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 expectations.

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 family?
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 pretzels?
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 for?
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.

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