Innovation may not be the first word that comes to mind when one thinks of franchising. After all, it's a model that's widely considered to encourage uniformity, not creativity. But the truth is, the two need not be mutually exclusive, as shown by our list of 15 new and 15 established innovators.
Some companies are launching with services that have never been franchised before or with new twists on old ideas. Meanwhile, more established franchisors are leveraging the power of their sizable systems to take risks that smaller businesses might eschew, from wacky menu items to new technologies to creative advertising strategies. All demonstrate that franchising and innovation can--and should--go hand in hand.
Inclusion on this list is not intended as a recommendation of any particular company. If you're interested in a franchise opportunity, always take time to conduct thorough research before investing: Read the company's FDD, consult with an accountant and an attorney and talk to existing franchisees.
Baby proofing, CPR instruction, car-seat installation
Startup cost: $33.2K-$59.9K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 0/1
Baby Bodyguards recognizes that "new parent" may be one of the most daunting jobs in the world. The company seeks to make moms and dads more confident and to keep junior out of harm's way with a unique set of services that promote safety at home, in the car and anywhere else.
Crime-scene and trauma-scene cleaning
Startup cost: $70.8K-$78.8K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 19/0
Despite the dozens of cleaning and restoration franchises already out there, Bio-One managed to find a niche that hadn't been filled: crime-scene cleaning. Franchisees also offer hoarding remediation, medical-waste removal, mold testing and remediation and odor elimination.
Chocolate, candy, parties
Startup cost: $284.8K-$436.6K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 10/1
Chocolate Works isn't just a candy shop--it's an experience. In addition to selling candy and ice cream, the franchise offers parties and workshops at which aspiring Willy Wonkas can tour the factory and mold and decorate their own chocolates.
Boutique and spa for women with cancer
Startup cost: $177.9K-$419.1K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 1/1
Personal-care franchises are on the rise, but entrepreneur Saundra Shapiro recognized a group whose needs weren't being met. Compassionate Beauty locations cater exclusively to women with cancer, offering spa services, massage, wigs and mastectomy products.
Bridal consignment store
Startup cost: $49.7K-$144.5K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 2/1
When it comes to wedding planning, dreams and budgets often collide. Fabulous Frocks offers a novel solution. Clients still get the high-end bridal boutique experience, but the designer dresses, originally priced at $2,000 and up, are discounted as much as 50 percent. Plus, franchising gives each store access to the inventory of the entire system.
Fresh Green Light
Startup cost: $111.2K-$187.5K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 0/4
Technology can be a dangerous distraction for teen drivers, but Fresh Green Light is showing it can make them safer, too. The schools use driving simulators to show students the dangers of texting and driving. Once new drivers are ready to get behind the real wheel, they do so in camera-equipped hybrid vehicles.
Enrichment programs, camps, workshops, parties
Startup cost: $87.9K-$152.5K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 0/3
From music and art to science and engineering, there are numerous children's enrichment franchises. Yet Hobby Quest enters the scene with not just one but four kiddie classes that are new to the franchise world: aviation (model-airplane building and flying), magic, fashion design and photography.
Medical/nonmedical home care, hospiceservices, home-accessibility products
Startup cost: $98K-$140K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 9/1
Libertana is looking to be the one-stop shop for families with aging members, differentiating itself from the multitude of other senior-care franchises by offering home-accessibility products such as lifts, ramps, bathing seats and safety bars. It also adds medical care and hospice care onto the nonmedical care services available from many other franchises.
Recruiting, career coaching for former athletes
Startup cost: $56.3K-$93K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 3/1
As former athletes themselves, the founders of NexGoal know that no sporting career lasts forever, but the competitive drive can be a boon to any business. The company offers career coaching to help former college, Olympic and professional athletes make the transition from the locker room to the boardroom, and helps match them with companies seeking their skills.
