Posted by: Marty Fahncke | November 12, 2009

Dunkin Donuts Grand Opening: A study in contrast

I’ve been up since 4am.  Why?  Because my local Twitter contacts were abuzz about the new Dunkin Donuts grand opening happening at 5am this morning.  Since I wasn’t doing anything else at 5am, I decided to head on over and check it out, dragging my 17 year old daughter in tow.

What I encountered was a dramatic contrast to what I was expecting, and it gave me a lot of ideas about the right way and the wrong way to host a retail location grand opening.  If you are opening a new brick and mortar business in the future, I believe there are some lessons to be learned.  Here is my story…

About two years ago, Chick-fil-A announced a grand opening of a new store near my home.   Part of the grand opening celebration was that the first 50 people would get gift certificates for 50 free combo meals, and everyone else who showed up would get prizes as well.

This was enough to convince my daughter and her friends to camp out the night before to ensure their place in line.  I stopped by there late in the evening to check on them and hang out for a while, and here is what I saw:

  • Hundreds of people camped out in the parking lot, some in tents, many in just sleeping bags and blankets
  • Dozens of people playing Frisbee, tossing footballs, playing board games, socializing, and having a great time
  • The owner of the new franchise (His name is Randy.  I still remember after a few years) walking around, shaking hands and thanking everyone for coming out
  • Workers from Chick-fil-A handing out food, drinks, and ice cream, making sure everyone had a good time
  • Everyone having such a good time that nobody cared that the wait was 12 hours or more before the doors opened

At 6am the next day, Randy gave a quick welcome and thank you speech, opened the doors, and fed everyone in line a free breakfast.

Yes, the first 50 people did indeed get 50 combo meal vouchers.

By a quirk of fate, one of my daughters’ friends went off to serve his country in Iraq shortly after this event, so he gave me his 50 coupons.  Then my daughter moved to a different state, so she gave me what was left of hers.  Here I sat with nearly $500 worth of free food vouchers for a great place to eat. So what did I do?

I spread the word!

“Oh, you’ve never had Chick-fil-A, the best chicken sandwich in the world?”  “Well, let me buy you lunch!”

I know I converted at least a dozen people or more to the taste-bud-delight that is a Chick-fil-A sandwich.

On future visits, the owner remembered me, and always came to say “Thanks for coming in” and “Thanks for your support”

That’s how to do a Grand Opening right.  Fun.  Memorable. Established the brand in the neighborhood.  Brought more people in after the fact who became paying customers.  That’s good marketing.

Now let’s fast-forward to today:

I heard about the Dunkin Donuts grand opening on Twitter.  The owner had wisely recruited a local Twitter maven to host a “Practice run” a few days before the grand opening, announced only to people following @DDinKC on Twitter.  This bit of innovative thinking had me excited to see how the grand opening would be handled.

Here is the timeline:

  • 9:00pm the night before – Watching all the tweets about the opening, I saw “There will be 100 little @DunkinDonuts reasons to be among the first 100 thirsty customers :)”  Hmm, maybe we should spend the night? That might be fun!
    Posted that question back to @DDinKC on Twitter, and got this response.  “being 1st 100 NOT worth spending nite-it’s a “little” special-so sleep!”  My first thought…thanks for making sure I didn’t waste my time, but telling customers NOT to come have a good time…Not a good sign.
  • 4:45am – Arrived for the 5am opening to see only a handful of people in line.  My daughter and I were #8 and #9 in line.
  • 4:50am – Entertained by watching through the front window as the “Cup” and “Donut” mascots get their costumes.  Neither looked very happy to be there.
  • 5:05am – Doors still not open.  Outside temp is 40 degrees.  Hot coffee would be nice about now.  Maybe they could bring some out to the shivering masses?  Nope.
  • 5:08am – Doors open.  We are each given a plastic Dunkin Donuts travel cup.
  • 5:10am – At the counter.  Guy in line in front of me “Do we get free coffee for our new cups?”  Girl at counter, “No, you have to buy a coffee”.  Woman in line in front of me “Do we get free donuts?” Girl at counter “No, sorry”
    Me “Wha?”

So I BOUGHT some coffee and some donuts, said hi to a few Tweeple I was meeting for the first time IRL and went home.

Dunkin Donuts Travel Cup

A plastic cup - My reward for getting up at 4am and driving 20 miles for Dunkin Donuts

No, the owners didn’t make a speech thanking everyone for coming.  No, they didn’t say “hello” to the customers as we were waiting, or walking in, or eating the food we had purchased.  I know there are two owners of this new store from reading the press releases, but have no idea who they are.

