Category Archives: Franchises

A Whole New World

The thing you hear often these days is some expression to get back to “normal.” The truth be told, those days are gone for good, I’m afraid and I’m not sure that it’s a bad thing in many ways. I’ve been thinking a lot about what the “new” normal looks like because as I’m talking to folks about franchises, some of the businesses that I would have recommended a few months ago are suddenly not as attractive as they were then. Others have emerged as having even more potential.

I want to share some thoughts with you today mostly to get you thinking about what the new normal is for your business. The first thing you’ve probably noticed, maybe because it’s affected you directly, is how many people are working from home. Business meetings take place virtually. I’ve seen a number of professional conferences rescheduled from some hotel ballroom to a virtual meeting place.

What will this do to the real-estate business? If you’re leasing 10,000 square feet of office space now but find you’re being just as productive with the staff working remotely, can that 10,000 become just enough space for a few offices and a conference room? Maybe investing in secure networking is a better use of funds. Some 60% report being either as productive or even more productive than they were working from the office according to a recent study and once the economy reopens, 24% say they’d like to work either entirely or more from home compared to how they worked before,

What will this do to the convention business, at least in the near term? Yes, there is huge value in the face time and spontaneous meetings conventions provide, but I’m not sure people will want to travel. Business travelers are the highest-profit customers airlines and hotels have. Between executives not needing to travel as much and vacation travelers being scared to, what happens to the travel business?

I worked in sports for many years. I’ve seen where some organizations are talking about revamping arena and stadium seating to spread their customers out. Of course, this will reduce capacity quite a bit. What does that do to the economics of those sports (I’m looking at you, NHL) and entertainment shows (concerts, etc.) that are heavily dependant on ticket sales? Seating capacity is an issue for restaurants and bars too. How do movie theaters stay in business with reduced capacity and with an audience that’s now learned to enjoy the theater experience at home?

We need to be thinking about supply chain disruption. Does manufacturing come back here? Are new factories built with social distancing in mind? Does this accelerate the trend to automation since robots can’t catch a virus (well, at least not of the non-digital kind)? We also suddenly are aware that our economy rests squarely on the people who seem to be paid inversely to their importance. Nurses, truck drivers, meat cutters, and others on the front lines are compensated far below the worth that has become evident to us all over the last few months. How does this enter into the conversation when the time comes?

Those are just a few things that have popped into my brain while this disaster goes on. What do I say to folks I’m working with, many of whom have been forced to rethink their employment or who have chosen to? In a nutshell, I think these businesses are worth a strong look:

  • Senior care – people were already wanting to stay in their own homes as they age and the issues in senior group quarters during this have accelerated the trend;
  • Cleaning, both residential and commercial. Self-explanatory
  • Education – both afterschool programs and tutoring. People always spend on their kids and more schooling is going to take place online and at home. Traditional programs in the Arts, STEM, and other areas will be hurt, I believe, and parents will seek them elsewhere.
  • Pets – I can’t tell you how many people have acquired new pets during this time. It also seems all of a sudden that everyone I know is posting something about their pet. Pet supplies, pet boarding, and pet grooming. Dog training too, maybe, if the new puppy we have is any indication (the other 2 dogs don’t seem to be fans yet).

Those are a few of my thoughts. There are a number of other business sectors that look promising in the new world but the important thing is that we recognize that things have changed, probably forever. Have you thought about how that affects you and your business? Is it time for you to change as well?

 

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We’re Trucked

Believe it or not, it’s Foodie Friday again (I know, you can’t keep track of what day it is). Obviously, we’re not dining out here and I’m pretty sure you’re not either. We are, however, bringing in for from some of our regular haunts in an effort to support them during this difficult time. In a couple of cases, the restaurants are moving closer to us by rolling out their food trucks into various places nearby.

Food trucks are one of the businesses I represent along with dozens of other food franchises. I can tell you that the cost to open and operate one of these beasts is significantly less than for almost any other type of food place. I haven’t pulled any of the Franchise Disclosure Documents to check out the operating and earnings claims for trucks vs. brick and mortar but I’m thinking that the trucks probably have better margins.

Margins in the restaurant industry are notoriously small. While you might expect your margin in any other type of business to be north of 25%, in the restaurant world they run 3–9%. Not much room for error and definitely no room for the type of catastrophic business environment in which they’re trying to operate. Having a truck to roll out, either in lieu of or in addition to operating the brick and mortar joint for takeout might just be a lifesaver.

I could spend the rest of today’s screed talking about why the margins are so bad and what can be done about it. The two-word solution is “charge more” but I’ll leave that for another post. What I want us to think about today is how we can “food truck” our businesses. How can we find some other way to operate, maybe even in a more efficient, consumer-friendly manner once we get to whatever the new “normal” will be?  How will you calm your customers’ frayed nerves? How does your business have to change to mirror the changes in society, media consumption, supply-chain and each of the other factors and constituencies that make up your enterprise?

