What Is A Franchise And How Does It Work

What is a franchise

Franchises have become a popular way for entrepreneurs to start a business, offering a ready-made business formula and established brand recognition. But what exactly is a franchise? In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the concept of franchises, their advantages and disadvantages, how franchisors make money, and the key regulations governing the industry. Whether you’re considering investing in a franchise or simply want to learn more about this business model, this guide will help you understand what is a franchise and how it works.

Understanding Franchises

The Basics of Franchises

A franchise is a type of business arrangement where the owner of a successful business, known as the franchisor, grants a license to another individual or company, known as the franchisee, to operate a similar business under the franchisor’s established brand name and using their proven business model. In exchange for this license, the franchisee pays the franchisor an initial start-up fee and ongoing royalties based on a percentage of sales or revenue.

Franchises are often found in industries such as fast food, hospitality, retail, and service-based businesses. They offer entrepreneurs the opportunity to start a business with the support and resources of an established brand. By leveraging the franchisor’s business knowledge, processes, and trademarks, franchisees can benefit from a recognized brand name, established customer base, and proven operational strategies.

The History of Franchising

The concept of franchising dates back to the mid-19th century when companies like the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company and the I.M. Singer Company developed organizational, marketing, and distribution systems that laid the foundation for modern franchising. These companies recognized the potential of granting licenses to others to sell their products and expand their market reach.

In the 1920s and 1930s, the food and hospitality industry witnessed the emergence of the first recognizable franchises. A&W Root Beer and Howard Johnson Restaurants were pioneers in the franchising world, paving the way for the restaurant chains and franchises that dominate the industry today.

Today, franchises play a significant role in the U.S. economy, with over 790,492 franchise establishments in 2022, contributing over $500 billion to the economy. Recognizable brands like McDonald’s, Taco Bell, and Dunkin’ are just a few examples of successful franchises that have become household names.

Franchise Basics and Regulations

Franchise Contracts

Franchise contracts are complex agreements that outline the rights and obligations of both the franchisor and the franchisee. These contracts typically include three categories of payment to the franchisor. First, the franchisee purchases the controlled rights or trademark from the franchisor through an upfront fee. Second, the franchisor may charge for training, equipment, or business advisory services. Finally, ongoing royalties or a percentage of the operation’s sales are paid to the franchisor.

Franchise agreements are temporary and typically last between five and 30 years, depending on the contract. Premature termination or violation of the contract can result in serious penalties for the franchisee. It’s crucial for prospective franchisees to carefully review the franchise contract and seek legal advice to fully understand their rights and responsibilities.

Regulations and Disclosure Requirements

Franchises are regulated at both the state and federal levels in the United States. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) established the Franchise Rule in 1979, which requires franchisors to provide prospective franchisees with a Franchise Disclosure Document (FDD). This document contains essential information about the franchise, including fees, expenses, performance expectations, litigation history, approved vendors, and estimated financial performance.

The FDD was previously known as the Uniform Franchise Offering Circular (UFOC) before being renamed in 2007. Franchisors must comply with the FTC’s disclosure requirements and provide accurate and complete information to prospective franchisees. This ensures transparency and helps franchisees make informed decisions about their investment.

Advantages of Franchises

Ready-Made Business Formula

One of the primary advantages of investing in a franchise is gaining access to a ready-made business formula. The franchisor has already developed a proven system for operating a successful business, including strategies for marketing, operations, and customer service. This eliminates the need for franchisees to start from scratch and allows them to benefit from the franchisor’s expertise and experience.

Market-Tested Products and Services

Franchises offer market-tested products and services that have already proven successful. The franchisor has invested time and resources into developing and refining their offerings, ensuring that they meet customer demands and preferences. By joining a franchise, entrepreneurs can skip the trial and error phase of developing their own products and services, reducing the risk of failure and increasing the chances of success.

