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Offbeat Franchises Looking for a franchise that ventures off the beaten path? A "miscellaneous" franchise could be for you.

By Geoff Williams

entrepreneur daily

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Online exclusive: Hooked on miscellaneous? For more, see our exclusive slide show of one-of-a-kind franchises and read our "Spotlight On" article offering unique opportunities.

Burger and pizza franchises aren't your thing. You are somebody who can't be pigeonholed. You are a rebel. You are different, unique. You would rather dig for hidden treasure than go for the obvious option. You want something with a little edge.

That is generally what you'll find in the miscellaneous categories of the annual listing. These are franchises that may be successful multimillion-dollar conglomerates, or on their way there, but what they do is not easily explained. Rather than following in the well-worn footsteps of their franchising forefathers, they are breaking ground with new entrepreneurial concepts. The franchises under Miscellaneous are so unique, they defy categorization. In other words, they are a lot like you.

Need more reasons to check out these always-interesting sections of our franchise listing? Meet the following franchisors and franchisees, who took their chances on Miscellaneous franchises.

Franchise: Massage Envy
Franchise 500® Rank: #149
Entrepreneurs: David and Anne Glover, 48 and 46, respectively, recently opened their fourth Massage Envy establishment in Houston.

Beginnings: The Glovers met when they were both working at the accounting firm Arthur Andersen in the early 1980s. David and Anne fell in love, got married, had two children and assumed the traditional roles of married life. David eventually became part owner of a commercial real estate investment firm, while Anne was the primary caregiver for their children. She calls herself "the volunteer champion of the world--school, community, church, junior league. I enjoyed orchestrating high-level events. It was good practice for organizing multiple franchises."

When David retired from his business in his 40s, he didn't want to retire for good, so he and Anne looked into purchasing a franchise. "We could have gone into real estate, but the prices were so outrageous," says David, "and we wanted to have a business that had cash flow right away--something that was a quick startup."

Next Steps: "We went through business brokers," says Anne, "and looked at a lot of franchises, some that were brand new and others that were kind of scary." In their case, scary did not necessarily mean bad. Anne had been interested in a sandwich franchise, but once she saw all the food inventory and thought about having teenage employees, she changed her mind. The couple considered a gym franchise but figured it would be clobbered by bigger gym and fitness center franchises, and then they considered a tutoring center. "But we would have gone head-to-head with [competing] learning centers," Anne points out. "I kept thinking, 'Where is the niche?'"

They had similar feelings about a hair salon franchise they were considering. "It wasn't a new business concept or model," says David. "Basically, people are already getting their hair cut somewhere."

Then they found out about Massage Envy, a massage clinic that operates similar to a gym--customers pay a monthly membership fee and make regular appointments or impromptu ones, usually getting massages the same day they request them, which is a rare occurrence in the industry.

Some risk-averse people would run, of course. It's still a fairly new business, but the Glovers liked that aspect of it. "It was the only game in town," says Anne.

And it has certainly worked out. Their three initial Massage Envy establishments alone bring in nearly $3.6 million a year.

Getting the Digits: The benefits of massages are not what the Glovers have to sell people on. The idea that the average person can afford to get massages routinely is. So, they were a little nervous about whether the numbers were there: Were there enough people clamoring for massages to make a full-fledged business out of it? "That was something we had to weigh carefully," Anne says. "Do we want to get in on this young franchise? And we were jumping into the highest-rent district in Houston."

But it's in the high-rent districts that a massage franchise is likely to do well, and after a visit to the company headquarters in Scottsdale, Arizona, where they looked at figures such as the number of customers and the number of massages given every month, Anne and David were convinced the numbers were there. Says Anne, "We thought, 'This is almost too good to be true.' So we went with the assumption [that] if we build it, they will come."

And they did.

Of course, there's also something to be said for running a franchise where you can get your own massage whenever you please. It may be the most relaxing sort of business you could ever own.

Rice Pudding and Batteries

Franchise: Miami Rice Pudding Co.
Franchise 500® Rank: Not ranked
Entrepreneurs: Founders Ken and Linda McEvoy, 49 and 44, respectively; Joe and Ann Lowell, 60 and 58; and Chris and Denise Dale, 40 and 36

Beginnings: The city is Denville, New Jersey. Ken McEvoy works here. He carries a badge. And he and his wife make and sell rice pudding.

It started a couple of years ago, when Linda made some rice pudding--a dessert Ken loves. They kept experimenting with it, and before long, they thought they might have something they could create a business around. Their friends the Lowells and the Dales became financial and working partners, with everyone having a role in operations. Linda has been working at their rice pudding station full time from the beginning. Ken has been moonlighting as a cop while working an average of 50 hours a week on the business, but he will retire from the force in May to work on Miami Rice full time.

