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Bill Dunn

Auntie Anne's executive shares 'Be the Boss' experience

President and COO Bill Dunn says going on a reality TV show can benefit a brand only when the goal of the show lines up with the values of the brand.

The Lancaster, Pa.-based chain of more than 1,250 soft-pretzel shops will appear on the Dec. 16 episode of “Be the Boss,” which debuted Sunday on the A&E cable channel and was created by the producers of the show “Undercover Boss.” The latter show has allowed executives from Checkers Drive-In Restaurants, Baja Fresh Mexican Grill, Cinnabon and The Tilted Kilt to gain positive exposure for their brands.

Auntie Anne’s part in “Be the Boss” rewards one of two unit-level employees — who are told they are competing for a corporate promotion — with a deal to become an Auntie Anne’s franchisee and have the typical franchise and startup fees waived. The runner-up receives the promotion.

Bill Dunn, the chain’s president and chief operating officer, said the competition should benefit more than Eleazar Puente of Woodburn, Ore., and Shonta Moore of Boynton Beach, Fla., the two employees who squared off for the show. Auntie Anne’s also gets a chance to tell the brand’s story to consumers and ultimately expand the roster of franchise partners going into business with the chain, he said.

“It’s rewarding to help somebody achieve the American dream, and that, for me, as the president, was the most important and rewarding part,” Dunn said.

Dunn spoke with Nation’s Restaurant News about Auntie Anne’s role on “Be the Boss.”

What did you learn about your brand after ‘Be the Boss’?

I’m not sure if it’s necessarily about what I learned, but it certainly did confirm a lot of what I’ve experienced, especially the level of commitment and passion in our franchisees and employees. The company was founded based on the principles of giving back, and as we were approached to participate in the show, we relied on our franchise business consultants to identify folks who would be good to compete in this. There were 80 different folks who went through the casting call.

Benefiting from television exposure

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How does Auntie Anne’s benefit from a competition show like this, in which your customers could watch and learn about the franchise side of the business?

The reality TV show has become more and more popular as time has gone on, and it’s important that when you make the decision to participate, you fully vet what the goal of the show is. Does it fit with your brand values? It’s extremely important first to confirm that it’s a fit for your brand.

For guests that come to our stores, the program shows them the amount of dedication not only from us as the franchisor but also within our employees, whose goal is to serve hot, fresh, golden-brown pretzels every time. They’ll see that our products are made fresh in the store every 30 minutes.

We’re the largest chain in the world at what we do, and we’re predominantly in malls and airports, but this gives us the exposure to folks around the country who might be unfamiliar with our brand. When they see our commitment to those contestants and the opportunity we present to them — I’m a believer that the American dream can come true, and we were able to meaningfully impact two folks’ lives, and that will last for a long time.

You also would benefit from potential franchisees watching the show, correct?

Yes. We continue to grow at a very healthy pace, and 2012 will be the best year ever from a unit-opening perspective. As we continue to grow, we need to find good folks interested in franchising with us. Franchise partners are out there, and they’ll think Auntie Anne’s is a great company because the show will help tell our story. We think we’ll get folks passionate about their life goals and looking for a partner to help them find the way.

Has Auntie Anne’s changed anything in its recruiting or training programs after participating in ‘Be the Boss’?

The show didn’t bring many changes, because our commitment always is to get better. The resources we put behind our franchisees to ensure their success are the same we do for the associates in our company … so I’m not sure my expectations of the two contestants were any different from other franchisees as we evaluated them through the competition.

This process in itself was a great interview process. We got to evaluate their work ethic and leadership potential and determine the best fit to be a franchisee. I would expect both folks to continue what they demonstrated in Lancaster, going through the process with the executives and me. Now it’s our job to make sure we’re providing them with the tools to grow, and as they enter a new stage in their careers, we need to teach them and lead by example and encourage them all the way.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: December 6, 2012
Because of a writing error, an earlier version of this article mischaracterized the majority of Auntie Anne’s locations as being in airports, when in fact Bill Dunn said the units mostly are in malls and airports.

Contact Mark Brandau at [email protected].
Follow him on Twitter: @Mark_from_NRN

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