TO ASK YOUR FRANCHISOR
in this article:
What do you need to know before you buy a franchise? Here's a comprehensive list of over 250 vital questions to ask the franchisor that will help you make the right decision.
If you are looking at buying a business, it is vital to ensure that it is right for you and your own particular needs. Never, ever buy a business assuming ‘She’ll be right’ just because you have seen the name around or because other people have already bought in. What you want to find is a franchise that suits your own abilities, ambitions and lifestyle.
When you buy a franchise, you will be relying upon the value of the brand and the quality of the franchise system, product or service to achieve these goals. A lot therefore depends upon the fit between you and the business, the relationship you build with the franchisor and the quality of training and support you will receive.
Many years ago, Franchise New Zealand set out to develop an exhaustive list of questions to help potential buyers evaluate both the franchise opportunity and the franchisor him or her self. The list has been updated annually ever since; established franchisors know it well and welcome enquiries from those who have used it to determine the information they need to know before they make their decision.
Because franchising is so diverse, it is not possible to provide a list that would be applicable to everyone. There are over 250 suggested questions here, so put a mark against the questions that are most appropriate to your own situation and use them as a basis for creating your own check list.
Although there is no franchise law in New Zealand to determine what information a franchisor must give you, most franchisors (and all members of the Franchise Association of New Zealand) should provide a disclosure document that will include many of the answers. You should read this thoroughly and discuss it with your professional advisors. Depending on your own level of knowledge of, say, financial matters, you may prefer to get your advisors to ask some of these questions on your behalf.
The areas that you will want to examine may be divided into:
- Business experience
- Selection & training
One of the most important things that a new franchisee buys is the experience of the franchisor. Every successful franchisor will admit that they made many mistakes in the early days, and it is the wisdom and experience they gained through these that they are able to pass on. The new franchisee pays to learn from someone else's mistakes.
It is therefore vital that the franchisor has experience of running the sort of business that he or she is now offering as a franchise. They may already have successful franchised operations up and running; if not, they should ideally have had a pilot operation running for at least twelve months. This applies equally to locally-developed systems and franchises brought in from overseas. What works in Australia or the US does not necessarily work here without some adjustment.
Look at the background of the franchisor company – and the people involved – too. Here are some of the questions to ask:
□ How many years of experience do you have in this industry? In this business? What is the previous relevant experience of the key people?
□ How many franchised businesses do you have at the moment?
□ How many company-owned outlets do you run?
□ Did you run your own pilot operation in New Zealand before franchising? If not, why not? In the case of a new franchise, how long have you been running the pilot operation, and how successful is it? Can I see the figures? Do you intend to keep running a company-owned business as well as franchising? How many outlets? What guarantee is there that they will not compete with franchised outlets?
□ What is the extent of your own cash involvement in the business?
□ Has any franchised business of yours ever failed? Beware "hidden failures". They may not count an ailing franchise that was sold just prior to going into liquidation, or was bought back by the franchisor and resold.
□ What mistakes have you made and learned from?
□ Are you a member of the Franchise Association of New Zealand? If not, there is no requirement that the franchisor must provide a disclosure document, offer a seven-day ‘cooling-off’ period or include mediation provisions in the franchise agreement. Most franchise systems are not FANZ members but good franchisors will often have similar arrangements.
Although the franchisor should provide you with information about the company and the industry in which it operates, it is important that you check the quality of this information out for yourself. Find out from sources other than the franchisor about the history of the industry and probable future developments. Buy and read the industry journals. Use the internet (our article Researching Your Franchisor suggests some useful tips on how to do this). Ask the franchisor:
□ What do you see as the future of the industry you are in? Where does this company stand in its industry? What do you do to keep up with developments?
□ Is there a viable market for the franchise’s product/service? Is there still room for growth? What is its marketing positioning, eg. price, image, quality? How do you maintain margins? How dependent is the business on price competitiveness? How good is the competition? These questions apply in all industries, from retail to lawnmowing.
□ What direction is the franchise company moving in? For example, is it adopting new technology as it becomes available/affordable? Is this important? How will new technology affect costs for franchisees?
