The franchise industry is all abuzz, and the talk is about technology-for good reason. Technology is paving the way to the future, leaving a need for entrepreneurs who can help lessen the impact of today's rapidly widening digital divide. Stepping up to bat are technology consulting, service and training franchises offering a broad range of services, such as hardware repair, networking, software/security consulting and website development. We talked to some of the franchise players about what factors are causing this demand, how the digital divide is shaking things up and why the time is ideal for franchisees in particular to enter the scene.
People are becoming increasingly dependent on technology, using computers for a range of activities from shopping online to finding love. A 2004 survey conducted by the Stanford Institute for the Quantitative Study of Society determined that the average U.S. internet user spends three hours a day online. The internet has actually caused a decrease in the amount of time these users spend watching TV and doing other activities. The study also confirmed that Americans are more connected than ever, with as much as 75 percent of the U.S. population having access to the internet either at home or at work.
Chip Reaves, 35, national director of Decatur, Georgia-based Computer Troubleshooters USA, a computer services and support franchise, has noticed that residential users have become a higher percentage of the franchise's customers in the past two years. "More home users are willing to pay to have us come out and work on their computers," he says. "People are becoming so dependent on e-mail and [the internet], with kids using it for homework and parents balancing the checkbook on it."
Businesses have also discovered an online presence is necessary for brand awareness and company sales. A 2004 survey by market research firm Harris Interactive estimated that 70 percent of U.S. small businesses have an online presence, a sharp increase from the SBA's 2002 figure of 35 percent. "Technology not only helps you run your business more effectively-sometimes it's the only way you can do it," says Camille Hamilton, 44, who has been a franchisee of on-site computer training and support franchise CM IT Solutions, based in Austin, Texas, for nearly four years. "When companies don't have internet access, that can impact their bottom line."