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The Franchise Experience

Advice from Franchisees Who Have Been There

Many of the franchisees we talked with had to make a decision first on whether they would open an independent business or a franchised one. A few of their stories follow.

Before a New Jersey man decided to buy a fast-food franchise, he asked himself this question: "How comfortable do I feel about going into the unknown?" He answered, "Not very." Although he was familiar with engi­neering, manufacturing and construction work, he knew very little about the food business. Even so, he purchased a snack foods business. Now, after nearly ten years of operation, he is ready to give up on the franchise. His current goal is to open and operate five independent stores that carry similar products. Not only has the ownership of the franchise system changed several times, but he believes that "the franchise system squashes the creativeness of the individual. You can be prohibited from bringing anything new into the system."

Barry Pasarew is a Voice-Tel franchisee in the high-tech voice message business. The business utilizes sophisticated equipment and elaborate service networks. Pasarew says, "It would be close to impossible to do this business on your own because of the necessity of a network. The fran­chise system allows you to get started immediately. It saves dollars and time so you can focus on selling and developing."

Jim Gendreau owns an independent distribution company, but he was still drawn to franchising. He owns multiple units of the Cost Cutters franchise in the hair salon business. When asked why he didn't start the business independently, especially since he was an experienced businessperson, he said, "The big difference between an independent and a franchise is the marketing and advertising clout and expertise the franchise brings. Sec­ondly, all the bugs are out of the system by the time you buy it."

Linda Moore, a Ledger Plus franchisee, considered both an independent and a franchise business after leaving a position in a large corporation. She says, "Unless you have a very unique business idea, it's almost foolish not to buy a franchise. Success rates are not as good for independents. Most people have skills in one or two areas, but with a franchise, you can get help in areas outside your expertise."

Ken Wisotzky had an independent ice cream store prior to owning a Gloria Jean's and a My Favorite Muffin. The ice cream business was going well, so why didn't he continue? Wisotzky says, "The mall developer wouldn't renew the lease on my store. They wanted a 'name-brand' tenant." Accord­ing to him, many developers, realtors and landlords consider franchises stronger tenants, and so the franchisee can get better space.

Bernie Wolff ran an independent photography studio in Florida before he took on two franchised units with Glamour Shots. Even though his day-to-day responsibilities have only changed slightly, he's happy he made the change. He says his old business had monthly sales from $16,000 to $18,000. When he switched to the Glamour Shots franchise in 1992, his monthly average for the first four months was $38,000 to $40,000. He attributes the increase to the impact of the franchise name.

When faced with making a decision on buying a mobile laundry and dry-cleaning franchise, Patrick McClune's wife and friends advised him to "do it himself." They told him, "You're smart and resourceful and you shouldn't pay for a logo that's not very well known." McClune asked the franchise system what he was getting that was proprietary. They said that he would receive training, the system for doing business and the logo. So, McClune went with the franchise and now concludes that the franchise did give him a "jump-start" and a good system for conducting business.

Franchisor Training and Support

Virtually every franchise system offers a training program to new franchisees. This is vital because there’s a good chance that the franchisee will be new to the industry. Only about a quarter of the franchise systems require previous experience. These are predominantly in businesses that require a very specialized knowledge or skill, for example, optical products and services, accounting and tax services, real estate services and some restaurant systems. In any case, getting trained in the particulars of the franchisor’s system is essential.

How Much Money Can My Franchise Make?

That said, working out the numbers can be challenging if you don't have the proper guidance. Getting to the bottom line requires a basic understanding of franchise accounting, a willingness to do a bit of digging through FDDs / UFOCs (more on these below), and the ability to perform some simple arithmetic to build a basic set of financial projections (your mini business plan in numerical form).

The Multi-Unit Movement Benefits Franchisors and Franchisees

Right now, more than one out of ten franchisees operate more than one unit. Many of them operate more than one concept. There is growing evidence of a trend toward multi-unit and multi-brand ownership. The advantages to both franchisors and franchisees are clearly compelling, and dramatic growth in multi-unit and multi-concept franchising is expected over the coming years.