Prior to his fifth season, Ricky Jean Francois received a significant lump sum of cash from the contract he signed with the Indianapolis Colts. He knew exactly what to do with it.
“I needed a retirement fund,” said Jean Francois, a 10th-year defensive tackle who’s currently a free agent. “I had the money but didn’t want to spend all the money. I wasn’t going to be a 30 for 30 subject about going broke. If I had the resources, we needed to get a retirement plan going.”
His financial manager, Sherard Rogers, suggested Dunkin’ franchises as a potential pathway for his post-career plans. Rogers brought Jordan Reed and Sam Shields, two of his other clients, into the fold, and together the three players started U Donuts, LLC. The business has since purchased territory rights between Hilton Head, South Carolina, and Savannah, Georgia, with the potential to build 26 stores. The company began with three locations and now has nine operational, with four more planned to open this year. Jean Francois said U Donuts is prioritizing steady growth over exploding the number of franchises.
“It’s a growing brand that will let us take it as far as we want to,” he added. “Everybody loves coffee. “We thought it’d be smart to get into something a lot of people can’t not start their day with”
Dunkin’ relies on franchisees like the trio of NFL players to continue its growth throughout the nation, said Grant Benson, Dunkin’ Brands senior vice president of franchising and business development. Benson noted Jean Francois, Reed and Shields all demonstrate high confidence in the Dunkin’ model, which makes them easy to work with.
“Many of the skills learned in sports can translate to franchising, and these professional athletes know how to work hard and utilize the operations playbook to their advantage,” Benson said. “We look forward to working with U Donuts to bring great products and an exceptional guest experience to our loyal guests throughout South Carolina and Georgia.”
The trio of NFL players combined their efforts to help other prepare for their post-NFL lives. Jean Francois said the trio could have prioritized individual endeavors but understood early on that combining resources will better prepare all of them for retirement.
“It’s better when you have other people that want to get their post-career started now, investing now,” he said. “I get to learn from them, they get to learn from me, and we all get to make our money work now and see what our money is doing.”
Likewise, Jean Francois said he’s excited to set himself up for other business endeavors, which might start sooner rather than later, as he’s unsure of whether he’ll be on a team this fall.
“We all work together, get on calls with one another and our other partners that are professionals, so I know it as well,” he said. “I’m on the back end of my career, so I have to start preparing and be used to it.”
One additional venture could be real estate. The group is currently purchasing the real estate on which future Dunkin’ locations will sit, provided they don’t get a better offer for the land.
“I want to look at dirt and not see it as dirt, [but] I see the future Dunkin’ built there,” he said. “Being part of it makes you work, makes you work the brain.”
As the trio of players continue to build their coffee and donut empire, Jean Francois wants more players to focus on building their post-career plans early on, so they can retire and walk gently into a comfortable life.
“When you have the resources, why not set an example for others?” he said. “We’ve all seen these recent deals. If these guys put 10% away, they can own whatever they want and coast.”