Trendy Bits Hop on the hottest things going in franchising.

By Nichole L. Torres

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Be Your Own Boss, Fall 2000

Buying a franchise can be tricky-you want to put your money into one that has a proven track record, but you also want to get in on the ground floor of the hottest concept around. How do you choose? Entrepreneur understands your needs, so we examined today's hot franchising trends to give you the lowdown on what's hot, what's hip and what's set to take off in the 21st century. We've even tapped into a few industries that were hot in years past and are still going strong today. Read on to get the inside scoop.

Calling All Entrepreneurs

One of the landmarks of the 21st century is the spread of the Internet into every area of business-and franchising is no exception. The best part for aspiring techies: You don't have to come up with a completely new Internet concept to make your fortune. A growing number of Internet franchisors have created innovative businesses on the Web that are ready for you to tap into.

It's the especially low overhead of these concepts that has the franchise world buzzing, according to Jerry Wilkerson, president of Franchise Recruiters Ltd., a franchise-executive management firm in Chicago. Businesses and consumers will need all types of Web services-from getting onto the Web and setting up sites to tracking customers online and surveying. "One of the big businesses-for franchising and any other business-will be surveying employees and tracking customers," says Wilkerson. "Tracking companies that [gather information] from restaurants and hotels and [provide] immediate responses from patrons are going to be large in the near future."

Internet franchises that fill a specific niche are on the rise as well., an Internet franchise that specializes in putting digital photos of community structures online, has tapped into one of those niche markets.

Serving The Business Community

As long as people are starting and expanding businesses, there will be a considerable need for business-to-business services. Franchises that help businesses with everything from paralegal and office space support to consulting and advertising are growing. "[B2b companies] are filling niches left [untouched] by other retailers or service providers," says Wilkerson. "Basically, if someone doesn't take care of his or her business and stay current, someone else will. And more than likely, it's going to be a franchisor and [its] franchisees, because they're able to move very quickly, whereas some of the larger, older, companies can take forever to make changes-especially when compared to much younger, smaller companies."

One good example of this phenomenon is Shred-It Inc., a mobile franchise that specializes in paper shredding and recycling and peddles its business services to companies that need help with document security or reducing clutter.

Pet Project

In case you haven't noticed, Americans have a love affair with their pets. They cuddle them, care for them, worry about them and, most of all, buy for them. In fact, according to the American Pet Association, more than 136 million cats and dogs are beloved house pets in the United States. Just how devoted are we to our furry friends? About 65 million owners admit to buying Christmas gifts for their pets. That means everything from pet supply franchises to pet day-care centers are poised for big-time sales.

Pet franchises tap into an emotion-driven market. Owners want grooming centers and kennels for their pets in addition to health-care insurance and obedience schools. Or, if you prefer pets on the go, franchises like Aussie Pet Mobile (a mobile pet grooming business) or Whiskers & Paws Catering Inc. (a pet food delivery service) may suit your needs.

And since pet health is always a concern, "watch for pet franchises to keep teaming up with local vets," says Wilkerson, "creating affiliated franchises-like veterinary clinics with retail attitude."

Hot Off The Grill

Think restaurant patrons are only looking for health-food fare these days? Think again, says Ron Paul, president of Technomic Inc., a restaurant consulting firm in Chicago. Many consumers are seeking spicier and more flavorful foods. In the past few years, in fact, a number of new barbecue franchises have sprung up, taking advantage of the fact that barbecue sauce can either be hot or sweet, and is becoming a favorite palate pleaser.

"Casual dining is in," says Paul, and barbecue franchises are positioning themselves as the place for families to go. Think messy, think yummy-think profits.

And because barbecue ribs and the like are highly mobile foods, they lend themselves to the takeout market. According to the National Restaurant Association, 78 percent of U.S. households make at least one carryout or delivery purchase in an average month.

While barbecue restaurants have a strong presence in the South, Paul claims there's still plenty of room for development across the country.

Wing Fling

What's better than watching a football game on the big screen with a group of friends, everyone sharing a platter of chicken wings? Owning the franchise that sells those wings. Wings are eaten everywhere from sporting events to graduation parties to bar mitzvahs, and they're becoming a staple in the franchise biz, spawning a number of new franchises in the past few years.

Many franchises-Wing Zone and Wingstop restaurants, for example-are taking wings off the appetizer menu and turning them into a center-of-the-plate entr�e. And the sauces are versatile; some franchises offer 25 flavors to choose from, sure to please everyone in the family.

Wing Zone has even found a solid market in college towns, where it offers takeout and delivery services until the wee hours of the morning. Or, if people want to "sit fer a spell" they can visit Buffalo Wild Wings, which has created a casual dining atmosphere, complete with a sports bar area for the party crew. Considering the fact that poultry entrees are gaining in popularity, according to the National Restaurant Association, wings are set to take flight in the franchise world.

Ready To Research

Whichever franchise strikes your fancy, look into all the figures before you take the leap. Find the need you want to fill and the franchise system that fills it while fitting your entrepreneurial style at the same time. That might mean taking a gander at some new and unique franchises-like Interquest Detection Canines, which visits schools and businesses with dogs trained to sniff out drugs or other illegal substances, or GumBusters North America, which peddles asphalt-hardened gum removal.

Ultimately, when choosing a franchisor, Wilkerson suggests you make certain that "they're basically service-obsessed, driven to develop their brand and very involved in training and technology. Otherwise, you're probably buying into a stale system." And nobody wants that.

Still Hot

  • senior stats. Franchises that cater to the ever-growing number of seniors in America have found a meaty market. Because the number of people age 65 and older will more than double between 1996 and 2030, franchises that offer home care services for the elderly like Home Helpers and Living Assistance Services Inc. are still in demand. According to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), most Americans age 45 and older would like to stay in their homes as long as possible as they age.
  • cool kids. We've reported it before and it's as true as ever-kids are all the rage. Americans want their kids to be smarter, healthier and happier than ever before, and franchises that tap into those needs continue to do well. Whether it's Gymboree Play Corporation and Music Program or the Whole Child Learning Co. children's enrichment programs, franchises offering children's services are on the rise. And, considering that a recent Roper Youth Report found 84 percent of children ages 8 to 12 think it's cool to be smart, this trend should continue.
  • hot homes. Apparently, seniors aren't the only ones who want to hang out at home. With the robust economy raging, people are ready and willing to spend more on all things home-related. Franchises that help customers do everything from designing and building their dream homes (like UbuildIt Franchise Corp.) to streamlining their closets (like the California Closet Co.) continue to thrive.

Contact Sources

Franchise Recruiters Ltd.,,

Technomic Inc., (312) 876-0004,

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