Entrepreneurs commonly ask us:

Can I franchise my _________ business?

They may be bakers, brewers, hotel owners, or yoga instructors. Franchising is the business relationship between a “franchisor” (the party that owns a brand) and a “franchisee” (the party obtaining the right to use the brand at another location). The franchisor permits the franchisee to sell certain products or services to consumers under the brand in a way that’s consistent with certain operating standards and, in return, the franchisee pays fees to the franchisor. This model allows entrepreneurs with a successful brand or concept to copy-and-paste that brand or concept in multiple locations, using other people’s money.

Franchising is not an industry, but rather spans many industries. Franchisees sell spa and massage sessions, mufflers, burritos, haircuts, lodging, music lessons, and more. Common industries for franchising include restaurants; hospitality; fitness and health; beauty; experiences and activities; consumer retail; schooling and child, adult, or senior care; home, auto, or business services; real estate; and staffing and tax. According to the International Franchise Association’s Franchise Business Economic Outlook for 2017, the personal services, restaurant, and retail products and services industries are expected to have the most growth in 2017.

Many franchised businesses offer unconventional products or services. In the past year, Larkin Hoffman’s franchise team assisted entrepreneurs in franchising a business providing proprietary pizza ovens and ingredients to lodging facilities for guests, a fitness and entertainment concept using obstacle courses, a fast casual sushi concept, a pest control business, a Spanish-immersion child care center, and a school providing rock music lessons!

Entrepreneurs who become franchisors are just as diverse as the types of businesses which they are franchising. Some entrepreneurs come to us with extensive business backgrounds and capital. But most are people who know the ins-and-outs of Pilates training or rolling sushi, and would like to expand to multiple locations without the cost of opening another location. Likewise, more and more minorities and women are becoming franchisors. In fact, minorities and women executives have made up a significant portion of the award recipients of the International Franchise Association’s Entrepreneur of the Year Awards in the past decade.

One caveat: Just because your business can be franchised does not mean it should be franchised. If the concept is proven (even at a local level), if the concept can be repeated by others with proper training and instructions, if there is something unique—a “special sauce”—about the concept, and if there are sufficient revenues to pay the bills and royalties to the franchisor with an acceptable return to the franchisee, franchising may be an appropriate growth strategy.  See our Franchise Feasibility Test to learn more.

Most startup franchisors – and established franchisors for that matter – receive inquiries from prospective franchisees looking to buy a franchise. Some may be merely kicking the tires, whereas others are bona fide entrepreneurs who could be the next great addition to your growing brand. After receiving an inquiry to purchase a franchise, usually through the franchisor’s website or brokers, the franchisor will often schedule an initial telephone conference with the prospective franchisee so that both the franchisor and the franchisee can gauge their interests in selling and purchasing a franchise. If there is mutual interest, the franchisor will send a franchise disclosure document, a legal document that a franchisor must provide to the prospective franchisee.

For the franchisor, this initial conference will be an important tool to determine whether the prospective franchisee is a bona fide franchisee who can be a profitable addition to the franchise system. Franchisors need to determine the business experience of the prospective franchisee, the financial strength to support the startup or build-out costs, and the long-term goals of the prospective franchisee vis-à-vis the franchise system and brand. Some of the common questions franchisors ask, or should ask, include:

Why us?

Within every industry, from quick-service restaurants, to hospitality, to fitness and health, there are a multitude of franchises that a prospective franchisee can pick from. There are several thousand franchised brands currently offered in the United States. Franchisors will ask why the prospective franchisee is choosing this industry, and within that industry, why this brand. Sometimes answers like “I tried your cupcakes and they were so good, I just had to open a cupcake shop next to my house” may be enough, but not always. Franchisors will want to see that the prospective franchisee is gung-ho about the brand and industry.

How much capital do you have to invest and what is the source of funding?

Purchasing a franchise will require the franchisee to spend thousands of dollars on initial franchise fees (payable to the franchisor) and on build-out costs and the purchase of inventory or equipment. These initial investments, which are summarized in Items 5 and 7 of the franchise disclosure document, can often be $100,000 to $1,000,000, depending on the business. Franchisors will want to know that the prospective franchisee has liquid cash to purchase the franchise and to fund its opening. Just as important as determining the net worth and liquidity of the prospective franchisee is determining the source of the funds. Like non-franchised businesses, franchised businesses may not turn a profit in the first year or so of operation. Therefore, franchisors will want to know whether the prospective franchisee has sufficient liquid net worth, or whether it has or will obtain financing from lenders.

Do you have experience in this industry?

In theory, experience is not necessary to purchase a franchise if the franchisor provides sufficient training and support to teach its franchises the system of operation. Some franchisors, however, favor franchisees who have business experience in the same industry. Others prefer hardworking and adaptable franchisees who can learn the franchisor’s way of operation. Either way, franchisors should determine the prospective franchisee’s previous business. Likewise, franchisors may ask whether the prospective franchisee has prior franchise experience (even in another industry) to determine whether he or she understands the franchise relationship.