And what inspired the company's unique name? It was obvious to Linda. Her husband was a cop who specialized in chasing counterfeiters. She saw Ken as a character straight out of Miami Vice.

Next Steps: Ken and Linda opened a rice pudding eatery in the Livingston Mall last May. It was such a hit that, within two weeks, their landlords were offering to put more Miami Rice outlets in other malls they owned. Ken and Linda considered offering franchises eventually, but the immediate success made them realize they needed to look into it right away. They found a franchising consultant who guided them through the process, helping them with everything from deciding the franchise fee to drawing up blueprints for vending carts, kiosks and sit-down restaurants serving rice pudding.

Educating the Public: The McEvoys know they have a long road ahead of them in some respects. With most franchises, consumers understand what the company's product or service is--no explanation necessary. But what is rice pudding? If today's younger generations know about it at all, they think of it as a dessert their grandparents ate. And to most, rice and pudding doesn't sound like a great mix.

Yet, it is a beloved treat in many cultures and has been for centuries. The sweet, nutritious alternative to ice cream also appeals to health-conscious consumers. And Linda adds, "When it comes to food, my experience [revealed that] consumers are more than willing to try a free sample. Sampling is really the only way to begin a dialogue about our rice pudding. It's the same with educating franchisees and investors. We lay out the history, the ethnic aspect; then we let them sample some rice pudding." After that, everyone is putty--or pudding--in the McEvoys' hands.

Franchise: Batteries Plus
Franchise 500® Rank: #133
Entrepreneurs: Jose Perez, 57, and his sons, Miguel, 34, and Tony, 32, own five Batteries Plus stores in Oregon.

Beginnings: Jose Perez has had some interesting experiences in his life: leaving Cuba as a 12-year-old with his family right after the Bay of Pigs invasion, living near Wrigley Field as a teenager, and starting a largely successful electrical company in Florida with his brother-in-law. After selling his interest in the company to his brother-in-law, Perez and his wife took a vacation to the Pacific Northwest. They fell in love with the area and decided it was where they should do something new and dramatic. They loved the Miami weather and being close to their family in the city, but they were tired of the crime and traffic. Perez and his wife decided it would be better for their family to start anew in Portland. Upon returning to Miami, Hurricane Andrew struck, demolishing their home. The Perez family took this as a sign that moving to Oregon was the right thing to do.

Next Steps: As Perez was settling into his new home and considering what to do next, he started looking for new rechargeable batteries for his cell phone, cordless phone, laptop and camcorder, which all died around the same time. It was a hassle finding replacements, and Perez commented to his wife, "There should be one place you can go and get these batteries replaced." Later that week, he opened the newspaper and saw an ad for Batteries Plus declaring, "Thousands of batteries for thousands of items."

Could this have been another sign? Perez bought into the Batteries Plus franchise.

Predicting the future: Perez didn't just jump into Batteries Plus without giving it a lot of thought. Long before he started educating the public as to why one store with lots of batteries made sense, he completed his own self-tutorial. It was 1994 when Perez started thinking about investing in a Batteries Plus franchise, a time when there were only 4 million cell phones. Laptops were popular, but nowhere near as pervasive as they are today; PCs ruled.

In other words, batteries weren't an obvious market, and yet, "everything was going in that direction," says Perez. "I had come from the electrical distribution business, where margins are extremely depressed. On the other hand, the battery market continues to expand, and that leaves room for companies to grow."

Perez estimates that people will see an abundance of new cordless power tools, phones, iPods, portable scanners and other computer equipment this year--suddenly, he looks like a genius for having jumped into this market more than 10 years ago. But Perez says that he's not all that technical. His sons, who are sweat equity partners in the business, do all the selling, and 60 percent of their sales are commercial accounts with companies like Intel and Fred Meyer, a division of Kroger. "We have more than 1,200 commercial customers," says Perez. While his sons take care of the selling, Perez handles the business side.

And Perez clearly knows what he is doing. Their first four stores collectively bring in more than $5 million each year. Their fifth store just opened in Portland, they're looking at Vancouver, Washington, as a potential location for their sixth, and they will soon be developing Batteries Plus in the Bend, Oregon, territory. Perez has also had an impact on the entire Batteries Plus franchise system, working on various committees and helping to create plans that are mutually beneficial for the franchisor and franchisees, addressing issues from developing new distribution channels to identifying and selecting software.

"You have to have the right business model or right business niche," says Perez. "Every day, Batteries Plus can grow because the market is growing. We have a market segment that still has a lot of blue sky. That's a reason I chose this niche. It was very profitable, and I saw a lot of growth."

Geoff Williams is a writer in Loveland, Ohio.

Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.

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