Franchise owners who attended the latest meeting of the DD Independent Franchise Owners and the IAFO (Independent Association of Franchise Owners) held in Newark, NJ December 2nd, say the program offered relevant information and a forum to discuss ongoing issues.

Among those interviewed for this article, the majority said the strongest component of the meeting was the newly produced video of Attorney Eric Karp explaining the franchisees’ stake in the future sale of Dunkin’ Brands by their private equity owners.

“That was the best part of the meeting,” one New Jersey franchise owner said.

Among owners in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland there are some who have been in the DD system for decades and generations; while others are new to the system. And, because an owner in New York City faces a different set of challenges than, say, an owner in Northeast Pennsylvania, there are questions as to what a membership in DDIFO will do to improve a franchise owners’ situation.

“There is a bit of a Catch-22 regarding membership,” said one Pennsylvania franchise owner. “We understand the push for membership but a lot of guys are asking, what have you done for me lately?”

But, Anthony D’Amore, IAFO Board member and owner of 16 franchises in Union County and Middlesex County, NJ, says franchisees need to look at the big picture.

“It’s not just about today. I see DDIFO representing franchisees’ interests over the long term. Already we are seeing some of the things DDIFO is doing – like the Karp video and the franchise agreement. People have to see that membership in DDIFO is an important part of the franchisor, franchisee relationship,” said D’Amore.

According to interviews with other NY/Mid-Atlantic franchise owners, many were not aware of DDIFO’s participation in the negotiations that produced a new franchise agreement or that DDIFO engaged an independent firm to grade the previous agreement against other franchise system deals.

DDIFO President Jim Coen routinely talks about these kinds of value-adds when he discusses the benefits of DDIFO membership with franchise owners but, many franchisees are still hesitant. D’Amore says some franchise owners fear retribution from Dunkin’ Brands but he points out that, particularly now, the company has too much other business to worry about.

“The Brand is doing a different job,” he said. “It’s important for franchise owners to know that a DDIFO membership helps ensure their interests are being represented.”

Since joining with the DDIFO last year, the IAFO has seen a boost in attendance at its meetings, according to Tom Colitsas, an executive member of the IAFO Board.

“People are beginning to see there is a benefit and they’re beginning to see how the problems they have are shared by others. They’re seeing the need for unity. Is there skepticism? Sure there is which means we just have to prove ourselves,” Colitsas said.

As noted in Attorney Karp’s video presentation, the potential sale of Dunkin’ Brands is an opportunity for franchise owners to seek additional information and DDIFO is the right vehicle through which they can do that. DDIFO’s status as a long-standing, independent organization will be important to whatever interest winds up buying Dunkin’ Brands, according to Karp.

“It’s a rallying cry,” said one Pennsylvania franchise owner. “It’s definitely something that is motivating me to go to these meetings.”

 “I’m seeing more participation in meetings. More people are asking questions and that leads me to believe franchisees are coming to the table to learn what DDIFO can do for them,” said D’Amore. “I tell franchise owners, it’s up to you how much you participate and how the relationship with DDIFO will develop. You’ll never get more information by not attending the meetings,” he said.