Information Please

Buying a franchise? The questions to ask, the people to see, the resources to use

Be Your Own Boss, Fall 1999

You meet a world-renowned automobile expert at a party and casually pose this question: "I'm in the market for a new car. So tell me, what's really the best car on the market?" If the expert has the patience and enthusiasm for this exercise, he or she will respond with a series of questions about you. "What do you like in a car? How will you use it--for off-road excitement or suburban hustle? How long is your daily commute to work? How many passengers will you have? Will you be driving up and down mountains, or do you live on the plains?" And, finally, "What's your budget?" Any expert will tell you the precise answer to the "best car" question can only be determined by understanding the needs and wants of the buyer.

For most of us, it usually doesn't help if the answer is something like "Take my advice--you really can't go wrong with a $200,000 Lamborghini. It's received the highest performance rating this year." Like a lot of expert advice, this recommendation is accurate, technically correct, rational . . . and completely useless.

Given the same "What's really the best on the market?" question asked about franchises, a good franchise expert will reverse the inquiry every time and ask for further details about you. Listen up: There really is no inside scoop on franchises. From an objective viewpoint, some are better than others, for sure, but the only true measure of a franchise is how well it meets the ambitions, talents, skills and pocketbooks of its franchisees.

Making that determination isn't always easy, however. Researching a franchise opportunity puts most people on unfamiliar ground. After all, by its nature, franchising attracts investors who are new to business ownership and who come from all walks of life. Finding the right franchise requires you to weigh a significant amount of information, and many of us don't have the temperament for that. In fact, we may be more comfortable kicking tires in a car lot and dreaming of buying a Lamborghini than sifting through the detailed franchise selection process. But if you think you're up to the challenge, here's how to proceed . . .

Andrew A. Caffey is a practicing attorney in the Washington, D.C. area, the former General Counsel of the International Franchise Associatiion, and an internatiionally recognized specialist in franchise and business opportunity law. He may be reached at acaffey@compuserve.com.

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