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Cold Feet?

As it becomes harder to turn back, our franchisees get a taste of buyer's remorse.

After many months of work, expense and struggle, Jack and Diane* have finally signed a build-to-suit lease for the construction of their franchised oil-change operation. Instead of celebrating this huge move toward their dreams, Jack is glum. "Diane said I got really quiet for two days," he says. "She couldn't figure out what was going through my head."

It is a unique idiosyncrasy of human nature that when we reach a major milestone we have dreamt of for years, the immediate result may be a state of stress, remorse and unhappiness. People experience remorse when they feel they have committed an action contrary to their moral code. Buyer's remorse is characterized by feelings of regret, self-hatred and a desire to make the wrong thing right.

When you decide to purchase a franchise, your entire future comes into play. Writing those big checks forces you to step outside your comfort zone and confront the unknown. You may try to compensate psychologically for feelings of uncertainty by mentally undoing your actions. In other words, you may try to talk yourself out of buying the franchise you just purchased. Add feelings of uncertainty to the fear of making a long-term commitment, and it's easy to understand why buyers can suffer from bouts of anxiety. The extent of Jack's buyer's remorse is evident. "I did have a lot on my mind," he admits. "Did I really negotiate the best deal, or could I have done better? What if I made a huge miscalculation in my business plan somewhere, and this thing ends up sucking all the yolk out of our nest egg?"

Buyer's remorse is a form of cognitive dissonance, a theory developed in the '50s by psychologist Leon Festinger. According to Festinger, a close-call decision can generate huge amounts of internal tension after the decision has been made. Three factors heighten post-decision dissonance: 1) the importance of the issue, 2) the length of the delay in choosing between equally attractive options, and 3) the difficulty involved in reversing the decision once it's made. The misgivings that plague us after a tough choice motivate us to seek reassuring information and social support for our decision.

Jack came face to face with Festinger's theory when he wrote the lease deposit check for $17,000. These thoughts tortured Jack: "What if I don't like the quick-lube business after all? What if I can't find decent help to hire? What if I find out I really don't like being in business with my wife after all? What is the stress of opening a business going to do to our relationship? What do we do if the relationship starts to falter-walk away from the business? What other options would we have?"

Fortunately, Jack's remorse only lasted for a few days, probably due to the fact that buying his quick-lube franchise was the result of exhaustive searching and analysis. Jack explains, "I signed the deal anyway. I knew buyer's remorse was a natural, common human reaction. I've felt it before- I bought a car, a house and when I changed jobs. In the end, everything has always worked out OK, or I found a way to make it work out OK. So ultimately, I had to believe in myself and my careful planning and research. I knew I had done a thorough job; now I had to just trust myself and move ahead- the decision, and go for it. If it was the wrong decision, I guess I'll find out soon enough."

Jack's prior research is what saved him at this crucial point. He could have just as easily cut his losses and walked away from the $20,000 franchise fee deposit he had given to his franchisor. If he had made the decision to be a franchisee on the spur of the moment or out of desperation, the feeling would probably have lingered. The best way to cope with buyer's remorse and minimize its destructiveness is to make sure you are as informed as possible.

I spoke with Jack after this brief bout with doubt, and he is now focusing on the day when he begins to serve his customers. Jack dreams of standing in his store, helping people and watching them drive away as newfound friends. This image carries him while his wallet is being depleted.

Soon, Jack and Diane will face new issues-and write more checks. And even though Jack has survived his first round of buyer's remorse, he knows he's not free and clear. "I fully expect to feel this remorse again at least two more times: when I quit my job and when we're ready to open the doors on our new venture. Recognizing what it is, knowing you've survived it before, and believing in yourself are the keys to working through it and pressing on."

  • The franchisees' names have been changed.

Todd D. Maddocks is a franchise attorney, small-business consultant and the founder of Franchisedecision.com. You can reach him at yourcounsel@attbi.com.

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This article was originally published in the November 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Cold Feet?.

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