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(Ambrosio’s note: This is one of my all-time favorite interviews to date because Bob Phillips shares a lot of specific, practical, and actionable advice for prospective and current franchisees. Bob reveals many of his most effective strategies for increasing repeat business and cultivating a loyal customer base. This is one interview that you shouldn’t miss. Thank you for all the great advice, Bob!)
Bob Phillips, franchise owner of Auntie Anne’s in Rogers, AR, has a great story. He is proof that with the right corporate support, entrepreneurs from many walks of life can make it in the franchise industry.
Bob Phillips has worn many hats — private pilot, military veteran, racecar driver, father, scuba diver, world traveler, etc. To earn a living for his family, Bob worked for 40 years in the business world selling consumer products.
Bob constantly traveled (in fact, he has over 1 million air miles with American Airlines) and along the way, he added – and crossed off — numerous items to his bucket list. One of Bob’s goals was to own his own business, and he finally realized this dream in 2007 when he opened the Auntie Anne’s in Pinnacle Hills Mall. Despite having no experience owning his own business, Bob was named Franchisee of the Year in 2009 — not bad considering there are more than 1,100 Auntie Anne’s locations!
I’ve always wanted to own my own business and they say if you do something you love, you’ll never have to work a day again. I have loved Auntie Anne’s pretzels for years and have been eating them in airports when I have traveled over the last 15 years. I have over one million air miles with American Airlines so you see I have spent a fair amount of time in airports. Auntie Anne’s has a great product and a great name. It seemed like a natural fit to become an Auntie Anne’s franchisee and accomplish my goal of owning my own business. I’ve now been able to mark that goal off my bucket list.
2. What is a typical day like in your life as a franchisee of Auntie Anne’s?
I usually get into the shop a little after 8 am and the first thing I do is take a look at my numbers. It’s important to see how I did yesterday compared to how I did the same day a year ago. This is only a short term look at the business, and then I look at how I’m doing for the week, month, and year to date. I keep a daily running spreadsheet of sales and will then make notes on my spreadsheet if there was anything special that happened that day. I might have had a carry out order for a business meeting for $120 that I may not have next year, so I want to put that in my report so next year I will know why I might not have the same rate of sales. We also make note of the weather and mall foot traffic since that also affects our sales and how sales might be the next year.
It’s been extremely valuable to distribute to all mall stores a monthly mall calendar which offers special promos just for mall employees. These people are at the mall everyday and you want to capture as much of their business as possible. I deliver these to each store personally every month because I want them to know that the owner of the store appreciates their business.
I co-promote Auntie Anne’s with my Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory business, which is in the same location as my Auntie Anne’s store. I offer reduced prices on Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory products to my Auntie Anne’s customers, and the same scenario for my Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory customers on Auntie Anne’s products. If a Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory customer spends $5 for any chocolate products, I offer them an Auntie Anne’s pretzel worth $3 for free. It is helpful to offer value-added items and introduce guests to both brands.
4. Can you share the highest point and lowest point of your franchise journey so far, and what lessons have you learned from them?
The high point was working through all the challenges of opening the store — from working with the contractors to the layout of the store. It was a rewarding challenge to find inventive ways to get the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory and Auntie Anne’s concept the best visibility to complement each other.
Like many quick service concepts, generating foot traffic in and around the venue can be challenging, especially when the weather gets lousy. I noticed this challenge the first winter I was open. Consequently, we went to some great lengths to better the situation through some creative grassroots tactics. You have to give customers some incentive to keep coming back to experience your product! Keeping a focus on this approach as well as serving fresh, hot, golden brown pretzels, with friendly service, and in a visually appealing setting are also key contributors to creating brands fans.
Experience has taught me to train my people to multi-task better and work with fewer employees while still maintaining a high level of customer service. I carried too much inventory in the initial first months of my store operation and have since learned how to plan and forecast more effectively. Again, this is where evaluating numbers and historical occurrences are helpful to shape future decisions and determine appropriate actions to best meet customers’ needs.
6. Can you describe your working relationship with the home office of Auntie Anne’s?
I can’t say enough good things about our relationship with the corporate home office. They are very receptive to comments and suggestions from their franchisees. The Marketing department is extremely helpful in putting together promotional materials and offering assistance in developing the best marketing concept possible. The national promotional campaigns they develop are outstanding and many customers comment about the posters we put in our store for a campaign. The home office is quick to respond to quality or customer service issues and they understand the meaning of developing a customer relationship with our customers.
The support I’ve received from the field team played a significant part in our store being named Franchisee of the Year after only two years in the system. Auntie Anne’s has developed a proven system for operating a successful franchise and all you have to do is follow their direction and you will have a successful and profitable store. We followed their system and our capture rate exceeds the company-wide average.
The smile it brings to someone’s face when you tell them you own the local Auntie Anne’s franchise. It is usually followed with a comment like “I love your pretzels.” I enjoy seeing the kids come into the store and joke with them about being an Auntie Anne’s customer for life since we got them started so young. I enjoy the interaction with my customers and love when I can bring a smile to their face. For example, someone might bring in a coupon for a free pretzel and I’ll tell them it’s only good on Tuesday. They get a puzzled look on their face and then realize it’s Tuesday so they laugh and tell me I had them going for a few seconds.
8. Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about your business?
Our store is the only dual concept Auntie Anne’s and Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory operation in the U.S. and the dual concept works very well. Both Auntie Anne’s and Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory management teams have visited our store and both think the concepts work well together.