Since franchising began taking off in the mid-1950s, there hasn't been a dull moment in the industry. Although franchising hasn't been without its share of ups and downs, most analysts agree the industry is blooming-and is headed for even greener pastures.
That's due, in part, to years like the past one, when there was so much growth and innovation in franchising that the world couldn't afford to take its eyes off the industry for a minute. Combination franchises. International expansion. Large, well-established companies jumping on the franchise bandwagon. You name it-last year franchising had it.
And did you expect anything less from an industry whose 540,000 franchises ring up sales of $758 billion annually? Franchising is most certainly a force to be reckoned with.
History In The Making
In 1995, franchising was marked by at least one truly earth-shattering first. Franchisees were permitted to attend the White House Conference on Small Business in June after being banished from the previous two conferences in 1980 and 1986. Of 2,000 total attendees, the 137 franchisee delegates may have been relatively small in number, but they managed to get two important measures onto the conference's list of 60 final recommendations.
One measure would give franchisees more latitude on the issue of where to conduct mediation, arbitration or litigation with their franchisors; the other was a recommendation that would establish minimum standards and give franchisees more rights. Andrew Selden, a Minneapolis franchise attorney, says the conference was a milestone because "it elevated franchising to a much more visible position in the American economy."
Selden says another major milestone, which took place last August, was the Kodak case, in which a jury awarded more than $20 million to franchisees. In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs claimed Kodak attempted to monopolize the market that serviced its own photocopiers. Selden believes this could have broad implications for certain franchise systems. In the future, he says, "business-format franchisors that attempt to monopolize aftermarket supply arrangements in their system could be liable for violation of federal antitrust laws."
What's In Style
Most franchise watchers agree that one of the biggest industry trends is the internationalization of American franchise systems. It seems overseas markets are more ravenous than ever for American products and services. From fast food to business-to-business services, American franchisors are leading the way in franchising, showing other countries how it's done.
"International expansion is so attractive because many countries are willing to pay substantial amounts for the use of a Western trademark and the training and knowledge that go with it," says Edward Kushell, president of Los Angeles-based Franchise Consulting Group.
Many experts believe the success of U.S. franchises overseas can pave the way for the further success of American companies in general. "American marketing practices are expanding around the globe and competing aggressively with European and Japanese businesses," says Selden. "The leveraging strength of franchising will give [other] American companies a real advantage in penetrating underdeveloped markets around the globe."
In addition to marketing their products and services overseas, U.S. franchisors are also seeking new avenues of distribution at home. Dual-branding, convenience stores offering branded franchise products, and combination franchises are part of another sizzling industry trend. Increasingly, noncompetitive franchisors are pairing up to offer their complementary products. Retail couples like coffee shops and bakeries are gaining popularity among a fickle crowd looking for as many options as they can get.
Proving what smaller businesses have long known-the power of franchising to grow a company-a few corporate powerhouses joined the franchising ranks in 1995. Among them were language services company Berlitz, financial services giant Dun & Bradstreet and health-club chain Bally Total Fitness.
So what do franchise experts predict for 1996?
Don DeBolt, president of the International Franchise Association, foresees a continuing explosion of combination franchises. DeBolt also expects the popularity of nontraditional locations-such as stadiums, department stores, airports and military bases-to grow as domestic markets become even more crowded.
Selden believes there's always going to be opportunity at the fringes of market segments. "For some [franchisors], the really significant growth opportunities are going to come from outside their traditional markets, either in new distribution channels or in trends like coffee and bagels," says Selden.
Franchising will not likely see the passage of significant legislation in the months to come. Kushell, who feels franchisors should self-police, points out that the Republican Congress "is more laissez-faire in their thinking, business-wise"; he believes this will work in franchising's favor in the long run.
Selden takes a longer view of the legislation issue. "The trend of chipping away at the problem of establishing minimum standards of fairness in franchising will continue in 1996," he says. "Sooner or later, franchisors [will] figure out it's in their best interest to get reasonable legislation passed. It makes their franchises better-looking investments."
Whatever lies ahead for franchising in the legislation department, the industry is thriving overall, and if you ask those in the trenches, that's all that matters. With socioeconomic changes continuing to create fertile ground for franchising, Kushell says, "franchising is innovative and creative. I think it's going to go on and live a long and wonderful life."
What are the hottest franchises going to be offering? Following are our picks for 1996. And although you may have seen these ideas around in some form or another, we give you tips on the newest ideas that should keep these concepts at the top.
Bagels: They may be old news in some cities, but they're still selling strong-and there are plenty of markets they haven't yet penetrated. One key to success is offering more than just breakfast. Look for a franchise that keeps sales sizzling all day long with lunch offerings as well.
Pretzels: Here's something to twist and shout about: Auntie Anne's, a soft pretzel franchisor in Gap, Pennsylvania, estimates a 1995 sales increase of 40 percent over 1994. Soft pretzels are taking the nation by storm, and the market is far from saturated. With consumers hungry for these low-fat treats, pretzel franchisors should enjoy growth far into the future. The latest twist: pretzels in a variety of shapes and flavors.
Specialized staffing: Franchises that offer temps with a difference are staffing their way to success. In addition to traditional office workers, companies that supply specialized employees such as accountants, lawyers and even physicians are in demand. An up-and-coming trend: companies that can provide blue-collar temps such as manufacturing and factory workers.
Home health care: Insurance companies are looking for ways to cut costs-and home health-care franchises seem to have found the answer. Providing care for people with disabilities, newborns and their mothers and others who need medical care but don't need to be in a hospital setting, home health-care agencies are taking care of business. And with increasing numbers of the nation's population entering their golden years in the next decade, senior care franchises will be an especially hot segment of this market.
Franchise Consulting Group, 1888 Century Park E., #1900, Los Angeles, CA 90067,
International Franchise Association, 1350 New York Ave. N.W., #900, Washington, DC, 20005, (202) 628-8000;
Andrew Selden, c/o Briggs and Morgan, 2400 IDS Center, 80 S. Eighth St., Minneapolis, MN 55402, (612) 334-8485.