You don’t have to be an expert in franchising to perform an initial evaluation of a franchise opportunity. I use my experience as a franchisor executive to know what to look for in a Franchise Disclosure Document (“FDD”) but it’s not necessary to have a strong knowledge base of franchising to make an informed decision. In addition, having seen the results of numerous franchise FDD analysis and comparisons, while at FranchiseGrade, I’ve become more aware of what separates the good franchise systems from the rest of the pack.
A prospective franchisee should have a process that’s easy to follow, this process is to focus on key items in the FDD, and although each item in the FDD is important, some are more important than others. This evaluation is not intended to replace comprehensive franchise due diligence, including obtaining franchisee feedback, but rather it’s a way to filter out the good performers from the rest. Before investing valuable time and money, you can find those franchise opportunities that meet key performance standards. I’ve presented this information ranked by what I consider to be most important so it may not follow the order in how they appear in the FDD.
My Ten Key Items:
1. Internet Search
The first thing I do is search the Internet using the name of the franchise with terms like “lawsuit”, “franchise complaints”, “franchisees sue”, etc. This only takes a few minutes and can lead you in a certain direction if you find some results. Unless there is a large number of negative results you’ll know that the franchise isn’t tainted. Keep in mind that large franchise systems based upon their size, are more susceptible to franchisee complaints and lawsuits than smaller franchise systems.
2. Franchise System Growth-Item 20
I look at franchise outlet growth over time. Steady growth over a three -year period is an indicator of a healthy franchise system. Negative trends, or up and down growth over several years can be indicative of an unhealthy franchise system. Be aware that poor franchise growth may not always reflect existing ownership since the franchise might have been re-acquired by new owners.
3. Franchisee Turnover-Item 20
Franchisee turnover is a key statistic to focus on. You can learn how many franchisees left the system for the most recent 3 -year period and the reasons why. Ceased Operations can be the result of a bad franchise investment opportunity or franchisee failure due to undercapitalization or poor site selection. On the other hand, a large amount of Franchisee Transfers can be a sign of a good franchise system with a strong market for resales.
4. Litigation-Item 3
Franchise litigation is an indicator of how positive, franchise relations are between the franchisor and its franchisees. Although disputes between the parties is a normal occurrence within franchise systems the absence of significant litigation in the FDD of a mature franchise system is an indicator of satisfied franchisees. When reviewing the FDD of a large franchise system, expect to find some amount of litigation. A good sign is litigation cases that represent a small percent of the number of the franchise outlets.
5. Financial Performance Representation -Item 19
The FDD should provide enough franchisee financial information to enable a prospective franchisee to create a pro-forma income statement and cash flow projection. The more financial information the better. With few exceptions, such as a franchise start-up, a lack of any financial disclosure is a red-flag.
6. Royalty and other fees- Item 6
I use franchise fees to include royalties, national and local advertising fund contributions, plus other fees to identify the total ongoing fees a franchisee is obligated to pay. More franchisors are using creative ways to charge fees, including a fixed royalty dollar amount plus a declining royal rate based upon franchisee sales.
7. Franchisee Investment-Item 7
The initial investment presented in the FDD is designed to provide prospective franchisees the estimated minimum and maximum amount of capital needed to establish and open the franchise. An important requirement of the items in the Initial Investment table is that each is item be as accurate and complete as possible.
8. Franchisee Territory-Item 12
The territory represents a key area when evaluating a franchise opportunity. The critical components of a franchise territory; is the quality of the franchise territory and whether it provides the franchisee the potential for continued growth and whether the territory is protected and exclusive and how it’s defined. Does the franchisor have the right to sell products or services to customers in the territory through various distribution channels?
9. Franchisor Financials-Item 21
Although a CPA is best qualified to review the franchisor financial statements, look for the primary sources of franchisor revenue. If a medium to large franchisor is generating more revenue from Initial Franchise Fees compared to royalties, it could represent a red-flag. Does the franchisor receive a large proportion of its revenues from vendor rebates? How much does the franchisor spend on G&A, especially franchisee support and infrastructure? For a more in-depth review, utilize a CPA to conduct the review.
10. Franchisor Rights and Franchisee Restrictions-Item 16
This section indicates what rights the franchisor retains over the franchise operation. Although all franchise agreement tilts in favor of the franchisor, too many restrictions on the part of the franchise and too few franchisor obligations in terms of assisting and supporting the franchise, require more review including questioning the franchisor representative.
Based upon the above, one can determine how a franchise opportunity has performed and whether it represents a reasonable franchise investment. Whether or not you’re an individual searching for one franchise, a potential multi-unit franchisee or a PE firm, this ten-step process can provide a straightforward method for vetting a franchise opportunity.
About the Author:
Ed Teixeira is Chief Operating Officer of Franchise Grade and was the founder and President of FranchiseKnowHow, L.L.C. a franchise consulting firm. Ed has over 35 years’ experience as a Senior Executive for franchisors in the retail, healthcare, manufacturing and software industries and was also a franchisee. Ed has consulted clients to franchise their existing business and those seeking strategic solutions to operational, marketing and franchise relations issues. He has transacted international licensing in Europe, Asia, and South America. Ed is the author of Franchising from the Inside Out and The Franchise Buyers Manual and has spoken at a number of venues including the International Franchise Expo and the Chinese Franchise Association in Shanghai, China. He has conducted seminars, written numerous articles on the subject of franchising and has been interviewed on TV and radio and has testified as an expert witness on franchising. He is a franchise valuation expert by the Business Brokerage Press. Ed can be contacted at email@example.com
How To Do A Preliminary Evaluation Of A Franchise Opportunity
d Teixeira – Contributor