Good as Gold

Income Tax

Income tax preparation services have been around for years, so who would expect them to be one of the booming franchises in 2004? But it's true-financial-service franchises are one of the hottest sectors in franchising today.

Maybe the increasing demand for tax franchises can be attributed to "the explosion of information technology and the ever-increasing complexity of tax law and filing," says Stephen J. Spinelli, director of the Arthur M. Blank Center for Entrepreneurship at Babson College in Babson Park, Massachusetts. "Franchisors can share the information and build economies of scale in understanding the law. They have this great source of franchisees who have been trained in the business environment."

It's not the sexiest field, but these franchises are still finding new franchisees and customers lining up for more. Jackson Hewitt Tax Service has more than 3,700 units, and Liberty Tax Service added more than 400 units last year.

Business Consulting
Though this category of franchises has been in our Franchise 500� for only a couple of years, two of the four business-consulting franchises that are ranked have already made it to our top 100 list. As a whole, the category grew 69 percent between 2002 and 2003. This growth in business consulting "is a specialized response primarily driven by small businesses that don't have anywhere to turn, realize they may have a need and don't know whom to contact," Hockett says.

The Alternative Board TAB, which added 20 franchises last year, facilitates peer advisory boards and provides individual coaching to its members, who are owners, presidents or CEOs of privately owned companies.

"It's a great time for business consulting franchises," says Jason P. Zickerman, executive vice president and COO of TAB, "because many companies have downsized and would rather outsource to consultants than add to their payroll."

Specialty Ice Cream
Following the lead of Sally in When Harry Met Sally, consumers want things, well, the way they want it-even ice cream. Enter specialty ice cream chains like Cold Stone Creamery, which allow customers to blend ice cream with fruit, candy and other items of their choosing.

Cold Stone Creamery currently has 423 franchised stores, up from 261 in last year's listing. "Our recipe of fresh-made ice cream complemented by any variety of mix-ins has resonated with consumers," says Kevin Donnellan, communications manager for Cold Stone Creamery. "We allow our guests to personalize their desserts."

Coffee
Anyone who thinks Starbucks is the ruler of the universe hasn't seen this year's Franchise 500� listing. It includes 12 coffee companies, seven of which started franchising in 1999 or later.

Up-and-coming coffee companies offer customers their own unique twist on that old cup of joe. Seekers Coffee House, a new concept with one franchised unit, is more than a mere coffeehouse-it's a food-service, catering, retail and performance venue. Jo to Go The Drive Thru Espresso Bar, with four franchised units, is a drive-thru offering coffee drinks, smoothies and baked goods. It's a Grind, which added 17 franchised units in the past year, is a neighborhood coffeehouse with a jazz flair.

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This article was originally published in the January 2004 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Good as Gold.

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