Why do some franchisors fall upon hard times while others prosper? To answer such an expansive question in a short article requires some oversimplification. That said, here are my top three reasons for franchisor failure: concept, capital and management.
1. The Concept
In franchising, it always starts with the concept. Some franchisors start franchising before they’ve properly refined the concept, much to their own detriment, as well as the detriment of their franchisees, investors and bankers.
Franchisors have competing interests: they want to be sure their concept is fully refined, but they also want to be the first to market if they have a unique concept. At a minimum, the franchisor should remain confident that a properly trained and supported franchisee who follows the system will achieve a rate of return that’s commensurate with his or her risk.
It’s important to recognise that markets change over time. Thus the relevance of a concept within a market could also change.
One of the big advantages to company-owned growth is that the parent company keeps every cent that goes toward the bottom line. But the flip side is that the same parent company also absorbs every loss its corporate stores generate. The corporate-owned development route can be seen as high-cost, high-risk but with potential for high return. When times are good, the company can bring more money to the bottom line but when the market turns, the results can be disastrous.
If corporate store losses are in excess of the royalty (and other) revenues generated by franchisees, the parent company may not be able to survive even if its franchisees can.
To avoid such problems, many franchisors will carefully evaluate their risk exposure when planning the development of corporate locations. And, of course, they’ll always make sure their primary focus is on unit-level profitability, because they know that without a concept that works for everyone, franchising is destined to fail.
Unfortunately, capital, the set of circumstances that often drives people to franchise in the first place, can also be a culprit in some franchisor failures. While franchising is a low-cost, low-risk means of expansion, it’s not a no-cost, no-risk means of expansion.
New franchisors will have significant legal and development costs associated with the creation of their franchise programmes. They’ll also need to budget adequate working capital for the startup phase of their franchise efforts.
Aside from the costs associated with creating the franchise programme, working capital will fall into two major categories: personnel and franchise marketing. Neophyte franchisors may under-allocate in both areas, thinking they can simply finance growth out of their franchise fees.
The same principles hold true for established franchisors. New franchisors may tend to start slowly, thinking that once they’ve sold a few franchises they can accelerate quickly. These franchisors are well advised to remember that more fuel is burned when accelerating than when simply maintaining your speed and planning accordingly.
Moreover, when concept difficulties are combined with under-capitalisation, the faster growth comes, the worse the problem becomes.
Fast growth, by its very nature, requires more capital.
The truth is that the majority of franchise failures are a result of bad management. Great management will make concept adaptations quickly to help ensure the success of both franchisees and company-owned units and will not franchise a concept that isn’t ready for that step. Great management will find capital when it’s in short supply or when more aggressive growth plans are called for. But there’s simply no cure for bad management.
No matter how good the concept and no matter how well capitalised the company, bad management will find a way to destroy the business.
Bad management manifests itself everywhere, in a lack of vision, systems, standards, motivating, communication, measurement, accountability and enforcement. Even good managers can be guilty of it on occasion.
Franchising offers many advantages to those desiring growth. But it’s not without risk and it’s certainly not easy. The best managers and owners know this and go in with their eyes wide open. They’ll critically examine the concept and their marketplace before making such a profound strategic decision. They’ll carefully monitor and conserve their resources; even if that means they must slow their growth to a level below what the market might support.