Why New Franchisors Fail - It starts with Counsel


What makes a person think about taking his or her present business and franchising it, becoming a franchisor? It isn't just the fact that they have heard of Ray Kroc and what he did with Mc Donalds or the miraculous story of Wendy's having come into what everyone thought was an already overcrowded hamburger franchise universe, having to practically give away their first few franchises, and then eventually becoming another superstar franchise organization.

Of course, every franchise salesperson claims that his or her franchise offering is going to be the McDonald's of the widget industry, as McDonald's has become the quintessential term for ultimate franchising success.

No. It takes more than that. We think the typical potential franchisor has a profile that goes beyond mere anecdotal celebrity references to the rich and famous.

An irreducible minimum requirement, before anyone is eligible to even think franchising, is a business operator who had at least several years successful experience operating the 'model'. The 'Model' is not the franchise company. The model is the business that the franchisees will operate if the concept is sound. Throughout this article you must constantly distinguish between the model, the business to be franchised, and the franchising company. They are completely different kinds of businesses. The failure to constantly keep this distinction in mind is one of the leading causes of early franchisor failures.

In all likelihood, a reasonably franchisable concept will be operated by its owner in multiple locations, all running successfully. This evidences that the concept is replicable and that it can be run by managers who can be trained. If the owner has to be everywhere all the time to keep the multiple units afloat, that is a strong sign of replication difficulty.

Either the system is too complicated to teach to a lot of people, or it is idiosyncratic, the extension of the owner's unique personality, unlikely to be successfully replicated with others at the helms of the various units.

In such a scenario, it is to be expected that customers have helped plant the seed of franchisability in the owner's mind. People come in, have the customer experience for that business, and exclaim their pleasure, their having been impressed with the idea and the manner of its execution, and their belief that it would be very nice to have such a business in their home town. 'Have you ever thought of franchising this?' will have been asked many times.

Eventually, the owner's thought processes turn into the franchise thinking neighborhood, and he starts talking to people who are in franchising, no matter at what level they may happen to live.

The model owner starts hearing money talk - initial fees of $30,000, royalties of 6% - 8% of gross sales, an advertising fund swollen with franchisee contributions of another 2% of gross sales, area development agreements through which entire states are sold off with large initial fees and a contractual requirement to build out and open a substantial number of stores within a very short time.

The model owner goes to the library and reads up on success stories of multi-millionaires who made it big from franchising.

There are no stories of franchisor failures - wrong spin control. In the world of franchise literature, everything is wonderful all the time, prospects are always bright, franchisor organizations constantly bestow awards upon their membership at conventions held in exotic places.

Soon, the model owner is slavering over a virtual feast of franchising good fortune and is ready to write checks to get the structure established, to get to the first sale. The entire focus becomes sales fixed, there is a great hurry to get to that first closing, and carts get put in front of horses.

The franchise sale is the last step in establishing a potentially successful franchise system, not the first. To be sure, even after the sale there are details like franchisee training, site selection and store opening assistance, but even these post sale responsibilities have to be prepared and tested well before the first sale closes.

Where does one start, then, in deciding to franchise. One starts with trying to find the answers to the feasibility issue.

Albeit I have a very good business that I have operated successfully in several locations for several years, how can I find out whether this concept, configured as I have configured my own businesses, has very good potential as a vehicle for franchising? If more people began here, at the real beginning, fewer franchisors would be in failure and fewer franchisees would have wasted their investments in an incompetently evaluated franchise opportunity.

Unfortunately, so many new franchisors start with lawyers drawing up contracts and disclosure documents, a fantasy trip with zero value and enormous potential for harm.

What the lawyers have never learned is that the legal work has to match the business concept, not vice versa.

The legal work is done last. Then it can, if done by attorneys who understand the franchising business as well as simply being able to draft contracts, become a charter that has rational positive value to the franchise relationship rather than merely being some set of rules cut and pasted out of somebody else's franchise documents, that most surely won't fit the situation to which it is being applied in many very difficult areas, and that become litigation breeding machines.

The business comes first, not the legal work.  (Part 1 of a four-part series on Why New Franchises Fail.)

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