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PODCAST — Soft pretzel chain Auntie Anne's is engaged in a franchisee love affair. Satisfaction among its 300-plus franchise owner-operators is second to none in franchising.Three-quarters of its franchisees have weighed in, and of those just about everyone has given it a high score in regard to support and training, according to Franchise Research Institute / FranSurvey, a firm that surveys franchisee satisfaction. Nearly 100 percent of those who anonymously responded to a survey said that they felt that Auntie Anne's is committed to a very positive, long-term relationship with them.
How big a deal is that? Jeff Johnson, founder and CEO of FRI, thinks it is huge. He declares, "We have been having a confidential conversation with Auntie Anne's franchisees for five years and they are the cream of the crop!” He thinks that when franchisees are interviewed in strictest confidentiality and in sufficient enough numbers, they provide the best insights into the quality of a franchise system.
To explain how to accomplish such stellar relationship with its franchisees and what it even looks like, Auntie Anne's president and chief operations officer, William Dunn, Jr., speaks with Blue MauMau. Dunn served as vice president and general manager for the global consumer and industrial packaging powerhouse Sonoco CorrFlex before joining Auntie Anne's. But having grown up the son of a Wendy's multi-unit franchisee, Dunn understands what is entailed in being an owner-operator.
Scot Crain, Auntie Anne's chief customer officer, a job title not often heard in franchising, also shares his insights. The chief customer officer position was created six years ago to better hear from Auntie Anne's franchisees, or what it calls its customers, and act upon what they wanted.
The ingredients of understanding franchisee relationships were added 22 years ago by founder Anne Beiler, who grew up in the Amish and Mennonite country around Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Afflicted with severe depression and marital strife after the tragic death of her child, Beiler managed to find herself. She developed a mission in life — to help stressed families through free community counseling services, something that she thought could be funded by selling her family pretzels at a local farmer's market. But as life would have it, those divinely tasting pretzels gained a reputation and the small kiosk grew to be the nation's largest pretzel chain, with over 300 franchise owner-operators and 1,000 stores.
Franchisees speak about the early days in which they gathered in Beiler's warm home over pretzels and milk to discuss operational issues. They felt like family. "Anne and Jonas Beiler provided their very strong belief in ethics to all their business interactions," adds Crain about the chain's secret ingredient that gives it superior results. The traits of listening and having the other person's concerns at heart were kneaded into the rich dough of the chain's culture from birth.
Bill Dunn thinks that Focus Brands, the private equity firm that took over the firm last November, will continue to respect the franchisor's nurturing culture. "They recognize that there is not a need to make any changes that would impact or change the way that we interact with our franchisee partners," says Dunn. With a little luck, some of Auntie Anne's will rub off on Focus Brands.
Click on the arrow next to the speaker icon below (iPhone/iPad users, you need flash to see it) to hear the interview. You can also download the Podcast.
In this Podcast series, Blue MauMau spends five to ten minutes with top leaders and future game changers, addressing innovative and far-reaching issues that the franchise industry faces.