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Franchising

Definition: A continuing relationship in which a franchisor provides a licensed privilege to the franchisee to do business and offers assistance in organizing, training, merchandising, marketing and managing in return for a monetary consideration. Franchising is a form of business by which the owner (franchisor) of a product, service or method obtains distribution through affiliated dealers (franchisees). If buying an existing business doesn't sound right for you but starting from scratch sounds a bit intimidating, you could be suited for franchise ownership. Just what is a franchise--and how do you know if you're cut out to be a franchisee? Essentially, a franchisee pays an initial fee and ongoing royalties to a franchisor; in return, the franchisee gains the use of a trademark, ongoing support from the franchisor, and the right to use the franchisor's system of doing business and sell its products or services.

In addition to a well-known brand name, buying a franchise offers many other advantages that aren't available to the entrepreneur starting a business from scratch. Perhaps the most significant is that you get a proven system of operation and training in how to use it. New franchisees can avoid a lot of the mistakes startup entrepreneurs typically make because the franchisor has already perfected daily operations through trial and error.

Reputable franchisors conduct market research before selling a new outlet, so you'll feel greater confidence that there's a demand for the product or service. The franchisor also provides you a clear picture of the competition and how to differentiate yourself from them.

Finally, franchisees enjoy the benefit of strength in numbers. You'll gain from economics of scale in buying materials, supplies and services, such as advertising, as well as in negotiating for locations and lease terms. By comparison, independent operators have to negotiate on their own, usually getting less favorable terms. Some suppliers won't deal with new businesses or will reject your business because your account isn't big enough.

Once you've decided a franchise is the right route for you, how do you choose the right one? With so many franchise systems to choose from, the options can be dizzying. Start by investigating various industries that interest you to find those with growth potential. Narrow the choices to a few industries you're most interested in, then analyze your geographic area to see if there's a market for that type of business. If so, contact all the franchise companies in those fields and ask them for information on their franchise opportunity. Any reputable company will be happy to send you information at no cost.

Of course, you shouldn't rely solely on these promotional materials to make your decision. You also need to do your own detective work. Start by visiting your library or going online to look up all the magazine and newspaper articles you can find about the company you're considering. Is the company depicted favorably? Does it seem to be well managed and growing?

Once you've decided on a certain franchise through your preliminary research, you need to find out if this opportunity is as good as it sounds. Your next step is to analyze it thoroughly to determine whether it's really worth buying.

Much of the information you'll need to gather in order to analyze a franchise will be acquired through the following:

Through this research, you want to find out the following:

Don't be shy about asking for the required materials from the franchisor. After all, they'll be checking you out just as completely. If they aren't, that should sound a warning bell. Another warning sign is if the franchisor asks you to sign a disclaimer stating you haven't relied on any representations not contained in the written agreement. Such a requirement could indicate the franchisor doesn't want to be held responsible for claims made by its sales representatives.

See also "Uniform Franchise Offering Circular."