Project Walk Spinal Cord Injury Recovery Center
Spinal cord injury recovery centers
Startup cost: $248K-$473K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 3/1
Project Walk was founded to help people with spinal cord injuries and other forms of paralysis through activity-based recovery programs. The company has published peer-reviewed research on its methods and now hopes to see even more people benefit from them, as franchisees--some of them clients of the original Carlsbad, Calif., location--open centers in other areas.
Rock Climbing Franchising
Indoor rock-climbing gym
Startup cost: $746.4K-$1.2M
Total franchises/co.-owned: 1/2
The first indoor rock-climbing gym opened back in 1987, but it wasn't until 25 years later that the concept was franchised. Rock Climbing Franchising's gyms, which operate under the name Gravity Vault, cater to everyone from kids to hard-core climbers, with classes, parties and camps.
Storm Guard Restoration
Roofing, siding, window and gutter insurance restoration
Startup cost: $176.1K-$230.1K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 5/1
Insurance restoration has proved nearly recession-proof, but up until now most franchises have concentrated on interior damage from fire, flooding and other disasters. Storm Guard thinks outside the box--or at least, outside the home--by restoring roofs, siding, windows and gutters damaged by severe weather.
Counseling, life coaching
Startup cost: $11.7K-$67.2K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 3/6
Health-service franchises have become increasingly popular in recent years, but most focus on physical health. Thriveworks seeks to make mental-health services more accessible through franchising. New clients can get appointments within 24 hours; all receive the phone number and e-mail address of a counselor and have access to around-the-clock emergency on-call support.
Total Woman Gym + Spa
Fitness and spa services for women
Startup cost: $1.2M-$1.6M
Total franchises/co.-owned: 0/16
Total Woman Gym + Spa rolls two of the fastest-growing franchise industries into one business model. The company's locations offer fitness equipment, classes and training alongside spa services like massages, facials and waxing, making them a destination for women who want to either work out or wind down.
Welcyon, Fitness After 50
Fitness center for ages 50+
Startup cost: $230K-$350K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 2/2
Welcyon makes fitness less intimidating for baby boomers by offering members guidance from coaches and dieticians; air-driven equipment that's easier on joints than traditional weight machines; and smart cards that track their workouts. The clubs also offer a social area for games, book clubs, events and wellness workshops on topics like brain fitness and better sleep.
Arby's Restaurant Group
Sandwiches, fries, salads, shakes
Startup cost: $352.5K-$2.4M
Total franchises/co.-owned: 2,454/941
Innovative ideas can come from anywhere in an organization, not just the top. That's why Arby's created the "Hey Chef Neville!" program, which allows employees at any level to submit suggestions for new menu items to executive chef Neville Craw for a chance to earn cash prizes. Last year's limited-time offer of Arby's-sauce-flavored kettle chips was the contest's first success.
Startup cost: $767.7K-$1.6M
Total franchises/co.-owned: 246/301
Calorie-conscious home cooks have been subbing ground turkey for ground beef for years, but Del Taco is the first Mexican fast-food chain to follow suit. Available in tacos and tostadas, the seasoned turkey meat, introduced this year, has 33 percent less fat than the company's ground beef.
Startup cost: $1.1M-$2.6M
Total franchises/co.-owned: 1,535/161
Denny's fast-casual concepts are allowing the company to expand into spaces where its full-service restaurants couldn't go, including colleges, airports and hospitals. Last year saw the opening of the first Denny's Fresh Express at a military base (Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas), in partnership with the Army & Air Force Exchange Service.
Coffee, doughnuts, baked goods
Startup cost: $294K-1.5M
Total franchises/co.-owned: 10,862/0
Dunkin' made history in September with the first TV ad made from a single Vine. The ad, which aired during ESPN's Monday Night Football pregame show, promoted the company's weekly fourth-quarter #DunkinReplay Vines, which featured Dunkin' products reenacting a memorable play from each game's first half.
