Franchise Country

Twisting Traditional Concepts

In my humble opinion, those who take traditional businesses and add a new twist will be the drivers of new franchise growth. A good example of this is the explosive growth of Curves International, the franchisor of Curves for Women. Curves is a chain of small fitness centers for women, featuring a 30-minute workout and nutritional advice. Since it started franchising in 1995, this company has grown to more than 5,000 locations. Curves is now ranked second in Entrepreneur's Franchise 500�. I could go on for years, but if there's a need to be filled, be assured franchising will find it and fill it. The real question is, how do you fit in?

What's hot in the future really depends on our collective view of the world. For example, if you are prone to believe that war, unemployment, depression and deflation will control our destiny for the next 10 years, you should be looking at franchises that cater to these precepts. Tom Buckley, CFO of the Dwyer Group, the franchisor of a number of home-maintenance franchises such as Mr. Electric and Rainbow International, claims the recent recession has actually helped their franchisees. "Instead of buying new carpeting, people are cleaning their old carpeting, and instead of buying new appliances, they're calling Mr. Appliance," he explains. On the other hand, if you think prosperity is around the corner, you may want to consider looking into entertainment or better dining establishments. Franchisor-in-the-making Simply Fondue is betting on such a trend with its special-occasion restaurants that add excitement without the need for a large kitchen and the attendant expense.

It is now the third day of my journey, and my interviews have run late into the night. Wearily, I set out on foot down the Riverwalk in San Antonio in search of food. I have stayed true to my convictions, but after an hour of searching, no one will seat me at this late hour. Tom Buckley and his wife, Heather, were my last interview, so they are suffering with me. Not unlike the Donner party, who chose to cannibalize each other rather than starve, I began to bargain with the premise that I would not dine anywhere familiar. Fortunately, salvation came when I learned Heather had never been to Denny's. Under the circumstances, that was good enough for me. As we basked in the warm glow of our midnight hotcakes, I reflected that this is the essence of franchising--to go to a familiar place with consistent quality and pay a fair price.

Research at a Glance
Month 1, General Study:Research by visiting as well as individual franchisors' Web sites.

Month 2, Local Field Trips:Frequent any place in your area that looks like it might be a franchise. Try to shop at the concepts you're interested in.

Month 3, Franchise Show:The International Franchise Expo in Washington, DC, is the biggie. If you can't attend a show, take a trip to see concepts not in your area.

Month 4, Applications and Due Diligence:Apply to at least three concepts; weigh the benefits and strengths of each offering. Hire a franchise attorney/consultant.

Month 5, Lending Sources:Talk to your banker and see if funding for the concept would be available. Write an executive summary with estimates of cash requirements.

Month 6, Signing the Agreement:Dot those i's and cross those t's. And keep your day job until the last possible moment.

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This article was originally published in the June 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Franchise Country.

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