Established Brand Recognition

Established brand recognition is a significant advantage of investing in a franchise. Recognizable brands have already built trust and loyalty among consumers, making it easier for franchisees to attract customers. When franchisees operate under a well-known brand name, they don’t have to spend as much effort and resources on marketing and advertising to establish their credibility in the market.

Disadvantages of Franchises

Heavy Start-Up Costs

One of the main disadvantages of franchising is the heavy start-up costs involved. Franchisees are required to pay an initial start-up fee to the franchisor, which can be substantial depending on the brand and industry. In addition to the initial fee, franchisees must also invest in equipment, inventory, and other resources to set up their business. These costs can be a barrier to entry for some entrepreneurs, especially those with limited financial resources.

Ongoing Royalty Costs

Franchisees must also factor in ongoing royalty costs when considering a franchise investment. Franchisors typically charge a percentage of sales or revenue as ongoing royalties. This percentage can range from 4.6% to 12.5%, depending on the industry and the specific franchise agreement. Ongoing royalty costs can eat into a franchisee’s profits and affect the overall financial viability of the business.

Lack of Control and Creativity

While franchises offer a proven business model, they often come with limited control and creativity for franchisees. Franchisees are required to follow the franchisor’s established operational guidelines, including product offerings, store layouts, and even employee uniforms. This can restrict franchisee’s ability to make independent decisions and adapt to local market conditions. Franchisees must adhere to the franchisor’s brand standards and guidelines, which can limit their ability to differentiate themselves from competitors.

Franchise vs. Startup: Making the Choice

Starting Your Own Business

Starting your own business offers the potential for personal and financial freedom. As an entrepreneur, you have complete control over your business and can bring your own ideas and creativity to the table. However, starting a business from scratch comes with its own set of challenges and risks. Entrepreneurs must invest significant time, effort, and resources into developing a business model, creating brand awareness, and establishing a customer base. The failure rate for new businesses is high, with only a fraction of startups surviving beyond the first few years.

Choosing the Franchise Route

Franchising offers a compelling alternative for entrepreneurs who want to mitigate some of the risks associated with starting a business from scratch. By investing in a franchise, entrepreneurs gain access to a proven business model, established brand recognition, and ongoing support from the franchisor. Franchisors often provide training, marketing assistance, and access to a network of suppliers and resources. While success is not guaranteed, joining a reputable franchise can increase the likelihood of a profitable and sustainable business.

How Franchisors Make Money

Franchise Agreement Payments

Franchisors generate revenue through various payment categories outlined in the franchise agreement. The first payment category involves the franchisee purchasing controlled rights or trademarks from the franchisor through an upfront fee. This fee grants the franchisee the right to use the franchisor’s brand name, trademarks, and business model.

Upfront Fees

Upfront fees vary depending on the brand, industry, and the specific terms of the franchise agreement. These fees are a significant source of revenue for franchisors, providing them with a return on their investment in developing the franchise system.

Training and Business Services

Franchisors often provide training, equipment, and business advisory services to franchisees for an additional fee. This ensures that franchisees are equipped with the necessary knowledge and resources to operate the business successfully. Training programs may cover areas such as operations, marketing, customer service, and financial management.

Ongoing Royalties

Ongoing royalties are another key revenue stream for franchisors. Franchisees typically pay a percentage of their sales or revenue to the franchisor as ongoing royalties. These royalties compensate the franchisor for ongoing support, brand usage, and access to the franchisor’s proprietary business knowledge and processes. The specific percentage is determined by the franchise agreement and can vary depending on the industry and the franchisor.


Franchising offers entrepreneurs a unique opportunity to start a business with the support and resources of an established brand. While franchises come with advantages such as a proven business formula, market-tested products, and established brand recognition, there are also disadvantages to consider, including heavy start-up costs, ongoing royalty fees, and limited control over the business. It’s crucial for prospective franchisees to carefully evaluate the franchise opportunity, review the franchise agreement, and seek professional advice before making an investment. Ultimately, the choice between starting a franchise or launching a startup depends on individual preferences, resources, and business goals.

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