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A Franchise of Her Own

Meet a few exceptions to the rule that women just don't do franchising--and why don't they anyway?

Name recognition means a lot these days, and franchising provides entrepreneurs with exactly that-a recognizable brand name. In 1998, according to the International Franchise Association (IFA), nearly half of U.S. retail sales came from franchises. And with thousands of franchisors based in the United States alone, opportunities abound for those seeking this route to entrepreneurship. From homebased home-improvement services and fast-food restaurants to candy design shops, it seems there's a business out there to appeal to just about anyone, whether you're a man or a woman.

So it comes as a surprise that, with all these franchising opportunities ready for the taking, the ranks of women involved in franchising have declined in recent years. A recent study conducted for the SBA by Women in Franchising (WIF), a consulting firm in Chicago that works with women franchisees and franchisors, found that in 1995 (the most recent year for which figures are available), female ownership of franchises totaled 8 percent, down from 11 percent in 1990. By contrast, during those same years, the proportion of solely male-owned franchises increased to 62 percent from 60 percent.

The figures are puzzling-especially when you consider the fact that women are starting businesses at twice the rate of men in the United States. But Susan P. Kezios, president of WIF, points out several reasons for the apparent male/female discrepancy: "Opening a franchise often [requires] higher initial capital requirements than starting a business from scratch," she says. And Kezios claims that gender discrimination still exists in the franchise industry: "Franchising is still basically an old boys network, and sometimes, when women want to become franchisees, a franchisor will say, 'We want your husband in on it.'" Despite such obvious roadblocks, Kezios insists there's hope on the horizon. "In the past year and a half, for the first time, the International Franchise Association has made a big push to help women become [more] involved in franchising."

Last year, in fact, IFA hosted several franchise trade delegations and regional education conferences targeting women. Debbie A. Smith, IFA's vice president of public affairs and emerging markets, says the industry as a whole is beginning to accept women more and more. Case in point: The IFA's first woman chairperson took office this year.

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