The franchise agreement is the contract between the franchisor and you, but it’s not a “standard” or “form” agreement. The format of the contract differs from one franchise system to another.
However, though each franchise agreement will differ in style, language and content, all franchise agreements have covenants, each of which describes a promise, right or duty that the franchisee or franchisor owes to the other or that benefits the franchisor or franchisee. The following is a list of those covenants that one most often sees in a typical franchise agreement
1. Grant of Franchise
The “Grant” section lets franchisees know that the franchisor is granting them the limited, non-transferable, non-exclusive right to use the franchisor’s trademarks, logos, services marks (called generally the Marks) and the franchisor’s system of operation (often called the System) for the period of time defined by the franchise agreement. The franchisee receives no ownership rights to the Marks or the System, and the franchisor always retains the right to terminate the franchisee’s grant-of-license because of a breach of the franchise agreement.
2. Opening Date, Territory Limitations, Build-Out and Similar Rights
This covenant describes the franchisee’s territory (be it exclusive or not) and sets up a time schedule by which the franchisee must find a brick-and-mortar location, must have the plans for the unit approved and must be built-out and opened. This section may also disclose other matters such as the computer equipment needed to operate the business and the like.
3. Fees and Required Purchases
This section will disclose the fees more specifically described elsewhere in the agreement. The fees include the initial franchise fee, any fees paid to the franchisor prior to opening, any fees paid to the franchisor during the term of the franchise, all advertising fee obligations and the like.
In this section, the franchisor should repeat the franchisee’s advertising obligations as they’re stated in Item 11 of the franchise agreement (and the fees for which are identified in Items 5, 6, 7, 8 and 11 — as applicable).
5. Term and Renewal
This covenant spells out the term (length of time) of the franchise agreement measured from the date the franchise agreement is signed to the date that the franchise agreement expires. If renewal rights are granted, this section will also spell out the prerequisites of this arrangement.
6. Services Offered by Franchisor
Though not all franchisors will repeat the pre-opening and post-opening services that they offer the franchisee in the franchise disclosure documents, sound drafting principals will require that these matters be repeated in the franchise agreement. Including them in the franchise agreement, however, removes the specter of litigation as a way to insert rights into the contract that aren’t otherwise stated.
7. Protection of Proprietary Information, Marks and Other Intellectual Property
As discussed in the “Grant of Franchise” section earlier, the franchisor is granting only a temporary license to the franchisee. Most franchisors will enforce this understanding by adding specific language that identifies each item that makes up its proprietary, confidential and trade-secret information and by then stating the limitations that are placed on the franchisee’s right to use such information. It is important protection for the franchisor and is not usually a covenant missing from the franchise agreement.
This section should disclose any training offered by the franchisor, including any additional training, seminars, meetings or the like that the franchisor will either require or will urge the franchisee to attend.
9. Quality Control
As the name suggests, franchisors will address the franchisee’s specific quality-control requirements. This is sound franchising and is necessary to insure that the goods and services offered throughout the system meet the franchisor’s minimum requirements.
Virtually all franchise agreements control the franchisee’s right to transfer their interest in the franchise relationship. This section will list the prerequisites to a transfer.
11. Defaults, Damages and Complaint Limitations
All franchise agreements will contain some recitation of the violations of the franchise agreement that will be treated as a breach. These violations may be divided into those breaches that result in the immediate termination of the franchise agreement, for which no cure is given, and those violations for which cure is provided.
12. Obligations Upon Expiration or Termination
Once the franchise relationship has ended — either because the term has naturally concluded and no renewal has occurred, or because the franchise agreement was terminated — it is usual for the contract to list a series of steps that the franchisee must take to “de-identify” the business and the franchisee’s association with the franchise system.
13. Franchisor’s Right of First Refusal
Most franchise agreements give the franchisor the option, but not the obligation, to exercise a first right refusal to purchase the franchisee’s business — in the case where the franchisee seeks to transfer the business, or the first right to purchase the franchisee’s assets at the time that the franchise agreement expires or is terminated.
14. Relationship Between the Parties
Franchisees are always treated as independent contractors of the franchisor. This has several important implications. An independent contractor is not an employee or agent of the principal. Instead, the independent contractor is in business for themselves. The parties to this relationship pay their own taxes, hire on their own, are responsible for their own employees and generally operate independently of the other in carrying out the contract between them.
All franchisee agreements will contain an indemnification covenant, which means that the franchisee will reimburse the franchisor for any losses it suffers as a result of some negligent act or wrongdoing of the franchisee. These covenants are almost always one-sided in favor of the franchisor — which is fair, given that the franchisee and not the franchisor is responsible for the day-to-day operation and maintenance of the business.
16. Non-Competition Covenant and Similar Restrictions
A non-competition covenant is one that seeks to prevent the franchisee from opening a business that would compete with the franchised business. Virtually all franchise agreements will have non-competition covenants. The covenant is often broken into two parts: the “in-term” covenant; and the “post-term” covenant.
As the name suggests, the in-term covenant prevents the franchisee from competing against the franchisor and any other franchisees while the franchise agreement is in force. Typically, this covenant covers a geographic area around each franchised, company-owned and affiliate-owned business. The post-term covenant covers the former franchisee after the franchise agreement expires or is earlier terminated because of an uncured breach.
17. Dispute Resolution
This covenant spells out the methods the franchisor uses to resolve disputes with franchisees.
Most often one will see at least a nonbinding-mediation requirement followed by a binding-arbitration requirement. In other cases, these two methods of resolution will be preceded by the requirement that the parties first meet face-to-face.
All franchise agreements will require the franchisee to obtain insurance to cover its business operations. In all cases, each of the franchisee’s insurance policies will require that the franchisor be named as an “additional insured,” meaning that the franchisor enjoys the same coverage as does the franchisee, even though the franchisor is not paying for the coverage.
19. Additional or “Miscellaneous” Provisions
This is kind of the catch-all section of the franchise agreement that contains what some call “boilerplate” language, meaning that it is “usual” that such language be included in any contract. In virtually all franchise agreements, you’ll see covenants that cover mergers, modifications or amendments, non-waiver provisions, state-specific addenda and more.