Anne Beiler Interview
(Auntie Anne's Pretzels)
The story of Auntie
Anne’s Pretzels all started in 1988 when Anne Beiler opened her first
store at a stand in a Farmer’s Market in Downington, Pennsylvania.
She never looked back.
Today there are 830 Auntie Anne’s Pretzels stores all over the world.
How did she do it?
We talked to the Founder and C.E.O. of Auntie Anne’s-----Anne Beiler
for the answer.
Q – Anne, where did the Auntie come into play
in the naming of your pretzel chain?
A – I am an Aunt 30 times. So, I’m really an Auntie Anne. My
oldest niece is 36 years old. I have been Auntie Anne for just about all
of my life actually. (Laughs).
Q – So, you liked the sound of it?
A – Well, it’s just what they started calling me. I guess to
call somebody Aunt Anne doesn’t sound right or is a little harder
to say, so, it was easier to say Auntie Anne.
Q – It was reported in the paper that you are
now offering Starbucks coffee, pizza, soups, sandwiches, and pretzels
at your Lancaster, Pa. store. You really want to get into all of that-----pizza,
soups, and sandwiches?
A – (Laughs). Well, I guess we do. We really want to create an atmosphere
where people can sit down and enjoy not just a pretzel, but, maybe they’re
hungry for a sandwich. We have great sandwiches and for years have just
talked about wanting to do café type. So, we’re in the experimenting
stages of it. Don’t know if the soup and some of the other stuff will
stay on the menu, but, we’re trying to see what the public will expect
from an Auntie Anne’s Café. Time will tell.
Q – Now, you believe the success of Auntie Anne’s comes from
the three P’s.
A – Oh, yes.
Q – Purpose. Product. People. You say with each P working together
you can profit. How do you find the people who share your belief in the
company? I’ve heard it said time and time again that the labor force
of today just doesn’t want to work-----and doesn’t care.
A – I’ll tell you, it’s sad, but true and I don’t
see that changing in the future. I wish I could say there’s a swing
here. How do we find the people for the store? Of course the franchises
are responsible for each of their locations. But, corporately, Auntie Anne’s
owning 30 corporate stores-----it’s a constant challenge for us to
find people with those kinds of values that believe that giving your boss
a full day’s work and actually working while your at work is a challenge.
But, I have to tell you we have a wonderful work force at Auntie Anne’s
corporately. We talk about those values before we hire them. I think one
way you can get those kind of people into your place is by letting them
know up front what is expected of them. Most times when people know what
you expect, they’ll perform. If the expectations are too great, they’ll
look other places for employment. So, we try to be very up front about our
Q – Is there a typical day for you? Are you
behind a desk? Are you out in the field?
A – Yes. My typical week looks like…..I’m very closely
connected with the President of Auntie Anne’s who is Sam Beiler. He’s
been the President for 3 years now. We have a strong management team in
place. There’s 10 people in the management team. I have constant conversations
with the President. I go to the office a couple of times a week. I also
believe that when you delegate it’s really important to stay out of
the way. So, when I give someone a project I tend to let them do their job.
I try to train them as they go along, but, I try to stay out of the management
part of that particular job. I’ve delegated the President to manage
the co. and he does that, along with his management team and the department
heads of our cos. So, I stay in touch with him, regularly. My work these
days is p.r. and also employee relations in which I call er. Don’t
get that confused with the t.v. show “ER”. Employee Relations
and Public Relations-----that’s my role right now. I’m Chairman
of The Board so I’m involved in the larger decisions and the strategic
planning of Auntie Anne’s. But, I’m not involved in the daily
operations of the company at this point. My priority has actually changed
some. I have two grandchildren who are 3 and 4. So, my priority right now
is family first. The business is actually Number Two on the list.
Q – Who is Sam Beiler to you?
A – He is my second cousin. Our fathers were first cousins. He’s
been with the co. since 1989. He started as a franchisee and then he was
a Regional Director and eventually came into the Home Office.
Q – Do you have co. owned stores?
A – Yes. We have over 800 locations, about 830. Out of all of those,
about 30 are owned by Auntie Anne’s Inc. and the rest are franchise
locations. That would also include international stores as well.
Q – As success stories go, your success has been, while not overnight,
pretty close to it. In Feb. “88, you’re working a Farmer’s
Market selling pretzels and lemonade. Today 830 stores worldwide. How
did that happen? Is it because you make the best pretzel around?
A – Yes. (Laughs). I’ll tell you, I think retail fast food is
very competitive. I’m a firm believer in the fact that unless you
have a product that exceeds anything else that’s out there, you might
as well not take it to the marketplace. That’s just one piece of what
can help you grow as a co. You gotta have a superior product. I really believe
that. Auntie Anne’s Pretzels are to this day. When we open up a store,
a new store we hear the same remarks that we heard back in 1988 at our Farmer’s
Market store-----“This is the best I have ever tasted”. I never
tasted anything like it”. The product has to be “Wow”.
I’ve always made the statement unless anything that comes across the
counter to our customers isn’t wow, they’ll find another product
somewhere if it’s mediocre. First the product has to be superior and
then it has to be wow. Then the second piece of that as far as growing our
co. from almost like overnight is of course the people. I’m going
back to the three P’s I guess. You really can’t do this alone,
unless you can find the people that will get enthusiased and passionate
about the product, just like you are, you’re not going to get anywhere.
So, we have lots of family members and great friends at the beginning of
Auntie Anne’s that really launched us into our county, then into our
state, then into the Eastern seaboard, then national and then international.
All of that happened because of a great product and wonderful people and
also a lot of hard work. You can’t be lazy and own a company. (Laughs).