The Dwyer Group
HVAC, glass and appliance repair, landscaping, electrical, plumbing, restoration
Startup cost: $47.4K-$289K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 1,596/0
Women are a rarity in repair businesses, but Dina Dwyer-Owens, CEO of The Dwyer Group (Aire Serv, Glass Doctor, The Grounds Guys, Mr. Appliance, Mr. Electric, Mr. Rooter, Rainbow International Restoration & Cleaning) wants to change that. Last year she launched the "Women in the Trades" program, which offers scholarships for women to attend trade or technical schools so they can get service jobs or own their own businesses.
Startup cost: $171.2K-$276.97K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 540/0
FastSigns' co-branding program allows owners of independent print shops to add its sign and graphics services to their offerings, gaining the franchisor's training and support without sacrificing their store's identity (or having to pay the full franchise fee required for a traditional FastSigns store).
HUMAN Healthy Vending
Startup cost: $62.99K-133.5K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 156/6
HUMAN is branching out by offering a new micromarket option to franchisees. The mini convenience stores, placed in office buildings and other secure locations, offer healthful options and operate via proprietary self-pay touchscreen kiosks.
Burgers, chicken, salads, beverages
Startup cost: $1M-$2.3M
Total franchises/co.-owned: 28,744/6,719
In an effort to engage today's high-tech tots, McDonald's began testing the Happy Table last year in a Singapore restaurant. Stickers placed on the table's underside allow kids to play an interactive racing game by moving around smartphones enabled with near-field communication.
Planet Beach Franchising
Automated spa, sunless and UV-treatment services
Startup cost: $164.5K-$324.98K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 228/0
With the popularity of tanning in decline, Planet Beach founder Stephen Smith has transformed his brand from a tanning salon into a spa. And not just any spa--one that's automated, where members can come any time to receive massages, facials, guided meditation, oxygen therapy, weight-management treatments, UV therapy, spray tanning and more at the push of a button, without the need for attendants.
Startup cost: $30.8K-1.6M
Total franchises/co.-owned: 50,460/484
It's still the home of the Big Gulp, but 7-Eleven is looking to lighten up by offering trail mixes, nuts, dried fruits and veggie chips under its 7-Select label, alongside healthful snacks from other brands, including some that have never before been sold in convenience stores: SkinnyPop Popcorn, Seapoint Farms Dry Roasted Edamame and Harvest Snaps Snapea Crisps.
Startup cost: $1.2M-$2.5M
Total franchises/co.-owned: 4,933/1,047
Through its booth at last year's VidCon video convention, Taco Bell invited YouTubers to create content around its upcoming Fiery Doritos Locos Taco. In return for the free publicity, the company promoted the videos through retweets and even invited creators of the top 15 videos to an L.A. movie studio to produce more professional versions of their work.
Taco John's International
Startup cost: $768K-1.1M
Total franchises/co.-owned: 391/10
Taco Bell may have revved up the food mashup craze with its Doritos Locos tacos, but this much smaller chain managed to land a partnership with another Frito-Lay brand. In April Taco John's introduced the Flamin' Hot Cheetos Burrito, promoting it with an app featuring the Chester Cheetah mascot that lets customers earn points toward free food and other prizes.
Startup cost: $65.5K-$168.7K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 400/1
Tutor Doctor sets itself apart by not limiting its services to kids. One client, who transferred from France to the U.S. for work, was tutored in English, as well as American traffic laws, customs and culture. Another, who had been laid off at 62, learned basic computer skills so he could get back into the work force. One elderly woman was taught to use the internet so she could stay in touch with her son.
The UPS Store
Postal, business and communications services
Startup cost: $150.2K-$420.3K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 4,776/0
Last year, The UPS Store became the first nationwide retailer to offer in-store 3-D printing. Still in the testing phase, the service is available in six stores, but the company's small-business customers are already finding it useful; one even appeared on Shark Tank with a product printed at The UPS Store.
Nonmedical home care
Startup cost: $58.5K-$95.2K
Total franchises/co.-owned: 465/0
Visiting Angels helps seniors stay connected with their loved ones through its Silver Surfers program. In addition to typical services like housekeeping and medication reminders, the company's caretakers can teach clients how to send texts, navigate online or use Facebook and Skype.