance of innovative thinking that keeps the best interests of customers at the forefront.

Peter Bergeron, Projections Inc., Photo by Susan Minichiello

Peter Bergeron, Vice President of Client Services for Projections, Inc. gave a stirring presentation–Union Organizing 101—that provided information about the state of the union movement in America, current law versus legislation now being considered (i.e., the Employee Free Choice Act [EFCA] which would eliminate union elections), the potential dangers of unions and how you can union-proof your business. Of organizers, Bergeron said, “They’ll work any angle they can.” He went on to supply actual examples of union campaigns and materials, outlining early warning signs that your business may be in the sights of union organizers and citing valuable ideas for taking the initiative to enhance employee relations. “Get proactive now and think strategically about how you conduct your business in terms of communicating with your employees.”

Jim Allen, BAC Co-Chair. Photo by Susan Minichiello

A Q&A session with BAC Co-Chair Jim Allen followed. One franchise owner had this reaction: “Allen did a very good job. He proved that being a DDIFO member is not perceived negatively by the Brand. Fourteen of the 26 BAC Leaders are DDIFO members. That is an important message for potential DDIFO members. There is now no reason not to join DDIFO. You can’t blame not joining on the brand anymore. So, franchisees, it’s time to step up and join DDIFO.”

The day concluded with more sponsor interactions and giveaways. Andrew Weiner, a franchisee in Burlington, was the big winner of the day walking away with an iPod Touch from WDFA Marketing and a golf putter from Paris Kirwan. Other winners included: Timothy Lott with a $50 gift card from Payless ShoeSource, Richard D’Angelo with an iPod dock from Comcast Business Services, Joe Cadette with a golf umbrella and golf balls from Paris Kirwan, and Octavio Carvallo with a stuffed duck from Aflac.

In addition to having one heck of a lucky day, Weiner was duly impressed with the meeting itself. “The speakers all addressed important issues that we need to know about as franchisees, and it was exceptional to have Jim Allen (BAC Co-Chair) speak,” he said. “Having the vendors here was great, too, especially for those of us who are in the midst of remodels. It’s nice to have the chance to see the new technologies and other products and services available. Overall, I think this was a strong meeting.”

Coen said was pleased with the meeting as well and felt it hit the mark. “The primary objective in staging a DDIFO Members Meeting is to offer members as much information as possible at one time in one place–a smorgasbord of information related to being a Dunkin’ Donuts franchise owner,” he said. “This includes access to sponsors, access to experts on a variety of topics and access to franchisee leaders who can help put brand relations into a meaningful perspective. I thank the speakers, the sponsors, the BAC Leaders and most importantly the members for taking the time to attend.”

The next two Members Meetings will take place May 5 in the Chicago area and June 3 in New Jersey. Keep your eyes peeled for announcements and details about all five remaining 2010 meetings.