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Ahead of the Curve

The twisters of Wetzel's Pretzels are touching down everywhere

Anybody could have seen this one coming. When your name is Wetzel, the title of "pretzel-making tycoon" is practically set in stone. Thus goes the saga of Rick Wetzel, president and co-founder of Wetzel's Pretzels LLC. In a little more than six years, Wetzel and CEO Bill Phelps have built their fresh-baked pretzel franchise to 127 units nationwide, a far cry from their humble beginnings manning the counters of their first store.

Wetzel has led his franchise into groundbreaking territory, introducing his assortment of hand-rolled pretzels and a 30-minute freshness guarantee to such nontraditional venues as universities, stadiums and airports nationwide, as well as in Australia, Canada, Puerto Rico and Taiwan.

The aggressive pursuit of expansion reflects the co-founders' personalities. "We're both competitive by nature," Wetzel explains. "We benchmark ourselves from our competitors' success. And we uphold the philosophy of constantly improving."

And improved they have. Wetzel's Pretzels' systemwide sales reached $20 million in 1999 and are expected to hit $30 million in 2000. Wetzel says the company's strategy of marketing itself as an entertaining, irreverent brand has served as the recipe for their success.

With a $30,000 franchise fee, Wetzel expects to develop more than 200 units in 40 states within the next two years, thereby partially fulfilling his twistingly tasty destiny.

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This article was originally published in the December 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Ahead of the Curve.

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