□ What exclusive rights to a territory do I get? Can my territory be eroded by the franchisor? At a later stage can I sell off part of it if I choose to? How do you define a territory: eg, number of businesses, homes, geographical area, people, type of population? Do I get first option on an additional territory? What is the procedure if you plan to operate a neighbouring territory?
□ Could you outline the process and the likely timing from here to starting operations, eg, assessments/interviews, legal, financing, shop-fitting, training periods with the franchisor and in the territory?
□ Who finds a site/conducts market research etc? How is it done?
□ What initial services do you offer?
□ Can I have a complete list of your franchisees? Can I contact them by phone and visit them if appropriate? May I choose whom I interview? See 50 Questions to Ask Franchisees
□ May I look at your bank reference? Can I see the Profit & Loss account for your existing operations? Your balance sheet?
□ Please name other referees I may approach.
It is important to get a feel for how ethical a franchisor is. Find out about the reputation of the company and its principals from external sources as well as asking the franchisees themselves. Always ask several sources, and don’t be afraid to take up references – that is what they are for.
Before we continue with this article, may we just point out that like all articles on this website it is is copyright © Franchise NZ Marketing Limited, Franchise New Zealand™ magazine and Franchise New Zealand On Line. We often find parts of this article - in some cases, all of it! - reproduced on other websites. Please note that while it may be downloaded for personal use, no part may be reproduced in any form whatsoever without the specific written permission of the publisher. If you like it, don't copy it - link to it.
Buying a franchise involves various different costs: initial and ongoing fees, training fees, stock, shop-fitting or vehicles, and so on. If the franchisor provides a good disclosure document, all of these will be documented clearly to avoid any potential confusion or embarrassment at a later stage. However, it is a good idea to ensure you have all the following clearly laid down in writing. Ask the franchisor:
□ What are the total costs? Are they paid all in one go, or in stages? What is the timing? What do the costs include? What capital costs will be incurred in addition to this price, and what for? Check details of the franchise fee and other up-front costs such as training, legal and shop-fitting or vehicles, then the level of ongoing fees or royalties.
□ How much working capital (ie, cash to run the business, cover wages and other overheads) do I need? Starting a business with insufficient capital can be fatal.
□ Do you provide projections for my proposed business? What are these based on? For legal reasons, many franchisors will not produce specific projections but will provide actual figures for existing operations.
□ May I see actual accounts which confirm (or otherwise) your projections? How relevant are these to my proposed territory or site? What makes you say that?
□ Do you recommend that franchisees register for GST?
□ Do these figures take my salary/drawings and depreciation into account?
□ Is there any form of work or income guarantee? How much? Does it vary with the amount I invest? How long does it apply for? When will it be paid? What are the conditions? Have you ever paid out on this guarantee?
□ What assistance do you provide in obtaining finance?
□ Have you already made special arrangements with any banks? Please outline what these are. What level of cash and/or equity will I need to qualify for finance?
□ Do I buy or lease the necessary equipment? What are the options?
□ If I buy, will I own all the equipment needed to run the business when I have cleared off the borrowing from the finance company?
□ How do you, the franchisor, make your money? This may affect the way he takes care of his franchisees - for example, a franchisor who makes his income from selling franchises is unlikely to be able to offer much in the way of ongoing support. What royalty is charged, and how is it calculated?
□ Do I have to buy all or just scheduled items from the franchisor? Are there any other fees? What levels of support or assistance do I get for the royalty? It is important here to assess value for money, not just percentage figures.
□ How open are financial details within the franchise? For example, does the franchisor declare the level of any mark-ups or commissions paid by suppliers? Are the sales figures or financial results of other franchisees shared for purposes of comparison?
□ What are the profitability and cash flow projections for my market and others? Look at sales, cost of sales, overheads.
Once you have the answers to the above, you should sit down with your financial advisor and, based on conservative assumptions in financial projections, ask yourself: What level of income can I make? How much can I take from the business, and when? Does this meet my needs or aspirations?
Marketing is fundamental to the value of a franchise - it is the pulling power of the name above the door or written on the side of the vehicle that should more than justify the ongoing royalties the franchisee pays. Ask the franchisor:
□ What kinds of marketing programmes do you run for the product or service offered by the franchisees? May I see examples? How are marketing programmes decided on? What kind of consultation is there with franchisees about what they want/need? What is the process for evaluating success?
