Anne Beiler, Auntie Anne’s Pretzels

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Anne Beiler, Auntie Anne's Pretzels

Anne Beiler

Founder, Auntie Anne’s Pretzels

On the morning of September 8, 1975, Anne Beiler was living her dream of being a young wife and mother. A few hours later, her life took an unexpected turn when her 19 month-old daughter Angela was killed in a tragic accident. This devastating event plunged Anne into a deep depression that lasted for years and tested her marriage, her resolve and her faith. Becoming the matriarch of Auntie Anne’s Pretzels, the world’s number one mall-based pretzel franchise, was nowhere in her plan. Today, Auntie Anne’s Pretzels has over 1,000 locations around the world.

Anne, born and raised in an Amish-Mennonite family of ten, never set out to become the business owner of a multi-million dollar company. In fact, she only began working at a Burtonsville, Maryland Farmer’s Market to support her family while her husband, Jonas, pursued his dream to build a community counseling center.

Often referred to as a “business miracle,” an early concept of Auntie Anne’s Pretzels launched in 1988 at a farmer’s market in Downingtown, Pennsylvania. After leaving the Burtonsville location and buying her own stand for $6,000, Anne almost abandoned selling pretzels because they tasted awful. She was resolved to focus on pizza and strombolis until Jonas experimented with the pretzel recipe. After introducing the new taste, one day they made $2,000 just selling the fresh-baked, tasty twists. This humble beginning laid the groundwork for what would become Auntie Anne’s, Inc.

Once customers bit into Anne’s pretzels, it was evident they had tasted something special. Word spread quickly, and, with encouragement from her friends, family and the local Amish community, Anne began adding stands. In 1989, Auntie Anne’s had eight stores licensed to friends and family using hand-written agreements that ranged from one to three pages in length.

That same year, the Beilers learned a hard business lesson. After a location owner challenged the Auntie Anne’s agreement, refused to pay the royalties and walked away with the pretzel recipe, Anne and Jonas realized they needed a stronger contract and a way to “secretize” the formula. They met with an attorney over the next few weeks and changed the licensing approach to a franchise. By 1992, there were 50 locations operating as franchises.

Initially resistant to opening a location in a shopping mall setting, a very persistent potential franchisee convinced Anne to give it a try. Against all odds, including a short launch time frame, doubting mall manager, dismal placement in the food court and a three-month lease, the Park City Mall location in Lancaster, Pennsylvania blew out expectations on its opening day and became the Cadillac of all the Auntie Anne’s stores.

Anne in the kitchen

During 1990, Anne was receiving so many calls from people interested in selling her pretzels that she actually stopped answering the phone. Managing the company’s growth became her number one priority. In the best interest of the business, Anne decided to temporarily stop opening new stores so that a structure could be put in place to handle expansion. Reflecting back, Anne believes this was the right decision for the company at that time.

Anne rose to the top of the business world with an eighth-grade education, eventually earning her GED at age 50. Ironically, the day before Anne received her degree, she was awarded an honorary PhD. Although Anne has enjoyed success in business, she believes that Auntie Anne’s was God’s way of providing her with a platform for what she calls, “the real deal.” For Anne, the “real deal” was helping broken people like herself. So in 2005, she sold the company to her cousin Sam Beiler, began working on her book and developed conferences for women to heal and renew their relationships with God.

Auntie Anne’s is striving for $400 million in sales this year. With her vision to serve, inspire and give, Anne has been recognized by many media outlets. She was named Entrepreneur of the Year by Inc. Magazine and one of America’s Top 500 women entrepreneurs by Working Women. Anne’s been featured on Oprah, The Food Network’s Unwrapped, as well as in Fortune, Nation’s Restaurant News and Guideposts. Her deeply personal book, Twist of Faith: The Story of Anne Beiler, Founder of Auntie Anne’s Pretzels, was published in 2008.

What we learned from Anne: “Setbacks are momentary, but can feel permanent. Expect a lot of them. When we couldn’t find a bank to loan us $1.5 million, we borrowed it from a local chicken farmer.”

A Higher Purpose

“Faith in God is a huge part of my life. Auntie Anne’s has been a faith walk for me. You need to have a purpose greater than yourself to motivate you and get yourself out of bed in the morning. My faith is a power I can tap into at any moment.”

Supportive Beliefs

“At times, there will be people you encounter who will disappoint you, so it’s important to have a support network, a sounding board of people who believe in you.”

Modest Beginnings

“I had no expectations. Twenty-two years ago, I had no knowledge of the word entrepreneur. I had no formal education so just did what I learned growing up on the farm.”

This Featured Lady was profiled by Megan L. Reese, WORDrobe™ Stylist for Her Write Image in West Grove, PA.

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