ATLANTIC CITY - Dunkin' Donuts franchise owner Arun Mandi, of Voorhees, said he faces daily competition for the roadside coffee choices of New Jersey's traveling public.
But when franchise owners from across the country meet today in Atlantic City, he suspects they will spend more time talking about pending or proposed regulations.
"Competition has become a smaller part of our discussion lately," Mandi said. "It's just across-the-board regulations we're faced with, whether it's caloric content being posted on the menu boards, the minimum-wage increase, the Affordable Care Act or paid sick leave."
The company's franchise owners are meeting today at Caesars Atlantic City for their annual convention, the first hosted by Atlantic City. Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno will be the keynote speaker today for the Dunkin' Donuts Independent Franchise Owners conference.
Dunkin' Donuts is ubiquitous in South Jersey, with two-dozen stores in Atlantic and Cape May counties alone.
The publicly traded company doubled its storefronts in the last decade to 7,306 last year, including a new store that Mandi opened in Upper Township in October. He has 23 restaurants across Cape May and Atlantic counties.
Mandi said the latest New Jersey proposal calls for small businesses to offer paid sick leave. This comes on top of the November referendum to raise New Jersey's minimum hourly wage by $1, to $8.25.
"It's becoming more difficult to be a small-business owner. It's becoming increasingly tough," he said.
But Mandi is optimistic about his stores' future in South Jersey.
"No. 1, we have great products. The coffee is simply the best, coupled with breakfast sandwiches at a value price," he said.
The franchise owners normally meet each year in New England, where Dunkin' Donuts was founded. This year they moved the convention to Atlantic City to support the resort and local franchises after last year's Hurricane Sandy, said Matt Ellis, a spokesman for the franchise group.
Dunkin' Donuts poured more than 1 billion cups of coffee last year, according to its annual report. And while it might seem like it, not all of it was consumed in South Jersey.
The national restaurant chain is opening new stores as fast as you can say Boston kreme donut.
Nationally, the company is pushing its territory farther west to California through a product distribution center in Phoenix, Ariz.
"Dunkin' Donuts is expanding rapidly west of the Mississippi. There will be a beachhead set up in California. It's been a slow methodical march over the last three years," Ellis said.
The company's previous forays into Texas and California were unsuccessful largely because of supply-chain issues, Ellis said. That's been resolved with the opening of the new distribution center in Arizona, he said.
"They didn't have the supply-chain support to have the success they had in other markets," he said.
The key to the chain's success is its food, coffee and customer service, said Kevin Johnson, of Atlantic City, who works for Mandi as general manager for the store on Route 9 in Upper Township.
Dunkin Donuts, based in Canton, Mass., provides the marketing, branding and supply chain to support its franchises, Johnson said. Then it's up to the individual stores to live up to the chain's reputation.
"It's our game to lose," he said. "We have to keep our standards really high. It's what sets us apart."
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