Tips for Adding Franchises, One at a Time
investments available create opportunities for the smallest single-unit mom-and-pop operator to a large multimillion-dollar investor group or established businesses that are looking to add a franchise investment to its portfolio.
Flying solo: Single-unit franchises
A single-unit or direct-unit franchise is just what it says it is: As a franchisee, you obtain the right to own and operate one franchised business from a franchisor.
Over the years, most franchise systems have grown one franchise at a time. It is the classic method and, until the past few decades, was the most common type of relationship in franchising. As people looked for a way to get to their dream of independence through business ownership, franchising became their chosen vehicle. In a single-unit franchise, the franchisee (often along with family members) generally manages and supervises the business on a day-to-day basis. It is how their family makes a living.
Although a single-unit franchise is the classic method for franchise system growth, it does have some weaknesses for franchisors:
- Franchisors generally experience slower growth with a single-unit strategy than with a multi-unit approach, and the growth can be more costly on a unit basis because franchisors have to locate a new franchisee for each location.
- The franchisor has many franchisees to work with, and those franchisees may be less sophisticated and less interested in taking business risks than larger, multi-unit franchisees.
- Because each location is individually owned and operated, single-unit franchises tend to be more expensive to support than when one franchisee owns and operates multiple locations.
- In some markets that may be attractive to a multi-unit franchisee, the presence of single-unit franchisees in the market may make the opportunity less attractive to multi-unit operators who don’t want to compete for customers or locations.
Although there may be some disadvantages to franchisors, there are more single-unit franchisees looking for opportunities than there are multi-unit investors. Also, because the locations are managed directly by the franchisee and generally are a significant part of the franchisee’s family income, single-unit operators tend to be better focused on operating their locations to brand standards and contributing to the neighborhoods in which their businesses are located. That’s because they usually live in the community, their children go to the same schools, they attend the same churches, and their customers are their neighbors.
This image displays the single-unit franchise relationship tree.
Growing a family one franchise at a time
As single-unit franchisees prosper, eventually they will want to acquire another franchise from the same franchisor. After all, they have an understanding of the business, have a relationship with the franchisor, can project the return that an additional unit can generate, and know the types of locations that work best. Initial training likely won’t be needed, and some of the key employees they already have may be perfect managers in their second and third locations.
As they add additional locations, their little chain now can leverage off of the prior locations by sharing staff, inventory, storage, and back-of-house resources like bookkeeping and payroll processing. Investing in additional franchises is a terrific way to grow, because with experience their risk is generally lower than when they made their initial franchise decision, and even though they have more franchises, the relationship between the franchisor and franchisee is substantially the same.
However, growing one location at a time is different from agreeing to operate multiple locations from the beginning, because you don’t usually obtain a reduction in initial or continuing fees and you’ll continue to share the market with other franchisees. But with more units and more money invested, you will tend to be noticed more often by the franchisor and its staff because they are hoping you will continue to grow and grow and grow.
It’s important to understand that franchisors will periodically update their franchise agreements, and franchisees who acquire additional franchises are likely to find variations between their original contract with the franchisor and the new franchise agreement for later units. Your franchisor may also include cross defaults in the agreements, meaning that if you can be terminated at one location, the franchisor reserves the right to terminate all of your franchises at the same time — even if every other location is operating perfectly.
As with all franchise agreements, you should have a qualified franchise attorney work with you. They may be able to also help you negotiate some changes to your agreements including personal guarantees, cross defaults, and changes in fees that other franchisees may be required to pay.