Sam Beiler spent 21 years with Auntie Anne's hand-rolled soft pretzel franchise, a company he first worked at then acquired from the founder in 2005. His decision to exit in 2010 was tough, but the signs were there. Looking at the fundamentals of the business — transaction counts and net sale per customer, etc. — Beiler says he felt like the company had peaked. Also, Auntie Anne's was heavily in malls and airports, environments that were changing rapidly and dramatically.
“In the mid 90s to late 90s, brand new malls, big regional malls, a million square feet or more, were still being built,” Beiler says. “By the early 2000s and certainly the mid-2000s, the whole leasing market within those malls was changing pretty dramatically. I mean it was 10 years, but that's not really that long when you think about it.”
Beiler had been in discussions, on and off for about two years, with someone who had expressed interest in in acquiring Anne's.
“I really didn't have an interest but, we'd talk every quarter or twice a year or something,” he says. “So when it came time to further that discussion, it didn't feel like a stranger. We were able to get very close to a deal in March of that year.”
But then a couple of weeks after getting close to a transaction, Beiler says he had an unsettled feeling.
“I wasn't certain,” he says. “I had lost my certainty. I really felt certain before that and then I guess when it came time to strike the iron, so to speak, I pulled back, much to the buyer's concern.”
Beiler says he took a step back and went to Florida with his family for about a month that summer. He says he felt disconnected and started asking himself, what was his reason for selling? Was a good reason, a short-term or long-term reason? And ultimately came back ready to return to the table. He contacted the buyer again and told him he changed his mind.
“That was the most difficult discussion I've ever had with an employee group back at Auntie Anne's,” he says. “Because 20 years ago, imagine: we got 20 years older together and many people got that much older together because once they were there, we didn't lose many people by employees’ choice. So it was very difficult.”
Though Beiler had exited the company, his retirement only lasted about seven months. He sold in November and around June of the following he says he was struggling to get out of bed in the morning.
“For me, achieving a goal is not where it's at,” he says. “It's the pursuit of the goal that gets me up every morning.”
Soon, through a series of events, Beiler found a need in the market that led to his next venture, Spooky Nook Sports. Watch the full interview from the Philadelphia Smart Business Dealmakers Conference in the video above and learn how he made that discovery, as well as his advice for entrepreneurs.