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What is a franchise?

Franchising is a method of doing business wherein a franchisor licenses trademarks and tried and proven methods of doing business to a franchisee in exchange for a recurring payment, and usually a percentage piece of gross sales or gross profits as well as the annual fees. Various tangibles and intangibles such as national or international advertising, training, and other support services are commonly made available by the franchisor, and may indeed be required by the franchisor, which generally requires audited books, and may subject the franchisee or the outlet to periodic and surprise spot checks.

A business operated under a franchise arrangement is often called a chain store, franchise outlet, or simply franchise.

According to Financial Times, if sales by US franchise businesses were translated into national product, they would qualify as the 7th largest economy in the world.


The term "franchising" is used to describe business systems which may or may not fall into the legal definition provided above. For example, a vending machine operator may receive a franchise for a particular kind of vending machine, including a trademark and a royalty, but no method of doing business. This is called product franchising or trade name franchising.

A franchise agreement will usually specify the given territory the franchisee retains exclusive control over (the area protection), as well as the extent to which the franchisee will be supported by the franchisor (e.g. training and marketing campaigns).


As practiced in retailing, franchising offers franchisees the advantage of starting up a new business quickly based on a proven trademark and formula of doing business, as opposed to having to build a new business and brand from scratch (often in the face of aggressive competition from franchise operators). A well run franchise would offer a turnkey business: from site selection to lease negotiation, training, mentoring and ongoing support as well as statutory requirements and troubleshooting.

After their brand and formula are carefully designed and properly executed, franchisors are able to expand rapidly across countries and continents, and can earn profits commensurate with their contribution to those societies. Additionally, the franchisor may choose to leverage the franchise to build a distribution network.

Franchisers often offer franchisees significant training, which is not available for free to individuals starting up their own business.

For some consumers, having franchises offer a consistent product or service makes life easier. They know what to expect when entering a franchised establishment. See franchise validation.


For franchisees, the main disadvantage of franchising is a loss of control. While they gain the use of a system, trademarks, assistance, training, and marketing, the franchisee is required to follow the system and get approval for changes from the franchisor. For these reasons, franchisees and entrepreneurs are very different.

It can be expensive. Because of standards set by the franchiser, the franchisee often has no choice as to signage, shop fitting, uniforms etc. and may not be allowed to source less expensive alternatives. Added to that is the franchise fee and ongoing royalties and advertising contributions. The franchisee may also be contractually bound to spend money on upgrading or alterations as demanded by the franchiser from time to time.

Another problem is that the franchisor/franchisee relationship can easily cause conflict if either side is incompetent (or not acting in good faith). For example, an incompetent franchisee can easily damage the public's goodwill towards the franchisor's brand by providing inferior goods and services, and an incompetent franchisor can destroy its franchisees by failing to promote the brand properly or by squeezing them too aggressively for profits.

Legal aspects

In the United States, franchising falls under the jurisdiction of a number of state and federal laws. Franchisors are required by the Federal Trade Commission to have a Uniform Franchise Offering Circular "UFOC" to disclose potential franchisees about their purchase.

There is no federal registry of franchising or any federal filing requirements for information, rather, states are the primary collectors of data on franchising companies, and enforce laws and regulations regarding their spread.

Because litigation is expensive, the majority of franchisors have inserted mandatory arbitration clauses into their agreements with their franchisees.


Franchising dates back to at least the 1850s; Isaac Singer, who made improvements to an existing model of a sewing machine, wanted to increase the distribution of his sewing machines. His effort, though unsuccessful in the long run, was among the first franchising efforts in the U.S. A slightly later, yet much more successful, example of franchising was John S. Pemberton's franchising of Coca-Cola. Early American examples include the telegraph system, which was operated by various railroad companies but controlled by Western Union, and exclusive agreements between automobile manufacturers and operators of local dealerships].

Modern franchising came to prominence with the rise of franchise-based food service establishments. This trend started as early as 1919 with quick service restaurants such as A&W Root Beer. In 1935, Howard Deering Johnson teamed up with Reginald Sprague to establish the first modern restaurant franchise. The idea was to let independent operators use the same name, food, supplies, logo and even building design in exchange for a fee.

The growth in franchises gathered momentum the 1930s when such chains as Howard Johnson's started franchising motels. The 1950s saw a boom of franchise chains in conjunction with the development of America's Interstate Highway System. Fast food restaurants, diners and motel chains exploded. In regards to contemporary franchise chains, McDonalds and Subway are the most successful worldwide with more restaurant units than any other franchise network.

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