Do You Want Franchise With That?

What’s in a name?

DoYouWantFranchise

Each month hundreds of thousands of new businesses open nationwide in the US. A third of them will go out of business within two years, and only half will last five years. Owning a business is risky, and what you don’t know will hurt you. Many small business fail because the owner failed to take into account some vital piece of information which would have shown that their brilliant plan wasn’t so brilliant after all. It could be anything from foot traffic, to utility costs, to labor utilization. What you don’t know will hurt you, often in the most painful way, at the worst possible of times. Trust me, I know. I’ve been trying to start my own coffee shop now for going on five years, and I have faced setback after setback. Although I have lost thousands of dollars in the process, I have gained valuable insight and protected myself from some truly significant financial pitfalls which would have occurred had I not been as diligent in my research, and hired qualified consultants, and legal and financial advisers first. I’d rather invest a few thousand dollars than suffer a million dollar bankruptcy.  No business is ‘risk free’.  

There are really only three ways to have your own business.

  • Start it from scratch – very risky
  • Buy out an existing business –  risky
  • Buy into a franchise – not AS risky, but still has risk.

“The two most important requirements for major success are: first, being in the right place at the right time, and second, doing something about it.” – Ray Kroc

What is a franchise?

A franchise is a business which pays a licensing fee to a parent company in order to sell products under that company’s brand. Usually there are strict guidelines and corporate policies which must be adhered to, which failure to follow will cause the loss of the license, and a possible expensive lawsuit. By franchising, YOU are representing that brand, even though you own the business, the brand and all its intellectual properties belong to the licensing corporation.

There are pros and cons to this.

The pros include selling a known brand, and operating under a proven business model. Everyone knows what the coffee at Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts is supposed to taste like, and they are drawn to the familiar industry standard product they know and love. 

The cons are that those same industry standards and products are forced upon you. If you are barely scraping by, and the parent corporation implements a national sales campaign, more often than not you are required to participate. Likewise when chains like McDonald’s offer their McCafé®™ drinks at only $2.00 for any size, every McDonald’s franchise in that geographic area  has to offer that product at that price, even if they are losing money to do so.

When an industry leader announces a new product or sale, other chains scramble to offer a comparable offering. Prior to Starbucks offering cold brew coffee, that was something that you could only get at third wave coffee shops. Now cold brew coffee is everywhere, even at convenience stores.   When Starbucks began selling Pumpkin Spice Lattes earlier than normal this year starting on Labor Day Weekend, Dunkin’ Donuts and other chains quickly followed suit. This meant that the owners of every franchise suddenly had to purchase additional supplies needed for the drinks.

Franchises are not cheap. In most cases you have to pay to build the store to company specs, and buy all of their required equipment as well as pay an upfront fee.  Dunkin’ Donuts franchise fee is $40,000, minimum initial cash required is $250,000 with a net worth at least $500,000. Starbucks doesn’t do franchises, but they will sell you a license to sell their coffees at your cafe for just over $300,000. McDonald’s charges $45,000, requires you to have liquid assets of $750,000 and start-up costs  run  $1-2 Million. One of the cheapest franchises to start is SubWay, which begins at $15,000 with start-up costs ranging from $100,000 to $400,000.

Once you pay to start the franchise, you still have franchise fees on every product you sell for as long as you own the franchise, and IF you decide to sell the franchise, in some cases you will need to pay a franchise transfer fee.   

Can you make money owning a franchise?

Yes, and no. According to a report on food franchising by Franchise Business Review, 51.5 percent of food franchises earn profits of less than $50,000 a year; roughly 7 percent top $250,000, with the average profit for all restaurants coming in at $82,033. That doesn’t sound too bad, until you factor in the initial investment.

Business is business? What a Kroc!

Ray Kroc was a traveling salesman.  He had been a paper cup salesman for Lilly Cup.  After fifteen years, he switched companies and  started selling a 30lb, five-spindle milk shake mixer, The Multimixer for Prince Castle.  There wasn’t a great demand in the food service industry for this device, he was lucky if he could sell one to a restaurant. That was until he received an order in 1954 for eight of the machines placed by a single restaurant in San Bernardino CA. After confirming that the order was not a mistake,  he made a trip out west to see with his own eyes this business that needed eight Multimixers.   The place was a tiny burger joint owned by two brothers, Dick and Mac McDonald. Ray Kroc was so blown away by the way the brothers had re-invented drive-in burger joints that he mortgaged his house and pulled every string he could pull to get the brothers to agree to not only allow him to buy his own franchise, but sell future franchises to perspective buyers.

