From the January 2010 issue of Entrepreneur

The Franchise 500®--our yearly mountain of data, compiled after months of research and analysis--tells you a lot about the world of franchises. Which are growing fastest. Which are rising to the top. The big guys who are losing their position. The newbies who are expanding even as the economy shrinks.

What it also gives you--between the columns of stats, not obvious to the naked eye--is a strangely quantified window on our culture. Just look at this year's top franchises: It's the year of the sandwich and the janitor. Both categories make strong showings at the top of the list. So do convenience stores, doughnut shops, discount haircutters, budget hotels and tax prep services.

Tanning salons and spas? Not so much.

It's a revealing list, one that shows Americans pulling back on spending and trading down, and entrepreneurs seizing a different kind of opportunity. If you're ­Subway, that means riding genius marketing breakthroughs, like the $5 Footlong, to yet another year in the No. 1 spot. If you're 7-Eleven, it means grabbing all those suddenly empty storefronts in prime locations for a year of terrific expansion. If you're Dunkin' Donuts or Hampton Inn, it's capitalizing on the end of the Starbucks-and-Ritz-Carlton economy.

Yes, 2009 was a good year for budget-sensitive franchises, and this issue spends time with the best of them. We reveal how they're using social media (especially Twitter) to connect with customers, how the credit crisis has turned some franchisors into lenders and even how some franchisees are breaking the mold a bit and doing things like making their franchises sustainable.

As you read through this year's Franchise 500® package, you'll see how the recession has changed the business of franchising and how franchisors responded. And you'll learn how to be a vigilant franchisee in a world filled with new and untested franchises, fewer funding sources and franchisors going belly up. It's essential information for anyone ready to dive into franchising. And it's a glimpse, in between the numbers and analysis, of life in America right now.

Amy C. Cosper,
Editor-in-Chief
Follow me on Twitter, @ EntMagazineAmy