Service Disabled Vet Gets SBDC Assistance and SBA Loan

Photo of Dwayne and Tawana Mollison

Brief description of the business: Mollison Enterprises LLC is a franchisee of Auntie Anne’s Pretzels, a nationally known chain of pretzel stores and kiosks, founded in 1988 in Downingtown, PA. Dwayne and Tawana Mollison opened their kiosk in The Towne Mall in Elizabethtown, KY on December 26, 2012. Following the Auntie Anne’s procedures to the letter, they make and sell the finest pretzel products, including soft pretzels, pretzel dogs, and pretzel nuggets, along with assorted toppings and drinks.

SBA Assistance: Dwayne, a service disabled U.S. Army veteran, was working on a Master’s Degree in Counseling, but wanted to assist Tawana in establishing a family-owned business. After looking at several franchise opportunities, as well as a few independent ones, the Mollisons fell in love with the Auntie Anne’s story, as well as the company’s family oriented focus. A contact to Auntie Anne’s headquarters gave them the information and the confidence that they needed to seriously pursue a franchise.

When they visited a local bank to discuss their idea, they were referred to the UK Small Business Development Center in Elizabethtown, KY, where a business plan was soon developed. Little did they know that having a thorough business plan was just the beginning of the process. Due to the decline of malls in America, many lenders were hesitant to consider financing a food kiosk in a small town mall. With guidance and coaching from the SBDC in Elizabethtown, the Mollisons visited several different potential lenders before finding a good fit for their business idea.

The Mollisons’ persistence paid off when they visited Fort Knox Federal Credit Union and spoke to Michael Richardson. Mike was impressed with their business plan, as well as the amount of time they had spent preparing themselves for the franchise opportunity, which included doing extensive foot traffic counts, visiting with other franchisees, and working within an established Auntie Anne’s store. With experience in SBA lending, he and the Mollisons decided to pursue a SBA 7(a) guaranteed loan, which allowed them to come to the table with a reasonable amount of injection and collateral. The loan closed in July 2012, bringing them one step closer to realizing the dream of business ownership.

Number of employees: 3 full-time and 12 part-time employees

Staying power: The Mollisons recently celebrated the third anniversary of the opening of Auntie Anne’s Pretzels. So what is ahead for Mollison Enterprises? As a result of their improved cash flow, they have begun discussions with Auntie Anne’s of purchasing another franchise location. A new manager, with thirty years of food service experience, has been hired and greatly improved their operations and performance, allowing Tawana and Dwayne to focus more on business expansion. The Mollisons have had meetings with large area employers, including a hospital and area manufacturers, with a focus on serving people where they work while leveling out Auntie Anne’s year round sales.

Response to adversity or problems: As with many businesses, there were a few obstacles along the way. The Mollisons planned to be open in the mall in time for Black Friday, but numerous delays prevented it.  Finally, they opened their business on December 24, 2012, capturing the height of the Christmas return traffic but missed all of the pre-holiday shopping season. This led to challenge number one, which was the management of cash flow and inventory during the slowest shopping time of the year.

The Mollisons, with excellent support from their Auntie Anne’s provided Business Consultant and the SBDC, were able to adjust their labor and inventory levels to sustain the business through slower sales times. The entire Mollison family, parents and children, worked long, hard hours for the first year, to keep the labor costs to a manageable level. Tawana monitored inventory closely, while Dwayne scrutinized sales trends to initiate real time adjustments to labor and inventory. This allowed them to train their employees in proper sales techniques to increase revenue. To enhance growth, the Mollisons began making product deliveries in the Elizabethtown area.

Challenge number two occurred when a family member who they hired in a management role did not meet their performance expectations. After several attempts to correct the issues, the parties mutually agreed to end the employment situation. They learned about the importance of hiring the right people. Dwayne took over this responsibility, and utilizing his college education as a counselor, has been better able to identify qualities in candidates that are likely to make them successful at Auntie Anne’s. During this time, Tawana assumed a greater role in managing the business.

Community Involvement: The Mollisons have established a respected business in The Towne Mall. They have reached out to the community as well, having sponsored a young lady on her mission trip to Honduras, hosting field trips by local schools and youth organizations, participating in school fundraisers, and through numerous donations of gift certificates to assist non-profit agencies. Their positive reputation and word of mouth advertising from many of the people and groups they have assisted are the keys to sustaining and growing their Auntie Annie’s franchise.  

Learn more about SBA’s loan programs, free counseling services and other small business programs at www.SBA.gov, your lender, and your local Small Business Development Center (SBDC), SCORE Chapter or Women’s Business Center.

Company Name: 
Mollison Enterprises, LLC, D/B/A Auntie Anne’s Pretzels
Location: 
Elizabethtown, KY