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The Benefits of the Franchise Model

Franchising provides benefits for both seller and buyer. For franchisors, the primary benefit is the ability to use other people's money to expand the brand more rapidly than they could either on their own or through investors or lenders. The initial franchise fee and ongoing royalties they collect allow franchisors to build their brand without sacrificing control to outsiders or the pressure of repaying lenders. The fees and royalties are used to fund operations at corporate headquarters, train and support franchisees, market and advertise the brand, improve the quality of goods or services, and build the brand in the marketplace.

For franchisees, benefits include: a higher chance of success than in a sole proprietorship; shorter time to opening; initial training and ongoing support; assistance in finding an optimal site; the selling power of a known brand; lower costs through group purchasing; use of an established business model; national and regional advertising campaigns; customer lead generation through websites and centralized call centers; and a network of peers (fellow franchisees) to provide advice and moral support through a company intranet, annual conferences, and franchisee associations; and, increasingly, assistance with securing funding.

Potential downsides for franchisees include: lack of independence, from the goods and services they sell to the color of the paint on their walls; mandatory company-wide promotions that may not work in their market (price cuts, new products or services), yet cost money to implement; costly required redesign of their unit(s); and, after signing a 10- or 15-year contract, a change in management or ownership that takes the brand in a new, unwanted direction.

As with any business opportunity, there is no guarantee of success, and there are trade-offs to be made. In some ways, franchising is like paying condo fees instead of owning a home. In a condo association, monthly fees are pooled for common external maintenance (mowing, snow removal, roof repairs, etc.) -- a tradeoff many are willing to make to free themselves to concentrate on their "core business" of living their lives (or business) within the walls of their condo (or franchise) unit. And unlike renters, who can be evicted (or corporate employees who can be fired or "downsized") franchisees have some power of their own: a franchisor cannot "fire" a franchisee who is operating in conformity with the franchise agreement.

"Follow the system" is a mantra in franchising and critical to a franchisee's success. Franchisees buy into the franchisor's operating system believing that if they follow it to the letter they will succeed and be profitable. Smart franchisors are always open to suggestions for change (as well as local or regional variations) from their franchisees, but any franchisee departing from the "system" without franchisor approval risks violating the terms of the franchise agreement, which can result in revocation of the franchisee's right to do business under the franchisor's name. Franchisees also must agree to keep the franchisor's proprietary system and trade secrets confidential, as well as sign some type of noncompete agreement.

Not everyone is cut out for franchising. Some need total independence to succeed or fail on their own, while others prefer the tradeoffs found in working for a larger organization. For the franchise partnership to succeed, the buyer must be comfortable not only with the franchise model, but also with the culture, values, and goals of the franchisor - and vice versa.

In this light, many view franchising as a commitment much like marriage. A good match between franchisor and franchisee, sharing mutual goals over the long term, is essential to the success of each franchise unit, and thus the brand as a whole - an essential factor that must be considered seriously by both parties before any contract is signed.

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