Ray Kroc was 52 years old when he opened his first McDonald’s franchise. For each future franchise he sold for the brothers, a franchise fee would be charged of 1.9% of sales, .4% would go to the brothers and 1.5% was for Ray. Needless to say Ray Kroc was struggling to keep his head above water before long, and tried to re-negotiate his deal. Dick and Mac refused. Ray had signed a contract and he was legally bound to it. Unfortunately for the two brothers, Ray was a salesman, and they were not. A salesman’s number one job is to convince someone to buy. Ray managed to find a work-around by creating a land acquisition company.  He bought and leased the land that McDonald’s franchisees would need to  build on and charged them rent. As a condition of their lease agreement they had to maintain quality control in their restaurants, or lose their franchise.

He began mass selling franchises, and the money from the land lease agreements made him wealthy. He then paid a hefty fee to the McDonald’s brothers of $2.7 million dollars to break the 1954 contract he had signed, and take ownership of all holdings and intellectual property, including the brand name. The McDonald brothers couldn’t even have their name on their own restaurant. He then opened his 100th store right across the road from the brother’s original store, and drove them out.

History is written by the winners.

The first time I read the Ray Kroc story, it was in his auto-biography GRINDING IT OUT The Making of McDonald’s. From Ray Kroc’s point of view, he was the victim, fighting his way out of a bad deal. I had found the book to be inspirational until I saw the 2016 film THE FOUNDER starring Michael Keaton. This version of the story made Ray Kroc look like the Serpent  in the McDonald brother’s Paradise. He was the epitome of every sleazy, used-car salesman stereotype you can imagine.  There are two sides to every story, your side, their side, and the truth. The point is once you sign a contract for a franchise or a lease agreement, be prepared to stick to the agreement, because unless you have more money and lawyers than the opposition, you will be in hot water quickly. It’s probably best to avoid the situation altogether. As always, I wish you success and happiness.  

Any Business Lately?

Why places close.

Any Business Lately

It happens to all of us. You travel to your favorite place of business and arrive to see the place shuttered. Another shop closed. How did this happen? Sometimes we can see it coming, but other times it comes as a complete shock, tragic and disheartening.  This year alone, two of my favorite products stopped being made. My favorite hot pepper jam, because the company apparently folded. The website says online items are all out of stock, the phone call I made went unanswered to voicemail, and the owner was absent at a local food festival. Just this week, I went online to order a few cases of this awesome specialty iced tea, not sold in stores. I always order six to twelve cases at a time, extra of  the diet blueberry flavor. I was devastated to learn that Two If By Tea  had been discontinued due to rising production costs.

As upsetting as it may be for us, often it is many times worse on the owner of the business because although we were loyal patrons, the business was their brainchild. What do you do when your dream dies?

The reasons why places shut down are as varied as the businesses themselves, but there are often several main reasons business close.

Declining customer base.

The first espresso bar to open in Lancaster PA was The Monk’s Tunic. It made the local newspaper. (That local newspaper has since folded also.) When you are the first business you often inspire imitators.  Competition for customers is often fierce when several shops of the same type open in close proximity. Customers are the life-blood of a business, and losing too many customers will kill a business. Although it is speculation on my part, I blame the press release, because within the first year of business, at least a half dozen similar cafes opened all within two blocks of each other.  That same newspaper article also mentioned a national bookstore chain that was opening at the mall, BORDERS BOOKS which would have a sit down espresso bar.

Why do I blame the newspaper? Think of the California Gold Rush of 1848 which brought over 300,000 prospectors to California when newspapers announced gold had been found at Sutter’s Mill.  Here was the local newspaper proclaiming the discovery of ‘Black Gold’ in the city.

I did manage to visit all of the cafes which opened during the ‘Great Espresso Rush’ to sample their drinks. I’m a coffee snob, so it takes more than just what’s in the cup to leave an impression on me. The ones that offered poetry readings and live music often brought me back rather than the coffee, all of which tasted pretty much the same. They must have all been using the same local roaster. The Monk’s Tunic put up a valiant fight, outlasting all of the newcomers except BORDERS, which in turn folded a decade later. Each of these shops were unique in their own ways, but I really miss both The Monk’s Tunic and BORDERS the most.

monk

Location, Location, Location.

Where you sell your goods is often as important as what you sell. Unless you sell a highly coveted item and have a rabid fan base clamoring for it, customers will not usually go out of their way to visit your establishment. A highly visible location with vibrant signage and easy access and exit are key. If your customers can’t see you easily, or get to your shop, they won’t stop and just pass on by. And don’t forget about parking, no one wants to fight for a space, or pay to park just to go to your store.

Accessibility.