You just can’t be. And so, the work ethic is really important. I think
sometimes we in America have this idea that the American Dream-----what
does that mean? I think it means make lots of money, have a Big House, and
have a whole lot of cars and go golfing or sailing and let everybody else
do the work. We built this co. with a lot of blood, sweat, and tears and
a lot of prayer I might add and a lot of faith in God, believing that there
was a purpose here. If it was all about just making a lot of money, let
me tell you, from my perspective it’s just not worth it. That gets
old after awhile because it’s tough out there in the business world.
I was a stay at home mom. I was not familiar in any sense of the word with
what’s going on in corporate America, but 16 years later I’m
very aware of what’s going on. I am determined to have a co. that
is ethical. Our statement of purpose is Light. I believe it’s important
to be Light and to be an example. There’s a lot of cos. out there
like Auntie Anne’s that are making a difference in corporate America.
Q – Who is your competition? Do you have competition
on a national, international level?
A – Yes we do. When Auntie Anne’s started there were no soft
pretzels around. When we started back here in Pennsylvania before we had
time to get to a lot of areas in our country, people saw our idea. It’s
America and that’s what people do. Competitors rose up quickly. Our
real competitors have come and gone as far as the pretzel itself is concerned.
There are probably two out there we consider pretzel competitors. Our competition
is more than just pretzels. It’s any snack food in the mall, like
ice-cream or cookies. Even pizza is somewhat of a competitor to us. Anytime
you’re going to a mall, you’re thinking of picking up a snack.
That can range from cookies which I just mentioned to popcorn, carmel corn.
It’s those kinds of things that are our competitors. You don’t
see any more than one or two pretzel stores in a given mall. There are other
snack foods in mall.
Q – Were you baking pies and cakes when you
started out, and then went to pretzels? Is that how it worked?
A – Well, I started out as a kid on a farm baking pies and cakes.
That’s when I was 12 years old. So, that was in my younger years.
You probably read that in an article. That was a long time ago. I was raised
in a family of 8 kids on a farm. That responsibility that I had every Thursday
night when my mom was gone…..I was the baker in the house. I had
allergies and was not able to go outside and mow the grass and work on the
farm outside. I became the indoor helper. That’s when I took on the
responsibility of baking pies and cakes for the Farmers Market. That’s
when I learned I can make something very good. It looks nice and people
want to buy it. I remember it was a very exciting feeling. It was a big
responsibility for a 12 year old, but, my mom would always affirm me by
telling me how great it looks. And then, the customers bought it. So, that’s
where I learned how to bake. And, the pretzels came along not ‘til
I was 40 years old.
Q – After you graduated high school did you
consider going to a cooking school?
A – No. I never even went to high school. I went to eighth grade.
Q – That’s it?
A – That’s it. That’s the Amish culture. It’s not
that I was a drop-out. That’s what they still do today. You go to
the eighth grade.
Q – And then what happens?
A – You get married and plan to have a family. And really, that was
the only dream I had in life. To get married and have children. So, the
Auntie Anne thing just came out of the sky. I never thought about a career.
I grew up in a culture where family was the only thing that was important.
Then, you work for a living, whatever that maybe. This Auntie Anne was a
complete surprise to me. It took me into a world I knew nothing about.
Q – Were you making pretzels for your immediate
A – No. I was not. My husband was doing marriage counseling. We had
gone through marriage problems. Today, we’re actually happily married
for almost 37 years. But, we spent many years unhappily married. Because
of that we ended up going to see a marriage counselor in our church and
actually were able to re-store our relationship. Because of that, my husband
became very interested in helping other marriages and families that were
having problems. He went to set up a little counseling center as a free
service. So, he was not making any money. So, I went to work to support
him. And that’s where the whole idea came from.
Q – Where did you go to work?
A – At a Farmer’s Market. That’s where I learned to make
soft pretzels. It was not my own store. I was working for someone else.
Q – And that person taught you how to make
A – That’s right.
Q – And you probably had an idea how to improve
on the product.
A – I didn’t have an idea on how to improve on the product.
The whole thing was not planned. I went and bought a store at another Farmer’s
Market. When I bought the store they just happened to be selling soft pretzels
as well. I told my husband I really enjoy making pretzels. It’s a
lot of fun. It’s kind of a creative thing. Customers enjoyed it. We
bought this store and continued to make pretzels. There was a recipe I was
using that was already existing in that store. Somehow the pretzels were
not turning out very well. That’s when we started to tinker with the
recipe-----that’s when we came up with our own recipe. Pretzels was
not something I planned to do. I call it a Divine Intervention thing.
Q – Is the recipe safely guarded?
A – Yes it is. We ship all of the pretzel mix, the dry mix. It’s
mixed at two manufacturing plants in the country. Then, it’s shipped
out to all of the stores. They add the water and the yeast.
Q – Where do you want to take this co. of yours? Do you want to be
as big as McDonald’s or Wendy’s or Burger King?
A – Oh, man. I don’t know.
Q – That’s not what you’re aiming
A – Not at any cost do I want to become that big. My goal was pretty
simple. In our strategic planning you have to plan ahead. You have to do
that in business. On the other hand I always tell the management team I’m
not concerned about building another 100 stores. That’s not my goal.
My goal is to build one great location at a time. I know that’s way
too simple, but, that’s how we run the co. I feel like the sky is
the limit for Auntie Anne’s. There’s really nothing that’s
impossible if you have a great product and great people working together
with the same focus and the same passion. We have a bread product. It’s
shaped in a pretzel, but it is a bread product. There’s just so many
placed we can go. So, I really can’t tell you where I see myself,
but, I can only say the sky is the limit.
© Gary James All Rights Reserved