The pretzel chain’s founder and CEO on why he turned to franchising to grow the brand.
In 2005, Ben Miller opened the first Ben’s Soft Pretzels in a farmers market in South Bend, Indiana. The Amish-inspired recipe was a hit, and before long Miller was wholesaling his pretzels for local grocery stores and retailers. That shift was just the first step in a rapid growth trajectory that soon saw Ben’s Soft Pretzels opening multiple brick-and-mortar locations throughout Indiana and eventually turning to franchising to open locations in markets across the country.
Spearheading that growth has been Miller’s friend and business partner Scott Jones, Co-Founder and CEO of Ben’s Soft Pretzels. We asked Jones why the business turned to franchising and what he loves about the model. Here’s what he had to say.
When did Ben’s Soft Pretzels decide to franchise?
In 2007, we wrote the Ben’s Soft Pretzels business plan, which was based around building our first 1000 units. We now fondly refer to that time as the beginning of our World Pretzel Domination plan. We knew that to get there, we would have to franchise our business. We had no idea what that would entail, and we didn’t know the first thing about franchising. We started really investigating franchising in 2010, and then after doing due diligence, we hired an attorney and got to work setting up all of the necessary components to franchise. We were legally able to sell our first franchise on March 31, 2013, and we sold one of our corporate stores to a franchisee that would later open another five units.
What do you love about franchising?
My favorite thing is the transparency in the industry and the collaboration between franchisors. There is a lot of support in the franchise community and you can get help for just about any concern or obstacle.
Is there anything you wish you could change about the industry?
I’m not sure there is much I would change if I could. I’m sure there are some imperfect things about every industry. There is something I wish more people understood, which is the nature of the franchisor-franchisee relationship. There’s a misunderstanding, I think, by the general public that the franchisor and franchisee are one and the same. The understanding that these are small businesses with individual risk-takers does not always come through. This, of course, leads to the misunderstanding on joint-employer issues we’re seeing now. Finding a way to bridge the understanding gap in the general public is key. So that’s something I’d like to see evolve.
What’s the biggest change you’ve noticed in franchising since you started out in the industry?
This ties back to the issue of the franchisor-franchisee relationship. While it seems that much of the general public sees franchisors and franchisees as one and the same, the governing bodies, who should know better, almost all have the same perspective. The biggest change I have seen has been the industry’s response to that issue. I think the industry had a major wake-up call, and our verbiage had to change, our approach to training had to change, and we created dialogue around defining our relationship status with our franchisees. That dialogue may not have been comforting for some people who are new to the industry since it was almost anti-relational, but it’s important.
What makes a great franchisee?
For Ben’s Soft Pretzels, we recognize that people who spend time in their business, follows the KPIs, are willing to try, willing to put in the hours, and who stay positive are the greatest franchisees. Usually, they are creating great environments to work in that are not clouded with confusion. They are setting expectations and helping staff meet them. They work smart, but also hard. They care and are compassionate for those around them. The two big rules in our business that define great franchisees is that they never compromise on delivering 1) excellent service and 2) and excellent product.
What’s the number-one thing that sells franchises?
The number-one thing that sells franchises is the realization of opportunity. I know that most people will say, “profitable stores,” and while there is a lot of weight to that, I think we all are seeking something greater in life than just profit. We all want to work towards something. If it was just money, then we could go work for any employer. Opportunity is a different animal. It allows us to hope and dream, and it allows us a vision.