From the January 2011 issue of Entrepreneur

Amy C. CosperOn any given Sunday in New York City, the nation's financial base camp and incubator of creativity, the iconic spiritual leader of tourist attractions can be found entertaining the masses. Rain or snow, the Naked Cowboy strums his strategically placed guitar and belts out song after song to the delight of blushing tourists from Kansas, Florida and Texas. He never fails to deliver an unforgettable experience. And, really, who among us is not guilty of at least a furtive glance?

A well-kept secret is that the Naked Cowboy is a franchise. That's right: Naked Cowboy Enterprises offers potential franchisees the opportunity to license the brand for a $5,000 annual franchise fee, plus 20 percent royalty on tips and appearance fees. (See our October 2010 issue for a conversation with his lone franchisee, Naked Cowgirl Louisa Holmlund.)

The Naked Cowboy stands before you (naked, of course) as a tribute to franchising and those who find opportunities in the odd, unexpected and underdressed. He demonstrates that with a little ingenuity, anything can be franchised.

Franchising gets a bad rap sometimes, but the sector is an important part of our economy. It generates $153.7 billion in payroll annually and accounts for 7.9 million jobs. And our 32nd Annual Franchise 500® reveals trends spanning beyond the brick-and-mortar sandwich shop. A deeper look into the American psyche finds, not surprisingly, more focus on saving money and getting more value.

Our annual list proves it: Cheap haircuts are still in vogue. Denny's -- that American institution (and the home of Moons Over My Hammy)--lands squarely at No.10 after being away for decades. And a new entrant at No.1, Hampton Hotels, confirms that brand loyalty and small conveniences matter with business travelers.

Beyond the ranking, this issue is designed to equip you with as much information as possible to help you decide whether buying a franchise is for you. Perhaps the biggest question prospective franchisees ask is "Will I make money?" Julie Bennett tackles the burning question in her article. And if you're mystified by the Franchise Disclosure Documents and how to read them, see the story here.

The 2011 Franchise 500® proves that brands matter, consumers want value and opportunity is thriving. That's the full monty.

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