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

30 Years of the Franchise 500

1. 1980


Previous Slide

#1 Franchise: McDonald's
  • McDonald's has 4,173 franchised locations.
  • Of the 9.1 million small businesses in the country, more than 500,000 are franchise operations.
  • Millions of viewers tune in to Dallas to find out who shot J.R. Ewing. 
  • CNN launches.

30 Years of the Franchise 500

2. 1981


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#1 Franchise: Dan Hanna Auto Wash
  • Dan Hanna Auto Wash would later be the only No. 1 franchise that no longer exists. 
  • MTV launches. 
  • Sandra Day O'Connor becomes the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court.

30 Years of the Franchise 500

3. 1982


Previous Slide

#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.

30 Years of the Franchise 500

4. 1983


Previous Slide

#1 Franchise: McDonald's
  • McDonald's includes Mattel's Hot Wheels toy cars in Happy Meals. 
  • Franchised waitering schools gain popularity. 
  • The Disney Channel launches. 
  • Sally Ride becomes the first American woman in space.
  • Microsoft Word is released.

30 Years of the Franchise 500

5. 1984


Previous Slide

#1 Franchise: McDonald's
  • A new McDonald's location opens somewhere in the world every 17 hours. 
  • Eight out of the top 10 franchises are related to food or hospitality.
  • The first Apple Macintosh is sold.
  • Alex Trebek hosts Jeopardy! for the first time.
  • Band-Aid releases "Do They Know It's Christmas?"

30 Years of the Franchise 500

6. 1985


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#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.

30 Years of the Franchise 500

7. 1986


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#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.

30 Years of the Franchise 500

8. 1987


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#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.

30 Years of the Franchise 500

9. 1988


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#1 Franchise: Subway
  • This is the first time Subway is ranked No. 1 in the Franchise 500®. 
  • Subway's first Australian location opens in Perth, and it adds 1,100 locations this year alone.
  • The Wonder Years premieres.
  • The Winter Olympics are held in Calgary, Alberta.

30 Years of the Franchise 500

10. 1989


Previous Slide

#1 Franchise: Subway
  • Subway's minimum startup cost is $27.4K. (Today's minimum startup cost is $80K.)
  • The Exxon Valdez spills about 11 million gallons of oil in Alaska's Prince William Sound.
  • Batman is released and becomes the year's top-grossing film.

30 Years of the Franchise 500

11. 1990


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#1 Franchise: Subway
  • Fred DeLuca, co-founder of Subway, reaches his goal of opening 5,000 stores--four years earlier than expected. 
  • Franchises generate nearly $600 billion in sales and account for one-third of all consumer purchases in the U.S. 
  • Nelson Mandela is released from prison in South Africa after 27 years.
  • The first World Wide Web page is created.
  • Germany is reunified.

30 Years of the Franchise 500

12. 1991


Previous Slide

#1 Franchise: Subway
  • DeLuca says he wants to match McDonald's store for store. 
  • Subway accounts for more than 60 percent of all sub sandwich locations in the U.S. 
  • Nirvana's hit single "Smells Like Teen Spirit" tops the Billboard charts.
  • The Rodney King beating, captured on video by an amateur photographer, is broadcast around the world. 
  • The Soviet Union collapses.

30 Years of the Franchise 500

13. 1992


Previous Slide

#1 Franchise: McDonald's
  • McDonald's serves an estimated 20 million customers each day in more than 12,000 restaurants worldwide. 
  • The Los Angeles riots result in more than 50 deaths and $1 billion in property damage.

30 Years of the Franchise 500

14. 1993


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#1 Franchise: Subway
  • Subway is opening about 100 new stores a month, and its closure rate is less than 2 percent annually. 
  • Janet Reno becomes the first woman U.S. attorney general. 
  • Oprah Winfrey hosts a 90-minute primetime interview with Michael Jackson, which becomes one of the most watched interviews in TV history.

30 Years of the Franchise 500

15. 1994


Previous Slide

#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.

