Over the years, I’ve met many people who want desperately to own a business, but 1) just don’t know what it should be; or 2) lack the entrepreneurial vision and/or desire to start a business from scratch.
Enter one of the great inventions America has given to the world: the franchise.
Purchasing and operating a franchise is entrepreneurial coloring inside of the lines. If you don’t have a problem playing in a sandbox someone else built, a franchise may be just the ticket for you.
The franchise universe is broad and diverse, with arguably thousands of options, which is both good and bad news – so many choices begets lots of intimidation. But fortunately, the fundamentals you apply to conduct franchise acquisition research, regardless of the one you choose, are basically the same. In his excellent book, Franchising and Licensing, my friend Andrew Sherman identifies a number of key components in any relationship between a franchisor (the developer of the franchise), and a franchisee (the purchaser of the franchise). From Andrew’s list I’ve chosen what I think should be the first four to help you narrow your search, followed by my thoughts.
1. A Proven Prototype
When you lay money down for a franchise, the model must be proven to work, because you’ll have to replicate the product over and over. Indeed, the prime expectation of any customer seeking out a franchise product is that it’s a known quantity. McDonald’s may not have the best hamburger in the world, but whether you’re in Moscow or Moline, it’s supposed to taste just like the one you had in Meridian.
2. A Strong Management Team
When you buy a franchise, not only will you need to seek periodic advice and instructions from the franchisor’s staff, but you want to have confidence in that support. There should be virtually nothing you can ask that they haven’t experienced and anticipated. Here’s a tip: If you aren’t getting overwhelmed with support and answers when considering a particular franchise, don’t expect much more once they have your money. I’d move on.
3. Comprehensive Training Program
In order to make that “hamburger” look and taste just like the last one you delivered, you must be able to learn how to do it yourself and teach your people how. That training MUST come from the franchisor. They will demand that you follow their rules, so you have a right to demand the best training.
4. Sufficient Capitalization
Franchisors are just like all other businesses in that they must have the capital to: a) Grow – you want your franchisor to expand their footprint; b) Innovate – to continue to offer relevant products and services every year; and c) weather the inevitable marketplace storms. When they ask about your financial condition, tell them “I’ll show you mine, if you’ll show me yours.”
Before you buy a franchise, you must talk with two people: 1) Someone who’s operating a franchise like the one you’re considering – ask what it’s like doing business with your franchisor prospect; 2) Someone who’s failed with a franchise – ask what happened and what they wish they knew before they started.
Remember that while owning a franchise is operating a business based on someone else’s idea, it’s still running a business. Other than being a single parent, there is no harder job. If you don’t love working, if you don’t value sweat equity, if you don’t appreciate deferred gratification, if you don’t have a lot of energy, if you like to sleep late, or if you’re a whiner, don’t buy a franchise – or start any business. And if you aren’t good at coloring inside the lines, like me, don’t buy a franchise.
Finally, in addition to Andrew Sherman’s book mentioned earlier, I also recommend one by another friend, Joel Libava, “Become a Franchise Owner.”
Write this on a rock … Franchising isn’t for everyone, but it might be for you.