As franchisors rush to meet this demand for cutting-edge concepts, franchising has lost whatever stigma it once had and is attracting attention from an entirely new audience--one that considers franchising among the most exciting marketing concepts the business world has to offer. "[In the old days,] people coming out of college or midlevel management didn't understand or trust franchising," says Wilkerson. "That's completely changed. A lot of people who 10 years ago would have frowned at the potential of franchising, who just didn't think it was for them, are now looking at it as a very sound idea."
As Wilkerson sees it, franchising is attracting two major new markets besides corporate refugees. One is comprised of young, educated people choosing to completely bypass the Fortune 500 career in favor of franchising. "Franchisors have traditionally not looked to people in their mid-20s to early 30s as potential franchisees, but these are the people who are knocking on the door more often today," says Wilkerson. "They are better educated than we were at their age, they have better capital formation in their portfolios--usually by virtue of their families--and they're trying to get into business while avoiding the corporate hierarchy."
Another recent addition to the franchisee family is the senior market--those aged 55 and older who are at the threshold of retirement. "They're at a stage in life when their children are grown, their investments are taken care of, but they don't want to quit working yet," says Wilkerson. "They see franchising as an opportunity to do something different."
These two groups of franchisees will continue to reshape franchising in the next millennium, just as former corporate executives have done this decade. Getting into franchising at a younger age will enable many more to become multiunit franchisees and to use their experience to leap from one industry to another. Meanwhile, older franchisees will stabilize franchising as they lean toward the sure bets. The balance, experts believe, will be good for franchising as a whole.
"It may take 10 years, but we're moving into another golden age like we experienced from 1965 to 1975," says Robert Purvin, chairman of the board of trustees of the American Association of Franchisees and Dealers. "Franchising really demonstrated at that time what it is capable of, and some really superior performers took off. We will see that again. Companies will flourish as franchisors treat franchisees with respect and fairness, and with a degree of democracy. Then franchising will deliver most, if not all, of its promise."