A baker by profession, and an owner of two previous businesses in the food sector, Rita Sahjpall had been her own boss for her entire working life. By 2014, however, she felt ready for a new venture.
“Quite simply,” Rita explains, “I felt I’d had enough of my existing business. That chapter was over, and I was ready for a new one.”
Rita was clear that she wanted to run another food business but this time she wanted an established brand behind her.
“The type of franchise I wanted was something I believed in, that involved a freshly baked product made from scratch. I wanted to stay true to my training and profession, so it was a very specific business I was looking for.”
Finding the right franchise business
Rita visited The National Franchise Exhibition at the NEC in the autumn of 2014 with her husband. It was at the exhibition that Rita first came across Auntie Anne’s, makers of hand-baked soft pretzels. Rita explains:
“My husband and I had a very lengthy conversation at the Auntie Anne’s stand with Robert Burton, their Managing Director in the UK, who did an excellent job of explaining the business, and expressing his passion for it!”
“Though I looked at other food brands, that discussion at the exhibition really kicked things off. After further research and due diligence, I decided to proceed and open an Auntie Anne’s franchise in Coventry, which is very near to my hometown of Leamington Spa.”
While the search for premises for Rita’s new business commenced, she went to the USA for a week of intensive training at Auntie Anne’s headquarters in Pennsylvania. It covered general business training but also all the skills and knowledge Rita would need to make pretzels and run her store every day. She comments:
“Unfortunately, it took a while to find the right location and premises for my franchise, so by the time we had secured a site, I felt I needed a bit of a refresher course on how to do things. That was no problem and I went on an extra course in the UK to re-familiarise myself with the on-site skills needed.”
Rita proudly opened her brand-new franchise in the West Orchards Shopping Centre in the heart of Coventry in November of 2016. Rita comments:
“Head office were great in the start-up phase, helping find the location, fitting out the unit, I can’t fault them; they were really, really good.”
The West Orchard’s store got off to a flying start, so when another Auntie Anne’s franchise came up for sale in early 2018, Rita leapt at the chance to buy it.
Life as an Auntie Anne’s franchisee
Launching a brand-new franchise and subsequently taking on a second unit, Rita has plenty of experience of the ongoing support offered by the Auntie Anne’s franchise. She comments:
“Head office are brilliant; they are always there. No matter how busy they are, they’ll pick up the phone and help answer any questions you have.”
“Every year there is a franchisee convention in Buckinghamshire, where all the Auntie Anne’s franchisees get together. It is a great way to network and connect with like-minded people who are in the same business as you.”
In terms of operating her business, Rita maintains you get out what you put in, and that it’s important to invest time and resources to grow your business. She describes her typical day:
“I tend to take Mondays off, but I am a very hands-on person, I always have been, so I like to spend some time at each of my stores every day. It can still be me who’s making the dough and baking the pretzels.”
“I’m completely autonomous over my work schedule, though, and can take care of business admin tasks or other things at home before I head in to work.”
“I now have a team leader who oversees both stores for me, giving me further flexibility - and the option to expand to a third location, which I will soon be doing! Having my team leader looking after the first two stores will allow me to concentrate a lot on store number three and then, when that is up and running with a team leader, we can progress from there!”
On being a franchisee of Auntie Anne’s, Rita summarises:
“I love this, I love Auntie Anne’s, I love the product! Ultimately, I love being a business owner - I wouldn’t change it for the world!”