Meeting Your Franchise’s Requirements

By Michael H. Seid, Joyce Mazero

You’ll generally be expected to develop your location to meet the site development requirements and standards of the franchisor, including layout, décor, signage, furniture, fixtures, and equipment. Although franchisors use several methods, most will provide you with a layout that they expect you to have an architect or builder recast to meet the requirements of your location.

Implementing a franchisor’s designs

Every retail and restaurant franchisor has a floor plan (called a footprint) that may be excruciating in its exactness. Even if you think that a counter should be two inches longer on the left side, you have to follow the franchisor’s plans — or get the franchisor’s permission for a change. Even if you know for a fact that menu signs are more readable if they’re placed 12 inches closer to the floor than the required 90 inches, too bad — you have to follow the plans. Review these specifications and standards with your architect and contractor.

Franchisors usually provide prototype plans for every location. Your architect must develop plans for your site that meet local ordinances and codes as well as the franchisor’s standards. Don’t assume that you can add improvements to the design, such as a bigger back of house (the kitchen and storage area).

Check with your franchisor before making expensive changes that you may have to reverse.

All these specifications from the franchisor are intended to ensure consistency, which is great, but what if your particular community has some type of restriction that runs counter to your franchisor’s building plans? Make sure that you notify your franchisor so that you can discuss the required changes. If the changes are important, the franchisor often personally contacts the builder or city planner to discuss the changes.

Generally the franchisor will provide you with a list of sources for the equipment, décor, and other items you’ll need to purchase. Before you open your business, you will generally need the franchisor’s approval that your development of your location meets its standards.

Getting approvals, permits, and licenses for your franchise

Whether you’re renovating an existing leased site or building a new site from scratch, you’ll have to prepare preliminary plans and specifications for construction and site improvement for approval and permits from your local zoning board and building department. You’ll also have to — big surprise! — submit them to your franchisor for approval. Your banker or lender will also want to see these plans.

If building a site is going to be your choice, make sure you touch base again with the local zoning board and building department before you even close on the property and certainly before you move that first shovel of dirt. You want to be in compliance with everything — down to local ordinances that set the hours you can hammer and saw to your heart’s content.

You also want to determine whether the town needs to approve any variances (which give you permission to do something on the land that’s different from what the zoning rules allow) for the property and whether the site will support your needs for utilities, parking, and the like.

Early discussion with the municipality is important. Even in cases where your use is permitted, the planning board may have some unusual requirements that could make the site unworkable for you. Sometimes green-space setbacks or water-retention basins, although nice for the ducks, can push your building out of sight of approaching traffic. If your business relies on impulse purchases, you would be in a tough spot.

Although your contractor or architect usually does the pre-construction legwork, seeing that it all gets done is your responsibility — not the franchisor’s. Your contractor needs to obtain the following:

  • Permits: For construction, utilities, signs, curb cuts (those indentations in the sidewalk that let the cars in), and environmental matters
  • Variances: If you need the town to approve some specific violation of the zoning requirements for your site
  • Certificates of occupancy: To allow you to occupy the location

Beginning construction on your franchise

After your franchisor approves your site plan, it will be your responsibility to build out the location to the franchisor’s standards and to meet local building codes. Critical to the build-out process is selecting a reputable commercial contractor who has experience with meeting deadlines, securing necessary permits and approvals, and complying with the quality requirements imposed by your franchisor. Your franchisor (and other franchisees) can tell you how long the construction process typically takes.

Getting help with the franchise opening

Many franchisors provide in-person assistance immediately before and during a location’s grand opening. The amount and nature of such opening assistance varies greatly by system. Some franchisors send a single field consultant to observe and be available to answer questions during a franchisee’s grand opening, whereas other franchisors send a team of field consultants who arrive up to a week before the grand opening and stay until they’re comfortable that the franchisee is ready to run solo. Such pre-opening and opening assistance can include the following:

  • Providing guidance on the type of marketing and advertising a franchisee should conduct for the location’s market introduction and grand opening.
  • Placing initial orders of opening inventory and supplies.
  • Conducting additional on-site training of the franchisee and its management team. Many franchisors historically have provided some training to a franchisee’s staff at the franchisee’s location in connection with the opening; however, due to fears of being declared a joint employer of a franchisee’s staff, franchisors are increasingly providing train-the-trainer programs to franchisees and then expecting franchisees to train their own staff.
  • Ensuring initial compliance with brand standards.

Check your franchise agreement and Item 11 of the FDD regarding the opening assistance you can expect to receive from your franchisor.