The 10 Hottest Industries in Franchising

Hamburgers

McDonald's
You probably haven't noticed many golden arches going up around the country--the fast-food empire has more or less hit its North American saturation point, adding about 100 locations to its existing stock of 13,894 in 2010. But McDonald's has managed to stay dynamic even without fresh brick and mortar (though it is putting up new stores in India and China, which is expected to open 600 new Mickey Ds by 2013). The focus at home is on improving quality and customer experience, an effort that has boosted average per-unit sales to $2.4 million in the United States, a 4.2 percent increase over 2009.

Fast facts
McDonald's has ranked in every single Franchise 500(R)--and been in the top 10 in 30 out of 32 years.

This year, it ranked No. 12 on the Fastest-Growing Franchises list.

GPS enthusiasts calculated the farthest you could get from a McDonald's in the Lower 48: 115 miles away in a deserted area of northwest Nevada.

"Becoming better, not just bigger, has been on the top of our mind over the last several years," says Danya Proud, spokeswoman for McDonald's U.S.A. "We're all about long-term investment and growth."

Those investments include fluffing the menu with upscale Angus burgers, more snack-oriented items as well as the McCaf? line of espresso drinks, including frapp?s and fruit smoothies, which were runaway hits in the last half of 2010. It also means adding perks like free Wi-Fi, updating interiors more often and rolling out items to appeal to new demographics.

McDonald's
2011 Franchise 500(R) ranking: 3
Hamburgers, chicken, salads
(630)623-6196
Cost: $1.1M-1.9M
Total franchises/co.-owned: 26,209/6,257

Hardee's
2011 Franchise 500(R) ranking: 12
Burgers, chicken, biscuits
(866)253-7655
Cost: $1.2M-1.6M
Total franchises/co.-owned: 1,428/473

Carl's Jr. Restaurants
2011 Franchise 500(R) ranking: 47
Hamburgers
(866)253-7655
Cost: $1.3M-1.8M
Total franchises/co.-owned: 809/424

A & W Restaurants Inc.
2011 Franchise 500(R) ranking: 259
Burgers, hot dogs, root beer
(866)298-6986
Cost: $912K-1.6M
Total franchises/co.-owned: 637/0

Checkers Drive-In Restaurants Inc.
2011 Franchise 500(R) ranking: 380
Burgers & fries
(813)283-7000
Cost: $453K-627.2K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 510/296

Boardwalk Fresh Burgers & Fries
2011 Franchise 500(R) ranking: NR
Burgers & fries
(410)715-0500
Cost: $147K-569.5K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 7/0

Elevation Burger
2011 Franchise 500(R) ranking: NR
Organic hamburgers, fries & milkshakes
(703)243-7894
Cost: $378.5K-743.5K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 6/2

Mooyah Franchise LLC
2011 Franchise 500(R) ranking: NR
Burgers, fries, shakes
(214)872-4313
Cost: $318.8K-514.3K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 14/4

Smashburger Franchising LLC
2011 Franchise 500(R) ranking: NR
Hamburgers
(303)633-1500
Cost: $330.3K-787.3K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 32/40

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Tracy Stapp Herold is the special projects editor at Entrepreneur magazine. She works on franchise and business opportunity stories and listings, including the annual Franchise 500.

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This article was originally published in the March 2011 print edition of Entrepreneur's StartUps with the headline: Buy In While They're Hot.

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