I find I’m spending more time talking to people about businesses that can operate out of the home.  I also remind them that no matter what business they’re evaluating, the process will take time. 2 months for a non-retail business and maybe as long as 5 months if you’re outfitting a store/salon/restaurant etc. The time to be planning and beginning the process is now. Borrowed money is cheap, there will be a glut of real estate, and you want to be ready when the new normal eventuates.

So how are you food-trucking your business?

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Census Day

Did you know that today is Census Day? Yes, I’m aware that it’s also April Fool’s Day although I would propose to you that not many people are in a pranksterish sort of mood at the moment. Most of the usual suspects – Google, for example – have foregone their annual pranks in recognition of the times we’re in. Good job, folks, especially since if last year you had sent around pieces describing how in a year we’re all locked up at home with most businesses either closed or severely affected, you’d be accused of going beyond what’s believable for a joke.

Anyway, have you filled out your census? It is actually the law, you know. More than that, it’s massively important since the census determines how many representatives each state gets in Congress and is used by the federal government to decide how much money to spend on key infrastructure, including roads, hospitals, and schools. You can do it online for the first time. It takes about 5 minutes. If you’ve not completed your form, go ahead and do so.  I’ll wait.

The census is one of the smart things the Founders did when the wrote out the rules by which this country was going to be governed. I look at it as a reality check combined with forced planning. When you think about it, having to adjust reality based on facts is critical to any organization, especially one that claims to represent each and every one of us. It’s not just the government that needs to stop, count, and rethink either.

If there is one silver lining to the current pandemic, it’s that it’s allowing many of us to take a deep breath (6 feet from anyone, please), think about where we are in our professional lives and where we want to go. I’ve spoken with many people over the last month who are looking into business ownership. Some of them are doing so because they’ve lost their jobs and don’t want to be in that situation again. Others are evaluating it because they see an opportunity. Personally, while I think divorce lawyers and midwives will do very well when this is all over, those businesses aren’t exactly something you can jump into (nor are they franchised). I also think businesses involving cleaning, home repair, and remodeling will all do even better than they did when things were sailing along smoothly. You CAN jump into those and they ARE franchised.

My point here isn’t to get you interested in a franchise. It is to get you to use the time you’ve been given to conduct your own personal census. Heck, even if you’re working a full day from home, you’re not commuting to the office as you might have done. Use that time to take stock of what you want to be doing and how you’re going to get there if it’s not what you’re doing now. If this virus has shown us anything it’s that the world can change in a flash and the more we can control our own situation, the better off we’ll be. Make sense?

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A Commotion On The Train

I used to ride the commuter train to and from work every day. I did that for 25+ years. Usually, you saw the same faces standing in the same places on the platform in the morning. Going home, it was pretty much the same thing.

One morning, there was a commotion at the other end of the car I was riding in. Someone was on the floor and there was a fair amount of yelling. He’d had a heart attack and, we found out later, passed away. The image of that morning sticks with me.

Everyone has had a bad day at work, and when those bad days begin to follow one another closely, one’s thoughts turn to quitting. I know mine sure did, or at least to make a job change. Frankly, those were hard thoughts to have. I had jobs that paid well and a family for which I had to provide.  Quitting is hard and making a big change is unnerving, almost as unnerving as seeing someone you rode that train with each day passing away.

Why do I bring this up today? I speak with a lot of people who are facing precisely this conundrum. They’re not happy and they know they need to do something but are afraid of making the leap. Maybe it dawns on them that life is too short to waste being miserable. Maybe they’re just bored and want to do something else. Having been in the same place, I sure don’t blame them. What I try to explain to them is that there is a middle ground. You can run your own business while removing a good chunk of the risk generally associated with doing that by investing in a proven business and following the path that dozens or hundreds of others have blazed for you with the brand. Those are what franchises are.

I talk to a lot of folks who have a knack for entrepreneurship but don’t have the right concept figured out. I help them identify one or two that will let them use their skills. Some folks want to invest in a franchise but they don’t want to quit their job to do so. That’s possible, but even in that least disruptive case, fear kicks in.

Quitting makes you uncomfortable. Fear prevents you from addressing your discomfort by reminding you that the status quo is safe even if it’s an unhappy place. Looking back 40+ business years down the road, I’m sorry I didn’t get off that train earlier.  You?

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Walkin’ The Talk

I spend a lot of time on the telephone these days. I’m constantly calling people who have indicated that they have an interest in changing their lives by investing in a franchise. It’s great most of the time even if it’s frustrating at the same time. The reason for that is something from which any of us in business can learn.

I think that a number of folks are now using some sort of auto-responder on their phones. I will very often dial someone and just as their voicemail kicks in I get a text from them. “I’ll call you back” is pretty common or even the more maddening “I’ll call you back in an hour.” The reality is that I rarely get that callback.

I pride myself on walkin’ the talk. If I tell you that I’m going to do something, I do it. People are trusting me with a lot of sensitive information – their financial situation, their unhappiness with their current work situation in many cases – and I need them to know that I’m worthy of that trust. Keeping commitments is part of building trust. If I tell you that I will call you at 10, you can be quite sure that your phone will ring at 10. That’s what several decades in the TV business do to you – 10 means 10, not 9:58 or 10:02.

