International franchise plans UK expansion

Founded in the USA, Auntie Anne's Pretzels is providing franchisee Stephen Downey with a successful business that has plenty of room for growth

The Auntie Anne's Pretzels concept of selling products freshly baked on the premises is what first attracted franchisee Stephen Downey to the business. 'I came across Auntie Anne's Pretzels during frequent trips to the USA so I was aware of the brand and I really liked its product,' reveals Stephen (pictured above launching his business). 'Although there are a lot of coffee shops on the high street there is nothing around that I'm aware of that sells a fresh product.

Auntie Anne's Pretzels sells a mixture of sweet and savoury pretzels, as well as hot and cold beverages, from stores and kiosks. 'I launched my franchise in Belfast in June 2008 and the brand has been very well received,' Stephen continues. 'I have two types of customers - those that have travelled and are aware of the brand and product and those that are new customers.'

An experienced franchisee, Stephen was familiar with running a franchise business before joining Auntie Anne's Pretzels. He says: 'What really appealed to me about the company was its openness and transparency. Auntie Anne's Pretzels is transparent in dealing with both franchisees and their customers, which is important to me. The fact that both the company and the product it sells are good makes owning an Auntie Anne's Pretzels a win/win situation.'

Auntie Anne's Pretzels opened its first franchise in the USA in 1989 and has now grown to over 300 franchisees and has more than 900 locations worldwide. The company opened its first UK outlet in 2003 and currently has eight locations nationwide. Auntie Anne's Pretzels Director Max Burton states: 'Auntie Anne's is achieving growing international status with networks in 19 countries, including our recent launch in China. In the UK we have six franchisees and eight locations operating, and we're looking to expand into a national network with strong sites ready to develop for enthusiastic franchisees in prime locations such as Sheffield, North & West London, Birmingham and Brighton - a full list is available for prospective franchisees.'

Although Stephen had previously owned and operated a car retailer franchise and, therefore, had experience of managing his own business, he still found the training provided by Auntie Anne's Pretzels to be invaluable. He recalls: 'The training was carried out at the company's head office in the USA and was very good and thorough. Since the training, I have been in constant contact with the UK based support team, who are excellent. The support team have been on hand at both the pre- and post-launch stages of my business.

'I'm on target to reach a turnover of £300,000 and apart from running a successful business what I enjoy the most about owning my franchise is seeing the reaction on new customer's faces when they bite into the product for the first time,' says Stephen. 'My lifestyle has improved in the sense that I'm now doing something that I really enjoy.'

Having bought the Auntie Anne's Pretzels franchise to Northern Ireland, Stephen is in the perfect position to expand the company throughout the country: 'I want to develop the brand in Northern Ireland and within five years I am aiming to have between five to seven stores in operation.'

Reported by Derin Ibrahim