To be fair, it seems there were additional festivities happening later at the grand opening including an appearance by baseball star George Brett, and some TV and radio media.  However, that didn’t take place until 7am…two hours after the doors first opened.  By then, responsible citizens like myself were back in the trenches at work.  (Yes, blogging is work for me!)

Bottom line

The Chick-fil-A opening was a real “event”.  It was fun, exciting, the owner really engaged with the customers, and the freebies were leveraged to bring new customers into the business long after the big event.

The Dunkin Donuts grand opening felt more like; “We’re open, now buy some donuts”.



After posting this blog, a few people picked it up on Twitter, including the owners of the Dunkin Donuts in question.  (@DDinKC)

This is a classy way to handle less than desirable press, so I wanted to share it as part of this post:

@DDinKC:  hey thanks for the feedback! Sorry to disappoint you, we did try to please today and last week too. 🙂

@FawnKey:  Didn’t mean to burst your bubble on an exciting day. Just writing what I see for my readers. I wish you the best of luck!

@DDinKC: oh it’s all good! Appreciate your thoughtfulness! Maybe we’ll get another chance with you Marty 🙂


  1. Hi Marty,

    Yes, I was also shocked to learn there were no freebies this morning. The twitter maven you wrote about tweeted me. She probabaly did some work scouting out local people to follow.

    I hadn’t heard or seen from her prior to this event.

    I bet what happened is that the owners spent a lot of money to get George Brett there. and that is great IF you are a big baseball fan.

    But I honestly think they would have done even better had they offered the freebies.

    I bet it cost them a pretty penny. On the other hand, it could be that they know him personally and he did it for free.

    After hearing that there were no freebies I decided not to go there. Hen House is closer 🙂 and I really don’t need any more donuts.

    But I would have driven all the way there had they been offering some free donuts and coffee just for fun! And here is the kicker – after going there once, I probably would have returned at some point as a paying customer.

    Good will goes a long way…

    You are right, there are many marketing lessons in this story….

  2. Very well said. Another example of a well run grand opening was the BW3 in south OP. First 100 customers got free wings for a year. My brother and I were going to camp out but to our surprise people started camping out 48 hrs in advance. I live a couple of blocks from the new DD and arrived this morning about 6:00. I was surprised to see how the workers were not excited to be there and that the owner (she was there chatting with friends) not out and about talking to the people buying her donuts. I got my donut and coffee. Grade card for the donut was a B. The coffee on the other hand got a C-. Horrible coffee that tasted like warm water. Looks like I will stay on the south side of 151st Street and get my coffee from QuikTrip.

  3. Interesting – everything you said that didn’t happen at 5 am – did happen at 9, including introduction, a welcome, a thank you and a donation to the Harvesters Org. They were giving away free coffee in exchange for food donations to Harvesters – not benefiting themselves at all – but helping a great organization and our community. Those that don’t have the privilege of opting to stand in 40 degree temps and choose whether or not to “buy” coffee or donuts. Great event and I am sure that all of the Dunkin Donuts brand junkies loved it. If you were following the Dunkin Donuts tweets related to the event – they clearly stated they were only opening at 5 am, but the grand opening ceremony would be held at 9 am.

  4. @jeep22 – Thanks for making me feel like I wasn’t the only one not jumping up and down with excitement.

    @evansmediagroup – I appreciate the reminder about being there and getting a donation. You are right to bring that up since I forgot to mention it. Thank you! As for the rest, I do understand the “main event” was later in the morning, but that doesn’t excuse pretty much ignoring the die-hards who got up in the wee hours to support the event.

  5. You tell it like it is and that’s respectable. Honest criticism isn’t a bad thing if it’s taken to heart and used to make improvements. I stopped by DD in the 11:00 hour, so I didn’t expect anything free. But they seemed to have everything running pretty smoothly (aside from some confusion on orders, but that’s to be expected to a certain extent).

  6. @MightyJeff – Agreed. Wasn’t expecting perfection on the first day. Also wasn’t necessarily expecting anything free either. This post was really about marketing strategy…not free donuts!

  7. @David – For some reason your comment just showed up! Very strange considering you were the first person to comment, but it didn’t appear.

    Anyway, thank you for recognizing that this post was about marketing lessons.

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