Trust is foundational in business. Yes, there are contracts so that everyone knows what the deal is although I probably didn’t pay enough attention to contracts because I always felt that if I could trust the person I was dealing with, contractual issues would tend to take care of themselves. Making a commitment via autoresponder isn’t walkin’ the talk. It’s just talking to get someone off your back. I’m willing to bet most of the folks don’t even know that a text was sent.

I made a resolution this year. I’m not chasing after anyone. They can generate all the texts they want but if they don’t follow through and make the call, I’m done with them. There are lot of foks who are serious about changing their lives for the better and I’m going to be spending my time with them. That’s a commitment and you can bet it’s one I’ll be keeping.

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Most Read Post Of 2019

Happy New Year and a new decade to boot! This post was the most-read screed I published in 2019. It’s fitting both to end and to begin the year with it since the topic involves change. This is the time of the year when many people stop and assess their lives which often leads to change. This piece, originally titled “Taking The Beaten Path” has to do with some issues involved in starting your own business. I published it last February and I hope you’ll give it a read and some thought if you’re thinking about starting fresh in 2020.

One of the questions that has come up often in my newish role as a franchise consultant has been why one should look to invest in a franchise to begin with rather than starting a business from scratch. After all, there are generally fairly substantial franchise fees associated with a franchise along with the other expenses one might expect when starting a business plus you usually have on-going royalties. You’ll still have to pay to incorporate, you still often need insurance, licenses, equipment, space, and people. Why incur the extra fees on top of the ordinary expenses? It’s a good question and I have what I think are some good answers. If you’re thinking of starting a business or maybe changing the nature of the business you’re running, here are my thoughts.

First, the biggest advantage of buying into a franchise is that it’s a business in a box. It’s a proven business model, one that comes with built-in support. Almost every franchise I work with has some form of training and on-going mentoring. I think about that in terms of the businesses that have hired me to consult in the past. Much of what I did would have been covered by that sort of support, negating the need for an outside consultant. The franchise will have research and the business results of all the other franchisees. That’s invaluable and beats the heck out of going it alone.

Another consequence of that is you’ll probably experience much faster growth. You won’t be spending time formulating a business plan. Instead, you’ll be getting trained and executing one that has been time-tested. Something as simple as logo design, which can take time and several iterations, is not really a concern. You’ll generally be presented with operations manuals and marketing materials. Your time to market is greatly decreased.

One thing that is much easier is financing your business. Franchises are less risky in lenders’ minds since they’re known brands and proven businesses. While banks aren’t the best source for franchise ending, there are many lenders who specialize in that (I work with 6 of them) and SBA loans are easier to come by as well. Finally, your potential customers will already know who you are. Most franchises have good brand recognition, and even those that don’t have a current local presence can often benefit from being seen as part of a bigger entity.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that roughly 1 in 5 of all businesses in the U.S. close after the first two years of operation and a little over a third shut their doors after four years. You can beat those odds by taking the beaten path and investing the franchise fee to gain the above benefits. In my mind, and why I added this to my consulting portfolio, that investment yields as good or better returns than blazing your own new trail. What do you think?

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Am I Hot Or Not?

One question that often comes up as I’m discussing franchise opportunities with people is that of what businesses are “hot.” It’s interesting that “hot” comes up at least as often as “profitable”. I can answer the questions for them (and usually do), but I also add a couple of other thoughts. That’s our topic for today.

For those of you that are curious, what’s currently “hot” in the world of franchises falls into a few broad categories. Within the food sector, breakfast places, juice bars, Mexican food, and healthy bowls are doing well. Restoration services – businesses that clean up after accidents or disasters are hot as well. Some of the other categories that are in demand are childcare, pet services, fitness businesses, and some “alternative” health businesses (cryotherapy, etc.), and beauty/grooming. As an aside, I represent businesses in every one of these categories – let me know if you want to learn more!

I’ll review those categories with interested candidates but then I caution them and I’d like to do the same here. Many of the businesses in those categories are “sexy” but several are not particularly profitable.  When you’re thinking about making a huge life change, which is what many of the folks I speak with are doing, you need to take a step back and look at the big picture. It’s not about what’s hot because what’s hot today may be gone tomorrow. Think about businesses that were all the rage a couple of years ago. Yogurt stores (yes, I have some of those too) seem to be fading away. Most of the “daily deal” sites have consolidated or gone away. Same with many of the subscription box services. The tanning bed business has transitioned into a spray-tan business.

My point to them, and to you, is that focusing on what’s hot isn’t a great criterion as you’re looking at new opportunities. Instead, ask yourself what makes you happy. What can you see yourself doing every day that will have you excited about getting out of bed? The odds are that there is a franchise that will allow you to do that. Some folks are equally concerned (or more concerned) with making money. Many of the businesses that do that aren’t “sexy.” They’re things like home repair or remodeling businesses or they’re businesses that might require a higher level of capital like a senior care business where you might need to “float” a payroll until cash flow grows.

Businesses ebb and flow. Categories run hot and cold, but what makes you happy probably doesn’t. Add profitability to the mix and you’re on the right track, whether it’s hot or not.

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