By Michael H. Seid, Joyce Mazero

Franchising is a way for companies to expand and bring their products and services to consumers without the company owning and operating their locations directly. There are three basic types of franchising:

  • Traditional or product-distribution franchising
  • Business-format franchising
  • Social franchising

Traditional franchising

The industries in which you most often find traditional franchising include soft drinks, automobiles and trucks, mobile homes, automobile accessories, and gasoline. The franchisee is typically selling products manufactured by the franchisor. Some examples include Coca-Cola, Ford Motor Company, and John Deere.

Although traditional franchises look a lot like supplier-dealer relationships, the difference is in the degree of the relationship. In a traditional franchise, the franchisee may handle the franchisor’s products on an exclusive or semi-exclusive basis, while the supplier-dealer may handle several products, even competing ones. For example, Tempur-Pedic mattresses may be offered by a national dealer network that also offers other bedding brands in their retail stores.

The traditional franchisee is closely associated with the franchisor’s brand and generally receives more services from its franchisor than a dealer would from its supplier. Frequently the franchisee provides some pre-sale preparation before a product is sold (such as you find with Coca-Cola, where the franchisee manufacturers and bottles the soda) or some additional post-sale servicing (such as you find at a Ford dealer with your periodic maintenance programs).

In a traditional product-distribution franchise, the franchisor licenses its trademark and logo to its franchisees, but it typically does not provide franchisees with an entire system for running their businesses. Measured in total sales, traditional franchising is larger than business-format franchising.

Business-format franchising

The business-format franchisee gets a complete system for delivering a franchisor’s product or service. The major difference between a traditional franchise and a business-format franchise is that business-format franchisees operate their business based on a business system largely prescribed by the franchisor. The role of the franchisor is to define the business system and establish the brand standards, whereas the role of the franchisee is to independently manage their business on a day-to-day basis to achieve those brand standards.

McDonald’s doesn’t franchise hamburgers, and Domino’s doesn’t franchise pizza. What they provide to their franchisees is a system of delivering their branded products and services. Although traditional franchising is larger than business-format franchising, because the size of the individual transactions is larger, more than 80 percent of all franchise locations in the United States are the business-format type.

It is the franchisee’s execution to a franchisor’s brand standards that produces consistency — the foundation for a business franchisee’s success. Interim Health Care, Sport Clips, PostNet, PuroClean, Twin Peaks, and Firehouse Subs are all examples of business-format franchises. The business-format franchisor provides a detailed system, and the franchisee is trained and supported in their independent management of their business.

The confidential operating and procedures manuals (the how-to guides of every great franchise) provide the franchisee with the information they will need to establish, operate, and manage their businesses. The goal in a franchise system is for customers to get the same brand experience each and every time they shop in one of the franchise’s locations, and the manual is one of the tools to achieve that important goal.

“Successful franchises are usually started and operated by people who have been in that particular business for quite some time, and who have developed proprietary techniques for avoiding pitfalls or dealing with them when the unexpected occurs,” says Gordon Logan, CEO and founder of Sport Clips. “Thoroughly documented operating procedures, marketing plans, and training programs are the hallmarks of the most successful franchises. Great franchises never stop improving their systems, always putting the profitability of their franchisees at the top of their priorities while being relentless about maintaining brand standards. Market domination is always a prime objective.”

Although the franchisor provides a comprehensive business system, it is the franchisee’s responsibility to manage all the day-to-day affairs of the business. After all, the franchisee is an independent business owner simply operating under a license.

Although franchisors may specify uniforms and other brand standards related to how a franchisee’s staff looks (think tattoos, beards, piercing, cleanliness), franchisors don’t generally provide any other human resource requirements. Who a franchisee hires, how much they are paid, what benefits they receive, which hours they work, and how they are promoted and disciplined are all the sole responsibility of the franchisee. Because human resources are the sole and exclusive responsibility of the franchisee and not the franchisor, franchisors and franchisee are generally not considered joint-employers and are not liable for each other’s actions or inactions.

Social franchising

Social franchising is the newest form of franchising. Social franchising is the application of business-format franchising’s techniques and methods to the delivery of products and services to address the needs of people who live at the base of the economic pyramid (BOP). The term BOP refers to the estimated three billion people in the world who live on less than $2.50 per day. Social franchise systems generally focus on the lack of access to basic needs such as safe drinking water, adequate food supply, authentic drugs, quality healthcare, education, sanitation, and energy. These products and services have historically been delivered primarily by governments, churches, and NGOs with mixed results.

According to Julie McBride, senior consultant for social franchising for MSA Worldwide, “Social franchising breaks the cycle of poverty by helping local entrepreneurs develop and expand businesses that solve social needs while at the same time generating profits for the local business owners and creating jobs in the communities they are serving.”

NGOs provide a beneficial and important service in bringing critical products and services to the poor. But traditional methods used to provide this type of support are less sustainable than those found in social franchisors. Traditional methods typically lack the level of brand standards found in franchising, and NGOs usually don’t typically focus their resources on training and supporting local operators as do social franchisors.

The social franchise model is emerging as a powerful tool for the international development community because of its potential to scale (expand). All the elements found in commercial franchising — including agreements, manuals, training, headquarters and field support, consistent supply chains, brand standards, and enforcement — are also found in a social franchise system.

A significant problem facing both social franchisors and NGOs is the frequent inability of consumers to afford the products and services, and the necessary reliance by the system on donations and other financial contributions. Because most NGOs use a top-down structure (the opening of locations), this often leads to an insufficient focus on ensuring that local product and service providers can sustain the standards found in commercial enterprises like social franchising.

Evolution in social franchise systems is generally driven by the same reasons found in commercial franchising — changes in consumers and competition. In an NGO, changes are frequently caused at the direction of donors and the unique products and services they want the NGO’s system to deliver. This, above all else, is one of the reasons that NGOs are not able to achieve the sustainability found in franchising.