The Little Franchise on the Corner
Starbucks may be toying with taking things local, but The Great Harvest Bread Co. and other chains have found ways to tailor themselves to a community. Here are four franchisors that have successfully bridged the local divide.
Dunn Brothers Coffee
This St. Paul, Minn.-based franchise is the ninth-largest coffee chain in the U.S., but most of its 92 locations can be mistaken for indie coffeehouses--beans are roasted daily in the store, local music and art are the featured decor, and owner/operators are encouraged to make their stores hubs of neighborhood activity.
Roosters Men's Grooming Center
With plush leather barber chairs, dark wood interiors and hot facial shaves, Roosters is trying to bring back the era of the men's barbershop. Each of Roosters 25 locations across the country has a unique waiting/lounging area, and each owner is encouraged to keep tabs on neighborhood gossip and repeat the big fish stories barbershops used to be known for.
Rock Bottom Brewery
Head to any two of this Colorado brew pub's 29 locations and you'll never find the exact same beer. Each brew master is empowered to ferment recipes that cater to local tastes and often use local ingredients and water sources, leading to dozens of microbrews. In many cities that lack independent craft breweries, Rock Bottom has become the preferred beer-snob hangout, and the chain's hopheads routinely take home top awards from the most influential beer fests.
This chain of nine restaurants was developed to fill a specific niche--to offer a family restaurant in gay neighborhoods. Each location has its own sense of style, from bright purple facades to more understated architecture. Franchisees are allowed to go wild with customizing decor, and they have a free hand to book local cabaret acts, Pride parties and even bingo nights.
Jason Daley lives and writes in Madison, Wisconsin. His work regularly appears in Popular Science, Outside and other magazines.