CANTON, MASS. — Dunkin’ Brands Group, Inc. is giving Dunkin’ US franchisee restaurants more flexibility through changes like cutting back on store hours and decreasing the number of items on menus. Financial assistance to franchisees, who are scrambling to stay in business during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, is coming in forms like extended payment terms and rent deferment.
Comparable store sales for Dunkin’ US were down 2% in the first quarter ended March 28. Comparable store sales grew 11% in the first 10 weeks of the quarter and then declined 19% in the last three weeks due to the impact of COVID-19.
Companywide, Canton-based Dunkin’ Brands had first-quarter net income of $52.1 million, or 63¢ per share on the common stock, which was down 0.4% from $52.3 million, or 63¢ per share, in the previous year’s first quarter. Revenue of $323.1 million was up 1.3% from $319.1 million.
Dunkin’ Brands is withdrawing fiscal 2020 and long-term growth targets because of the uncertainty caused by COVID-19. The company’s share price on the Nasdaq closed at $62.84 per share on April 30, the day first-quarter earnings were released, which was down 2.9% from a closing price of $64.69 per share on April 29.
Scott Murphy, president of Dunkin’ Americas, said four principles will guide the company: ensure the safety of workers and customers, provide flexibility to simplify operations inside restaurants, support franchisees financially where possible, and make field-based decisions quickly as conditions change.
Safety has involved washing hands frequently, watching required hygiene videos, wearing single-use gloves and facemasks, and installing plexiglass shields at the front counter.
“We removed tables and chairs and converted the entire system to takeout and drive-thru only,” Mr. Murphy said in an April 30 earnings call. “We marked 6-foot increments on the floor tile to encourage social distancing when in line and suspended our refillable mug program. “
Each franchisee has flexibility in restaurant hours. Closing at 7 p.m. allows more time for cleaning.
“Almost 2,000 stores closed their front lobby entirely and focused exclusively on the drive-thru as customers showed a preference for staying in their vehicles,” Mr. Murphy said. “We offered curbside ordering through our app, and it's already generating about 2% of transactions for the almost 1,000 stores using this feature.”
Limiting certain product varieties on the menu improves speed and reduces complexity.
“And we've gone as far as to develop a radically reduced menu called ‘The Essentials Menu’ that is a great alternative for a franchisee who may only have access to a limited staff but still wants to serve our guests,” he said.
Franchisees also have more flexibility on the timing of capital expenditures such as purchasing equipment and remodeling restaurants.
“Some are choosing to preserve cash in the short term while some are taking advantage of slower restaurants to conduct a remodel,” Mr. Murphy said. “It is fair to say, however, that we will see a temporary slowdown in remodels and new store development as we navigate this crisis, but we've already started brainstorming on how remodels and new builds should look in this post-COVID world.”
To help franchisees financially, Dunkin’ Brands has extended payment terms on royalties and the advertising fund, deferred rent in the corporate properties that Dunkin’ Brands controls, and worked with vendors, lenders and suppliers to provide additional flexibility to protect franchisee liquidity, said David L. Hoffman, president and chief executive officer.
He said the average Dunkin’ franchisee has about 150 employees. As independent business owners, many have applied for loans under the US government’s Paycheck Protection Program.
“We want to make it clear that as 100% franchisee-owned-and-operated system, Dunkin' Brands has neither applied for nor received any loans from this program,” Mr. Hoffman said. “However, we are very grateful for the additional support provided directly to our franchisees through measures such as the CARES Act.”
The CARES Act stands for the government’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.
Dunkin’ Brands made several other changes in response to the COVID-19 crisis. The company suspended discretionary matching of 401(k) retirement plans. Mr. Hoffman said suspending the regular dividend program will save about $33 million in cash in the second quarter. Mr. Hoffman voluntarily agreed to take a 30% reduction in base salary, and the senior management team took a voluntary 20% reduction in base salary. The reductions initially are through early August, but they are subject to extension if the situation warrants.
Dunkin’ Brands in March borrowed $116 million available under its variable funding notes to ensure access to funds and to further strengthen financial flexibility. The company at the end of the first quarter had $381 million in unrestricted cash held in the United States.
Dunkin’ US in the first quarter reported segment profit of $109.3 million, down 1.6% from the previous year’s first quarter. Revenue of $151.8 million was up 1.4%. About 90% of the Dunkin’ US system remains open for off-premises consumption, Mr. Hoffman said.
“With customers’ daily morning routines disrupted, we are seeing a shift in sales across dayparts,” he said. “Sales volumes in the early morning are down but have picked up from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. as people venture out for a break,” he said.
About 1,000 restaurants, located in transportation hubs, college campuses and urban centers like New York City and Philadelphia, are closed temporarily.
“Over the past few weeks, the closure rate has slowed, and the number of open stores has been increasing,” Mr. Hoffman said.
Comparable store sales for Dunkin’ International decreased by 7%. Segment profit fell 28% to $3.5 million, and revenue dropped 20% to $5.5 million.
In Baskin-Robbins US, comparable store sales grew 1.8% in the quarter. Segment profit of $6.6 million was up 4.5%, and revenue of $10.8 million was up 5.5%. In Baskin-Robbins International, comparable store sales grew 2.5% driven by growth in South Korea and Japan. Segment profit of $9.5 million was up 21%, and revenue of $27.3 million was up 7%.
About 50% of international restaurants, including both Dunkin’ and Baskin-Robbins are open, Mr. Hoffman said.
“Many of our international markets remain completely shut down, and others continue to be restricted by curfews or are delivery-only,” he said.