Ending Soon! Save 33% on All Access

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


#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.


#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.


#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.


#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.


#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?"


#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.


#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.


#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.


#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.


#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.


#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.


#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.


#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.


#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.


#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.


#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.


#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.


#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.


#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.


#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.


#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.


#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.


#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.


#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.


#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.


#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.


#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.


#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.


#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.


#1 Franchise: Subway

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.


Is Consumer Services a Good Career Path for 2024? Here's the Verdict

Consumer services is a broad field with a variety of benefits and drawbacks. Here's what you should consider before choosing it as a career path.

Business News

'Creators Left So Much Money on the Table': Kickstarter's CEO Reveals the Story Behind the Company's Biggest Changes in 15 Years

In an interview with Entrepreneur, Kickstarter CEO Everette Taylor explains the decision-making behind the changes, how he approaches leading Kickstarter, and his advice for future CEOs.

Business Models

How to Become an AI-Centric Business (and Why It's Crucial for Long-Term Success)

Learn the essential steps to integrate AI at the core of your operations and stay competitive in an ever-evolving landscape.