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How This Man Became Auntie Anne's Pretzel King in the Philippines Six years ago, Mikkel Paris became the pretzel brand's master franchisee in his home country.

By Lydia Belanger

This story appears in the July 2018 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Courtesy of Auntie Anne’s

Mikkel Paris knew very little about making pretzels, but suddenly he was supplying a large portion of the Philippines with them. In 2012, his family company took over as the nation's Auntie Anne's master franchisee, and he was put in charge of all 17 stores' operations. As he got acquainted with the brand -- and learned what Filipinos want in a pretzel -- he realized that his new career path wasn't so different from his previous experience: He'd spent eight years managing the 80-retailer shopping center within London's bustling Liverpool Street railway station. Both jobs required a lot of creative management, as well as understanding an ever-changing audience. Since taking this new role, he has opened more than 30 new Auntie Anne's locations, and he plans to double that by 2020.

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How did your work in London end up preparing you for life as an Auntie Anne's franchisee?

Filipinos love going to the mall because of the heat here. Part of our expansion involves finding the right sites and negotiating with the malls. My experience in London, working on the other side of the table, proved very, very useful. The bigger challenge was learning the operational [intricacies] of Auntie Anne's. Although I had managed convenience stores and supermarkets before, this is a different thing altogether.

What was your first order of business when you took over?

We had to renovate almost every single one of the 17 stores within the first year or two. We also had to learn the operational side. Somebody from [Auntie Anne's parent company] Focus Brands came in to show me everything that happens in our stores, because you can't lead the team if you don't know what goes on. We kept most of the staff, but we had to retrain everybody.

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How did you let your customer base know the brand was under new management?

The Philippines is a billboard nation; advertising and marketing are huge here. But we didn't have a lot of money to invest in big billboards. So I started our Auntie Anne's Philippines Facebook page from my cellphone. I learned within the first few months that people engaged most with photos of pretzels inside the warmer, rather than the artistic, Photoshopped stock photos. It shows customers that we're a real business and it's a real product. What you see is what you get when you walk into the store.

Have you made changes to the menu to serve this particular market?

In the Philippines, Auntie Anne's tends to focus on developing sweet products. One of the most common requests we used to get from customers when we started was to cut up their pretzels, and I saw in the U.S. that they already had the pretzels in nugget form. Over here, everybody loves the almond crunch pretzel, so we decided to produce almond-­flavored nuggets and serve them in a cup so they're easier to walk around the mall with.

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Have you experimented with other products?

We launched cream cheese sticks, and when those did really well, we thought, What can we add to them? The Philippines is a tropical place, so we decided to add fruit -- blueberry first, then strawberry -- and both performed well. Now we're going to try adding different things, like mangoes. In the Philippines, we love our mangoes. The Auntie Anne's product is so versatile. That was one of the beauties of the brand that our family saw from the beginning.

Lydia Belanger is a former associate editor at Entrepreneur. Follow her on Twitter: @LydiaBelanger.

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