On a basic level, franchise Web sites exist to inform consumers about industry trends and educate them about a franchisor's products and services. The Tinderbox site (http://www.tinderbox.com), for example, was established primarily to provide information about premium cigars. At Molly Maid's site (http://www.mollymaid.com), you'll find a map to guide you to the nearest Molly Maid location, and Ms. Molly answers all your cleaning questions via e-mail. Many franchise sites are also quite entertaining. To wit: You can tour various McDonald's locations around the world at the McDonald's site (http://www.mcdonalds.com), or visit the "Flavor Graveyard" at the Ben and Jerry's site (http://www.benjerry.com).
From an entrepreneurial perspective, however, the real value in browsing these Web sites is the ability to research business opportunities--and get answers fast. Most franchise sites contain descriptions of franchise programs, company fact sheets, news releases, franchisee testimonials and details on franchise opportunities. Others, such as the Franchise Solutions Information Services site (http://www.bluefin.net/~fransale), aid entrepreneurs in the purchase and sale of franchise and business opportunities.
What it comes down to is literally hundreds of Web pages that can make for more informed choices by entrepreneurs. "There's an absolute wealth of more extensive, quality information on the Internet than people have traditionally been able to find about franchises," Haskell says.
Since launching its Web site in October 1995, Molly Maid has sold 12 franchises to prospects fielded over the Internet. Likewise, last July, King of Prussia, Pennsylvania-based Maaco Enterprises Inc. sold its first franchise to someone who checked out the Maaco site (http://www.maaco.com) and then inquired about purchasing a franchise. Linda Kemp, Maaco's franchise development manager, says, "The franchisee was able to read through the [information on the] site and determine right away that he could qualify."