Expanding Krispy Kreme is once again hot stuff

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Krispy Kreme, after years of financial losses and store closures, is once again expanding, with up to 25 new stores proposed nationwide through the end of next year.

The expansion marks a change of course for the 75-year-old Winston-Salem, N.C., chain.

Last week, customers were steadily streaming in and out of the new store in Indian Land, S.C., which opened June 12 in a shopping center just south of the North Carolina state line.

Courtney Belk, 43, had come up from Lancaster, S.C., with her mother and two sons for a midmorning treat. "We're thrilled this is here," Belk said. "The boys love to watch the doughnuts being made."

As the family watched the conveyor belt of doughnuts run underneath the dripping glaze, Belk's mother, Anna Carothers, 70, said going to the store reminds her of times long gone.

"And the doughnuts really are very good," she said.

Krispy Kreme hopes to tap into that loyalty as it plots its comeback. After a period of strong growth, the company ran into financial troubles stemming in part from legal problems and a tough economy. It eventually closed more than half its stores.

Now the company is recording profits again and is ready to expand, said Brian Little, spokesman for Krispy Kreme Doughnut Corp.

"There is energy and excitement around the brand as we begin to re-engage with consumers and re-engage with our fans around the world," he said.

Conrad Lyon, an equity analyst from B. Riley Co. who follows Krispy Kreme, said the company has taken its time with expansion to better ensure it can deliver on its promises, given past failures. But the doughnut chain finally has its head above water.

"They're going back into growth mode," he said.

Krispy Kreme opened its first store in 1937 in Winston-Salem, growing gradually during its first decades. But by the '90s, Krispy Kreme was ready to be more ambitious.

More growth followed after the company went public in 2000. At its height in the middle of the decade, it had opened more than 400 stores, according to securities filings. But the rapid expansion proved unsustainable.

Krispy Kreme's earnings suffered from a 2005 lawsuit that accused former management of hiding evidence of dropping sales and profits. The company had to shell out $4.75 million to settle the case.

Healthy living trends and competition from other chains, such as Dunkin' Donuts and Starbucks, also took a toll. More than 240 U.S. stores closed between 2004 and 2009, according to securities filings.

With such a decrease in its U.S. presence, the company turned to international markets, where it has since begun growing in places like Japan, Mexico, the U.K., South Korea and the Middle East.

"Over the past four years, we've done quite a few things to put the company in a position for growth," Little said. "We stabilized the business, strengthened our balance sheet. We're continuing to grow in international markets and have started to grow domestically."

Since 2010 the company has been in the black. Last quarter, the corporation reported a net income of more than $6 million.

Lyon said that even though Dunkin' is Krispy Kreme's most significant competition, the marketing strategies for the two companies are different.

"The philosophy with Krispy Kreme is they intend to sell a doughnut and hope you buy a beverage, whereas with Dunkin', they intend to sell a beverage and hope you buy a doughnut," he said.

Expanding Krispy Kreme is once again hot stuff 07/05/12 [Last modified: Friday, July 6, 2012 12:11am]

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