30 Years of the Franchise 500

From McDonald's to Subway, see how franchises have changed with the times.

The times they are a changin'. In the 30 years we've been compiling the Franchise 500, we've seen not only the times change, but also the world as we know it. Through it all, franchising has seen its own changes: It has matured from a viable business system into an economic powerhouse. Here's a look at the past 30 years, viewed from the top of the ranking . . . and in the context of American life.

Illustrations by Gary Sawyer/agoodson.com

1980

1981

1982

#1 Franchise: McDonald's
  • McDonald's new slogan: "We cook it all for you at McDonald's."
  • All but one of the top 10 franchises have to do with food or cars.
  • Michael Jackson releases Thriller, the bestselling album of all time.

1983

1984

1985

#1 Franchise: Kentucky Fried Chicken
  • KFC has 6,300 franchised locations and opens the $23 million Colonel Harland Sanders Technical Centre in Louisville, Kentucky.
  • John Hendricks launches the Discovery Channel.

1986

#1 Franchise: Domino's Pizza
  • Domino's Pizza opens its 3,000th outlet, which is also the first unit in Hong Kong, and the company sells 160 million pizzas this year alone.
  • The first federal Martin Luther King Jr. Day is observed on January 20.
  • About 7 million people form a human chain from New York City to Long Beach, California, in the Hands Across America event to raise money to fight hunger and homelessness.

1987

#1 Franchise: Domino's Pizza
  • Domino's Pizza reduces average delivery time to 24 minutes.
  • Jazzercise is considered the top new franchise as well as the top low-investment franchise.
  • Prozac makes its debut in the U.S.

1988

1989

1990

1991

1992

1993

1994

#1 Franchise: Subway
  • This is Subway's best year ever in terms of average store sales (up 5 percent from the previous year).
  • According to management consulting firm Francorp Inc., only 11 percent of franchises are sold to minorities.
  • Friends premieres on NBC.
  • The "Chunnel" linking Britain with mainland Europe officially opens.

1995

1996

1997

1998

1999

2000

2001

2002

#1 Franchise: Subway
  • Subway becomes the national sponsor of the American Heart Association's Start! Heart Walk.
  • The Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl is kidnapped and later killed by a militant group in Pakistan.
  • President Bush signs the Homeland Security Act into law.

2003

#1 Franchise: Subway
  • Subway grows to more than 17,000 locations in 75 countries.
  • Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrates during re-entry over Texas, killing all seven crew members.
  • The U.S. invades Iraq, seizing control of Baghdad and ending Saddam Hussein's regime.

2004

2005

2006

#1 Franchise: Subway
  • Thousands register to receive inspirational phone messages from Subway weight-loss icon Jared Fogle.
  • Warren Buffett donates more than $30 billion to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
  • Google acquires YouTube for $1.65 billion.

2007

2008

2009

#1 Franchise: Subway
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