30 Years of the Franchise 500

16. 1995


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#1 Franchise: Subway
  • About 450 Subway shops reside in convenience stores and truck stops, many of which are in towns of only a few thousand people, and Subway posts about $2.5 billion in sales. 
  • The murder trial of O.J. Simpson is broadcast live on national TV.
  • Al Green, Janis Joplin, Neil Young and Led Zeppelin are inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

30 Years of the Franchise 500

17. 1996


Previous Slide

#1 Franchise: Subway
  • Subway adds more than 1,300 units worldwide and reaches $3 billion in sales. The franchise can be found in 27 countries across the globe.
  • Entrepreneur picks bagels, specialized staffing and home health care as some of the hottest franchises of the year. 
  • Dolly the sheep, the first mammal to be cloned from an adult cell, is born.

30 Years of the Franchise 500

18. 1997


Previous Slide

#1 Franchise: McDonald's
  • McDonald's has nearly 20,000 stores worldwide, and 33 million customers a day and counting.  
  • Madeleine Albright becomes the first female U.S. secretary of state.
  • Princess Diana dies at the age of 36 in a Paris car crash. 
  • Titanic opens in theaters and grosses more than $1 billion globally.

30 Years of the Franchise 500

19. 1998


Previous Slide

#1 Franchise: McDonald's
  • The franchise fee for a McDonald's is $45,000, and the startup cost is $363,600 to $602,000.
  • Three of the top 10 franchises are in the frozen desserts category. 
  • President Bill Clinton admits that he had an "improper physical relationship" with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. He's impeached by the House of Representatives.

30 Years of the Franchise 500

20. 1999


Previous Slide

#1 Franchise: Yogen Fruz
  • Yogen Fruz is the world's largest franchisor of frozen dessert outlets, with 4,799 locations in 82 countries.
  • Herbal products, coffee, children's education and senior care are among the hottest franchise trends.
  • The world population surpasses  6 billion.
  • Napster launches.

30 Years of the Franchise 500

21. 2000


Previous Slide

#1 Franchise: McDonald's
  • McDonald's has more than 25,000 restaurants in 117 countries.
  • AOL buys Time Warner for $162 billion, the largest-ever corporate merger. 
  • Survivor spurs the reality TV trend.
  • George W. Bush wins a close presidential race after more than a month of determining disputed vote counts.

30 Years of the Franchise 500

22. 2001


Previous Slide

#1 Franchise: Subway
  • Subway becomes a $3.6 billion company, with more than 14,500 franchises in 76 countries.
  • Capitalizing on its successful Jared Fogle ads, Subway adds more than 600 new franchises and sees store sales increase 16 percent.
  • Terrorists attack the World Trade Center and Pentagon on Sept. 11.
  • Apple Inc. debuts the first iPod.

30 Years of the Franchise 500

23. 2002


Previous Slide

#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.

30 Years of the Franchise 500

24. 2003


Previous Slide

#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.

30 Years of the Franchise 500

25. 2004


Previous Slide

#1 Franchise: Subway
  • Subway receives about 130,000 requests for franchise information, with 25 percent of those applying for a franchise
  • Franchise 500® companies generate $206.6 billion in their most recent fiscal years.
  • Martha Stewart receives a five-month prison sentence for lying about insider trading.

30 Years of the Franchise 500

26. 2005


Previous Slide

#1 Franchise: Subway
  • Subway aims to reach 7,500 international stores by 2010. 
  • 391,139 franchises are sold in 2005--up 11 percent from 351,459 in 2004. 
  • YouTube launches.
  • Pope John Paul II dies at age 84. Millions of mourners attend his funeral in Vatican City.

30 Years of the Franchise 500

27. 2006


Previous Slide

#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.

30 Years of the Franchise 500

28. 2007


Previous Slide

#1 Franchise: Subway
  • Subway has 26,197 locations worldwide. 
  • Apple introduces the iPhone at the 2007 MacWorld Conference & Expo.
  • A Virginia Tech student kills 32 people before committing suicide in the deadliest mass shooting by a single gunman in modern U.S. history.
  • The Writers Guild of America begins a three-month strike.

30 Years of the Franchise 500

29. 2008


Previous Slide

#1 Franchise: 7-ELEVEN
  • After 16 times in the top 10, 7-Eleven takes the No. 1 spot for the first time. 
  • Franchises jump on trends such as green business and fighting obesity.
  • Barack Obama is elected 44th president of the United States, making him the first black man to hold this office.

30 Years of the Franchise 500

30. 2009



#1 Franchise: Subway
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