Jack's Donuts is the growing franchise that still keeps it all in the family.
Jack “Lee” Marcum III grew up working in his family’s donut shop, Jack’s Donuts, in New Castle, Indiana. “While my friends were working summer jobs like caddying or lifeguarding at the pool, I was getting up at 1:00 a.m. to be at the donut shop,” he said. As he matured, his vision was to leave it all behind and pursue another career.
But, when the local institution his grandfather started in 1961 and was purchased by his dad in 1977, was for sale, Lee knew that despite his efforts for a career in computer science, that donuts were in his blood. “I was never forced into this business. In fact, I had plans to do something else. But when my dad was preparing the business for sale and I was helping him, I realized that we are a family business and needed to stay one.”
And so began the start of the modern-day Jack’s Donuts, that now operates 24 franchised stores and employs up to 400 people. The brand grew from its first original location in Indiana when Lee realized he could franchise the concept without losing what makes Jack’s Donuts so unique.
Lee attributes the success of the business to staying true to what made them a favorite all those decades ago. “We haven’t changed much. We are true to what matters and to what our customers have always loved,” Lee said. Jack’s offers traditional favorites and donuts that their customers have eaten for years like glazed tiger tails and “carmel” iced nut rolls.
Lee added, “We haven’t fallen into the flavor of the week or always trying to reinvent ourselves.” But, that doesn’t mean that the business doesn’t listen to customers or leverage insight to understand their markets and their opportunities. Jack’s assesses the flavor profiles of the communities they’re a part of and adjusts ingredients based on whether they’re in a metro area or a more suburban community. Jack’s has also expanded their coffee bar, which has been successful from California to Indiana.
“When we started to franchise, it was important to me to not lose the family sense of the business and to stay true to our roots,” Lee said. This formula has resulted from a combination of best-in-class hiring, training, and community involvement. “Charity has always been an important part of my family’s business, and so it’s an important part of the franchises. They are encouraged to give back and support their communities.”
As more stores are added to the business, Lee relies on partners like Dawn Foods to help him navigate growth and new opportunities. “Dawn Foods has been an excellent partner. Their customer service is the best,” Lee added.
Dawn’s network of Technical Service Representatives (TSRs) has been critical to ensuring consistency across the franchise operations. “They step up and offer advice and expertise when we need it to address potential inconsistencies from store to store. We deal with things like elevation differences between Indiana and Utah, but we need our donuts to be the same.”
Jack’s Donuts has relied on Dawn since its opening in 1961 and today purchases almost all their mixes, ingredients, and more from Dawn. “Dawn is the leader in the industry.” They proactively work with us, bring us new products, new ways of working, and modern ways of reaching our customers. We can ask them 1,000 questions, and they answer.”
While most of Lee’s product mix has remained true to the original menu, one thing that has changed for the business is their brand. The team invested in a new brand look and feel, and has focused on how to best promote it nationally to grow their customers and attract new franchisees. “Dawn has helped us with social media, marketing, and more. They really touch every aspect of our business.”
For Lee, the future is bright. He has big goals for growing the business, and (he adds with a wink) world domination. Seriously, he wants to change the impression of a franchise. “Most people think of a franchise as impersonal or not invested in community. But our business is first and foremost a family business that treats everyone like family and gives back.” And no matter how large Jack’s Donuts gets, that will never change.