When do you want to open?

Franchisors need to make sure the expectations of franchisees line up with their schedules. Before an entrepreneur can open a franchised outlet, he or she must be given a franchise disclosure document (which must be registered in at least 14 states). He or she must also be allowed the applicable waiting period to review the documents, complete an initial training program while, obtain a location for the franchised outlet and build it out per the franchisor’s specifications. This process can often take a few months. Further, from a strategic standpoint, a franchisor may have goals on how many outlets it wants to sell in a particular geographic market within a certain timeframe – therefore the franchisor will need to understand whether the prospective franchisee’s expectations line up with the franchisor’s goals.

How hard are you willing to work?

Some prospective franchisees may be passive, whereas others will actually be working the business from behind the cash register. Most franchisors are looking for the latter. Franchisors will ask whether the prospective franchisee has or intends to operate other businesses or work another job simultaneously with ownership and operation of the franchised business. Opening a franchised business requires hard work, long hours (well above a 40-hour work week), and little to no profits initially, so franchisors will want to see whether the prospective franchisee is ready to get his or her hands dirty.

What are your long-term goals?

Are the franchisor’s goals (often, growing the brand) consistent with the prospective franchisee’s goals? Or is the prospective franchisee merely looking to “buy a job” after being out of work? This question will help franchisors determine whether a prospective franchisee is a cultural fit within the franchisor’s system. Some franchisees may be looking to purchase one franchise at the moment, with the long-term goal of acquiring additional units, and passing these businesses down to heirs.

For startup franchisors looking to sell their first, second, or third franchises, finding the right franchisees is critical because the franchise system may not yet have the size or weight to weather poor fits or poor performers. Asking the right questions up front will save the franchisor time and money and possible headaches down the road.

“How much can I make?” That is typically the first question a prospective franchisee asks when evaluating a franchise opportunity. If you are considering franchising your business, ask yourself whether you have financial information you can, and want, to provide to prospective franchisees that will answer this question.

By law, a franchisor can only give financial information to prospective franchisees in its franchise disclosure document. The information you provide can be actual, historic results, or it can be projections. However, in either case, the information must be based on actual results from your system. Thus, it is not permissible to simply give a hypothetical, such as “if you sell only $400,000 a year, here is what you will make,” unless you actually had an outlet that had $400,000 of revenues. You can use the results of company-owned outlets, so long as you show the differences, like royalty payments, that would have occurred had the outlets been operated by a franchisee.

From a practical standpoint, you can present financial information to prospective franchisees even if you have only one operating outlet. However, if that one outlet turns out to be an aberration, you are likely to have unhappy franchisees when they cannot replicate the success of that outlet. Thus, it has always been our advice that a company has financial information from at least two outlets before including financial results in their disclosure document.

If you want to franchise your business and do not have any company-owned operations, you can still offer franchises, but you will not be able to answer a prospect’s questions about what they can make. That will put you at a competitive disadvantage with other franchisors who provide this information to prospective franchisees. Indeed, the majority of franchisors now include financial information about their individual outlets in their disclosure documents.

There is one last question to ask yourself, perhaps before embarking on a developing a franchise program. Assuming you have results to show prospects, ask yourself whether the results of your existing operations would entice prospects to acquire a franchise from you. If your past results are weak, you may want to focus on strengthening your brand before embarking on franchising. After all, franchisees are buying into your success, and you want your franchise program, and your initial franchisees, to get started on the right – i.e. profitable – foot.

Clients of ours frequently have unconventional ideas for franchises – many of which don’t even see the light of day. But Wisconsin-based Fireline Shooting & Training is an example of one unique franchise that has found a foothold in the market and is now expanding.

Fireline offers franchises for shooting sports centers that feature indoor ranges, training centers and a retail store component selling firearms and related accessories, ammunition and reloading equipment. The company opened its first location in Rice Lake, Wis. in the winter of 2015 and their second location in Grand Chute, Wis. in the fall of 2016. This year, they made the leap to franchising.

The Fireline model is very different than their traditional competitors. The company has taken the gun range, something that was typically found only in large spaces in rural and industrial settings, and brought it into strip malls and similar settings that require less space and less cost, and are more convenient for the customer. As a result, in contrast to the traditional shooting ranges that attract predominantly adult males, Fireline’s model and neighborhood locations also attracts women and families who want to visit their local shooting center, either as an entertainment destination option, or in combination with their other local retail visits.

Leaders within the company carved their market niche by tailoring their products and services to the needs of their customers. Fireline provides education, training and shooting range facilities for continued practice, while also carrying a carefully selected range of shooting sports products and accessories. All of this is combined with the idea that the customer service experience should be tailored to each customer.

Creating a successful startup franchise out of an unconventional concept is definitely not a sure thing. But, with the right planning, the right execution and help from an experienced advisor, some outside shots can pay off. It seems to be doing so for this non-traditional concept. For information about Fireline and their franchise program, contact John LaBonte, CEO of Fireline Range Development, LLC at john@firelinestc.com.