Most new construction in the USA conforms to Americans with Disabilities Act standards. The ADA sets standards for construction of accessible public facilities.  However, if you buy an older property built prior to the establishment of the ADA to house your business, you may need to make modifications. This can include ADA bathrooms for customers, a designated check-out counter space set lower, designated seating and parking for disabled people, ramps, and even wider doors in some cases to accommodate wheelchairs or motorized carts.  Depending upon the modifications, this can be quite costly.

Staff.

When I was a young boy, I used to walk two extra blocks to a small grocery store to buy Pepsi for my aunt, because it was a nickel cheaper per bottle. The store was run by an old man. Two weeks in a row I went in and he was out of Pepsi, and I had to go back to the bigger grocery.  So I stopped going to his store for a few weeks. Sometime later, I went back to his shop, and there was one six-pack of Pepsi so I brought it. As I was walking out, I heard the old man grumble angrily to himself how ‘the boy doesn’t come in for weeks, then buys his last six-pack’. I NEVER went back to that store again.

You and your employees are the face of your business. A customer should always feel like you appreciate their business, not like you are doing them a favor by being open. Staff should be friendly, courteous, clean, identifiable, competent, and well versed in your product. Your employees may be well extremely versed, but NO ONE should know more about your business, or be more skilled at it than you. You should be easily reachable by both staff and customers to solve problems that your employees may encounter.  Yes, there are SOME high-maintenance customers who think the world revolves around them, but they are the exception, not the rule. I try very hard to be nice to ALL my customers, including the ‘difficult’ customers. IF you have a ‘difficult’ customer, it may be necessary for you or a trusted high-level employee to personally  deal with them. By isolating this E.G.R. (Extra Grace Required) customer, you are protecting your staff from them, and vice-versa.

Word of Mouth.

Do your customers rave about you and your shop? Do they leave positive reviews on social media? Do they even know you exist at all?

Thirty years ago, most people looked up businesses in the Yellow Pages phone book. They saw advertising on TV, in magazines, newspapers, and on bill boards. Reviews were often by word of mouth. Today however, social media is the main go-to.  It is very important to have an online presence. Although I am still in the process of trying to establish That Coffee Place, I do have a Twitter and a Facebook page already established. Both have been dormant for years waiting for my brick-and-mortar location to open someday.  When it does, I’ll probably expand my online presence to Yelp! and Trip Adviser, as well as Google. When that does happen, positive reviews will be very important. One bad experience at your place of business can be all it takes for a disgruntled customer to leave a negative review online which can harm potential sales.

Incompetence and mismanagement.

The saddest reason a business can fail is because the owner failed to do their homework. There is much more to opening a shop than signing a lease and hanging an OPEN sign. As the owner of your shop, you need to know everything there is to know about your business and the location BEFORE you even open the door. I know of a struggling pizza place that is barely keeping its lights on because they opened in the same ‘Turn-Key’ location as FIVE other pizza places before them, all of which folded. In the same little strip mall, there is an empty restaurant which was a ‘Turn-Key’ restaurant that in the last seven years had 3 different Spanish restaurants, 2 African restaurants, and a Jamaican restaurant.  Just because it’s a ‘Turn-Key’ location selling all the necessary equipment and furniture included with the lease does NOT mean it’s a great place for a restaurant.  There often are very good reason these shops closed.

The neighborhood changed.

When you’re surrounded by a large population of very poor people on public assistance, these people do not dine at restaurants often, if ever. When a neighborhood goes into decline, litter, graffiti and crime increase. This alarming trend often discourages patrons from more affluent areas, who tend to avoid such slums and favor more inviting places.

Parking.

Not having a well-lit attached parking lot with adequate spaces will discourage patrons.

Tastes changed.

What you’re selling may no longer be desired.

Staffing issues.

You can’t pay people enough to stay, or find good help.

Money Issues.

You ran out of working capital and are robbing Peter to pay Paul. No Ponzi scheme on Earth will keep your Money Pit open long term.

Health Issues and Retirement.

No avoiding it, we will not be young and healthy forever. Everyone one of us will grow older, feebler, and eventually die.  When this happens, we are often forced to downsize, and this will also include either shutting down, passing on, or outright selling our businesses.

The Pancake Farm in Ephrata PA will be shutting its doors in eight weeks on December 1st, 2018. The owners are retiring. The business has been these since 1960, and owned by them since 1982

The owner of The West Reading Diner sold the business to his son, who re-branded it as The American Diner.

american

After decades of business, my guitar teacher Ken Rohrbach shut down Ken’s Music Studio on 10th St several years ago,  and retired. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. I may be a coffee expert, but I’m no guitar player. I could probably earn a fortune standing on a corner asking passers-by for tips for me NOT to play my guitar. Just goes to show, pobody’s nerfect. As always, I wish success and happiness!