Buying a Franchise
By: Kevin B. Murphy, Franchise Attorney, MBA - Mr. Franchise

Evaluating Franchise Investments
and Franchise Disclosure Documents
Tips From a Franchise Expert and Franchise Attorney

Millions of people dream about owning their own business. Having the independence that being your own boss brings, the security that no one can fire you, enjoying a good income - and for the most successful - the accumulation of wealth and prosperity. Unfortunately, the cards are stacked against a new small business making it big - or making it at all. An endless stream of problems makes competition from large, sophisticated chains too intense. Many new start-ups end as failures.   

Buying a franchise represents a different approach to starting a business.  For an upfront franchise fee plus ongoing royalty payments, the parent company teaches its business model and methods to the franchised-operator who shoulders all operating and financial responsibilities of the outlet. Some statistics are impressive: it is said over 40% of all U.S. retail sales are through franchised establishments. While franchise giants like McDonalds, KFC, H&R Block and Radio Shack are familiar, household names, franchises are available in a wide range of industries. The list of 3,000-plus companies selling franchises span over 100 different industry categories.  

American Dream…Or Nightmare?  But just as franchising represents a chance to get rich, it's also a chance to get stung. An alarming number of franchised operators make less than the minimum wage, working seven days, sixty to eighty hours a week, pursuing an expensive and elusive American Dream that turns into a nightmare. Since the ongoing franchise royalty payment comes right off the top, as a percentage of gross sales or a fixed minimum amount, the franchise company gets an assured revenue stream, even if its franchised units are operating unprofitably and are sold over and over again to new, unsuspecting buyers. The internet is filled with comments of the many people who lost $250,000 and more on concepts like eBay Drop off stores (iSold It), 30 Minute Fitness concepts (Curves), The UPS Store, etc. Yet many of these companies continue to sell and resell franchises over and over again. How do they accomplish that? Because there are enough people who think they can "believe" their way to success, even with a concept or business that's not working in the marketplace. As discussed below, in many cases franchise investment decisions are incredibly based on emotionalism, not on business logic or even common sense.  

Ownership and Being Your Own Boss?  Pride of ownership and being your own boss are highly touted phrases in franchise recruitment ads. But these are more fantasy than reality. Although you get all the financial exposure, headaches and stress of business ownership, what do you really own? A franchise owner is merely licensing a trademark (or service mark) from a company that dictates every detail of business operations. So the real boss isn’t you, but the company that sells you their franchise rights . . . and sea of franchise obligations.  

Equity Build up?  But at least you’re building up equity, the ownership value of the business as a going concern beyond your investment of money, to compensate for all those years of hard work and long hours - right? Wrong – at least in the world of franchising. The franchise company reserves rights to acquire your entire business at below wholesale prices if their contract is not followed precisely. The acquisition rights provide for predetermined asset-based valuations, like book or liquidation value. These valuation methods provide bare minimum compensation (the used value of some file cabinets, office furniture, equipment, etc.) and are not generally used to determine the selling price of any business. 

Absolutely no compensation is paid for established goodwill, the value of a business that is generating $X in profit or cash flow every month after years of effort, investment and expense – thus eliminating the most valuable ownership asset. Of course, you may be able to sell your franchise to a third party for a sales price that includes an earnings-based valuation.
But that’s possible only if: (a) you can find a buyer who is willing to live within the complexities of a franchise relationship, and (b) you happen to own a franchise that’s showing healthy profits. 

What follows is a bottom-line franchise checklist and tips compiled by franchise attorney and franchise expert, Mr. Franchise, based on reviewing over 500 franchise offering circulars and twenty-eight plus years of experience in the franchise industry - including ownership of a very successful franchise. These factors to consider in making a franchise investment will help you eliminate 95% of the companies you are considering. Then, you can concentrate your efforts on the 5% "cream" of the crop" companies that may deserve consideration. This franchise checklist assumes you’re suitable for and willing to live within the confines of a franchise relationship. It also assumes the franchise company:

(1) has itself successfully operated the concept being franchised for at least five years at multiple locations;
(2) is not plagued by franchise litigation and franchise lawsuits from disgruntled franchise owners;
(3) does not have unusually high franchise attrition rates (owners who have “left the system”); and

(4) has a balanced, fair franchise contract. 

Next - An American Dream That Turned Into A Nightmare

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