It’s true that the franchises that tend to succeed over the long haul come from tried and true sectors: restaurants, hotels, senior care,home services. That almost any concept can be franchised is also true — kid yoga, crime scene clean-up, doggie makeovers … if you can conceive it, there’s a good chance a franchise opportunity exists. Of course, some of these ideas catch on, experience rapid growth and then flame out. Others trundle along never quite developing the traction to flourish. And a handful end up having staying power.
This is not to dissuade anyone from pursuing a new idea in franchising. After all, 20 years ago the idea of an all-night fitness center probably seemed “out there.” And yet today Anytime Fitness is the No. 1 fitness franchise in America and in 2015 was the No. 2 overall franchise in Entrepreneur magazine’s Franchise 500.
You can find examples of success across the spectrum. But whether it’s a concept within the traditional sector or one that could be categorized as an outlier, there are consistent markers that distinguish the winners from the also-rans. We have compiled these markers into three things every potential franchisee should know:
1. The franchisee’s affinity for business trumps specific experience.
You’d have a hard time finding a successful franchisee who hasn’t brought an “all-in” attitude to his investment. On the other hand, it is not hard to find franchisees who are successful in a business category in which they had little or no practical experience. In virtually every franchise category, the former is far more important than the latter.
“What sort of background do we look for? We’re looking for someone with entrepreneurial spirit, who is passionate about teaching children,” said Greg White, vice president of Franchise Development for Kiddie Academy. “A teaching background is nice to have but not necessary. We have a deep training program, online and here at the corporate center, that is extremely comprehensive to cover our operating, marketing and finance processes. But the franchisee needs to bring the right attitude. That’s one thing we can’t teach.”
Honestly assessing your strengths and weaknesses is key. Almost no one has skills across all the disciplines required to run a successful business. It requires collaboration and, most often, a team effort.
“In our business we find many franchisees have that caring gene which is extremely important,” said Christopher Seman, president of Caring Traditions, a franchise specializing in helping seniors and their families transition from independence to assisted living. “But the sales gene is just as important. You still have to generate business, and if that sales mentality and capability is missing you must recognize that in yourself and recruit to fill that role and ensure your operation’s success.”
Understand that you can hire experience and expertise in disciplines that are new to you. What can’t be hired is the passion to do whatever it takes, invest whatever time is required and make all other interests (including, sometimes, family and friends) secondary to the success of your enterprise.
Chris Beer, who owns an Our Town America franchise, put it this way in a Franchise Business Review article: “Be prepared to hit the ground running and maintain a positive attitude. The first several years of owning a business requires a lot of hard work but can be invigorating if you keep the long-term goals top of mind. Surround yourself with positive people who represent a skill set that will allow you to spend time in areas where you exhibit strength.”
2. Beware any franchisor not invested in your success.
Unfortunately, there are stories where franchisees had frequent and useful communication with their franchisor and staff in the beginnings of their relationships only to see that support dwindle with the passage of time. This journey is a marathon, not a sprint, and it is incumbent on you to make sure that your franchisor is there to support you over the long haul, well after he has received your commitment and your up-front money.
White emphasized the importance a commitment to due diligence plays in franchisees who succeed. “Validate and verify that you are going to receive support from the franchisor,” he said. “When you meet with the franchisor ask them ‘What is your role, and what can I expect from you?’ What you should be hearing is that you will receive continuous support, that there are business consultants available to you. Verify what happens post-agreement. All of these are critical to your success.”
Also critical is aligning with a franchise committed to being at the leading edge of their industry. In today’s rapidly evolving business and technology climate, businesses that fall behind can quickly fall victim to more ambitious competitors. Your franchisor must be dedicated to leading its business partners in the right direction, investing the resources to dependably remain in the vanguard of their industry.
Those franchisors who have the proper support mechanisms in place and who are investing the resources to stay out in front in their category will be indispensable allies in your success.
“While opening up a new business is inherently a risky proposition, for me, by purchasing a franchise from a well-respected franchisor, I feel that I was able to reduce the amount of risk involved,” Susan Maranhao told Franchise Business Review. Maranhao owns a Wild Birds Unlimited franchise. “I also didn’t and still don’t have to be an expert in everything,” she added. “I learn from the expertise of the franchise team, who provide me with lots of great information to help me run my business. My franchisor also has staff whose job it is to both develop and find new products to sell, to develop marketing plans and to provide best practices in store operations.”>
3. Look for a vibrant community of fellow franchisees.
It’s unlikely you’ll find a more revealing indicator of a franchise than the health and contentment of their franchisees. Successful franchises have a community of franchisees who are active, supportive, eager and willing to share information and problem-solving insights with one another. That collaborative spirit is in many ways as important as the formal support and training provided by the franchisor.
“Get involved in the community and network, network, network,” explained Connie Chandler, owner of a Minuteman Press franchise, in a Franchise Business Review article. “Getting your and your company’s name out there as much as you possibly can is crucial to building your business.”
In addition, by modeling the actions of others who are already succeeding, it’s often easier to achieve your own success. “A little after we started,” Chandler said, “we were given the name of a Minuteman Press franchise owner who had a shop that was a similar size as ours. We spent the entire day with that owner, and, to this day, we are still not only friends, but we can lean on each other for advice. As we’ve met more and more fellow franchisees, our support network has grown even further.”
The odds of your success are directly related to how much due diligence you apply to your evaluation of a franchise. The more you know, the more confident you can be that your investment will deliver on your financial and lifestyle goals. Focus your research on the three areas covered — your own strengths and passions, your franchisor’s commitment to support and innovation, and the vibrancy, health and openness of the franchisee network — and you can take these lessons of success to the bank.