You have identified a franchise concept that you are extremely interested in. You have met with the franchisor’s sales staff, completed an application and are impressed, so far, by what you see. However, before taking that next step, before paying a franchise fee or signing a franchise agreement, contact existing franchisees to get the “inside track.”
Where do you get existing franchisee information? In the franchisor’s disclosure document (also known as the “FDD” and formally known as a Uniform Franchise Offering Circular) that must be provided to you by the franchisor at least 14 calendar days prior to you signing a franchise agreement or paying any fee to the franchisor. The FDD is an extensive document and, quite frankly, one of the few “life-lines” that will be available to help you make a true assessment of the franchise opportunity that you are considering. The legally mandated information contained in the FDD, and thereby disclosed to you as a prospective franchisee, is extensive, extremely relevant and should be reviewed with both a franchise lawyer and business accountant. However, sticking to the point of this article, that is obtaining information from existing franchisees, please know the following:
- Item “20” titled “Outlets and Franchisee Information” should contain extensive information about (a) existing franchisees – including their names, addresses and contact information, (b) the number of franchise outlets in operation (at least as of the date of the FDD), (c) the number of franchise outlets that are expected to open within the next fiscal year, and (d) the number of franchise outlets that were closed, sold or terminated in the last fiscal year;
- Contact existing franchisees (not just the “star” – multi-unit franchisees who the franchisor suggests you speak with) and politely ask them about their experiences as a franchisee, the support given to them, the quality of the product (or service) and, if possible, the cash flow and profitability of the business;
- Pay particular attention to the number of franchise outlets closed, terminated or sold during the past year. If there are a significant number (relative to total overall outlets) of closed, terminated and/or sold outlets, proceed with caution and ask lots of questions. Please keep in mind that while it may be inevitable to have a few closed outlets due to a “franchisee’s mismanagement or lack of effort”, look out for a pattern of closings, terminations and outlet sales and do not just accept an explanation blaming a closed outlet on a franchisee’s lack of effort. In many cases, a closed outlet may be a function of neglect by both the franchisor (in terms of support and product development) and the franchisee; and
- If the franchisor is projecting a significant increase in the number of projected outlet openings (a projection that should be included in Section 20 of the FDD) question whether or not the franchisor possesses the managerial staff and infrastructure to properly support all of these new outlets.
- When purchasing a franchise, there is a lot to consider and, inevitability – like every entrepreneur, you are bound to make mistakes. However, by contacting existing (and terminated) franchisees you can learn from some of their mistakes and cut down on your own.