□ What dollar value is spent on marketing? How is marketing funded? How accountable is the franchisor for the funds? Am I required to spend additionally on promotions in my local area? How much? Is supplier support available?
□ Do you have a launch package for a new franchised territory? What experience is this based on? What does it include? Who pays?
□ What help will I receive in arranging local advertising and promotions? Are there standard promotions (eg, radio adverts) available for my use?
□ Please show me examples of marketing material you provide, eg, point of sale material and promotional literature such as brochures, leaflets, sales presenters and standard advertisements. Who pays, and what is the cost?
□ How do I make sales? How do I get leads? Do you provide an initial customer base? Do I need to cold-call? Do you provide training in this area? Do I need to have sales experience?
□ Is there a centralised 0800 number for the franchise? How are leads allocated to individual franchisees?
□ Is there a website promoting the franchise? How are leads allocated? Can customers buy direct from the website? If so, are franchisees recompensed for sales in their area? Online sales can be a source of friction if not properly managed - read more.
□ Does the franchise carry out database-related promotions to customers? How is the database created and managed? Can franchisees choose which offers are made to which customers?
The franchise agreement is the basis not only of the purchase of the franchise, but also of the ongoing relationship that must exist between franchisor and franchisee. Because of this, it is not the same as a straight sale and purchase agreement and must be examined by a lawyer with franchising experience. A good franchising lawyer will know what is reasonable and what isn't.
The following questions are provided for guidance in the early stages, but do not replace a proper legal examination of the agreement. Ask the franchisor:
□ How soon in my investigation of the franchise can I take away a franchise agreement for a legal opinion? Is the agreement negotiable? The usual answer to this is 'no', although some specific variation may be reasonable especially if it is a fairly new franchise.
□ Is there a disclosure document that meets the requirements of the FANZ Code of Practice? Do I get this at least 14 days prior to signing the franchise agreement?
□ Do you have minimum performance levels, or a minimum fee, or a minimum purchase level for goods? How achievable are they? What happens if I don't meet them? Have franchisees ever failed to meet them? What happened? How secure is the franchise tenure?
□ How is my compliance with the franchise system measured? What happens if I don’t comply? How long do I have to remedy any problems?
□ What is the term (length) of the franchise agreement? What happens at the end? Do I have the automatic right of renewal? If not, what is the position?
□ What if I want to sell my business? What is the procedure? Do I have to sell it back to you, or can I sell it externally? What approval do you need to give to a new owner? What restrictions are there affecting my right to sell the business? Do you help me to find a new owner? Do you charge any fee? Does a new owner get a new full term on the franchise agreement, or take over my existing one? Who would train any new owner? If the franchisor, is there a fee?
□ What insurances am I required to have? Do you have an arrangement with a broker or company offering special rates?
□ If premises are required, are they bought or leased? Do you take the head lease and sublet to me, or do I lease direct? Please clarify the arrangements for this.
□ How does the length of the lease compare with the term of the franchise agreement? What happens if my lease is not renewed?
□ What would happen if you misjudged the site?
□ How can I be sure you will do what you promise?
□ What will happen if I don’t like the business? On what basis can I terminate the agreement?
□ On what basis can the franchisor terminate the agreement? Most franchise agreements will have a number of standard and sometimes frightening-looking clauses. Take advice to determine whether these are reasonable or not.
Selecting the right people is the single most important thing a franchisor can do. If a franchise consists of people who have little aptitude for the business, they will constantly under-perform, take up the franchisor’s resources and drag the whole system down. Choosing the right people and training them well, on the other hand, will help the franchise fly.
Make sure that the franchisor has thought about the type of people who suit the business, and is careful to ensure prospective franchisees fit that profile. Ask the franchisor:
□ How do you assess the suitability of individuals? Do you use any franchise-specific profiling tools tailored to your own business?
□ On what basis do you choose your franchisees? How selective are you?
□ What are the most important attributes of a successful franchisee, and do they match mine?
□ How well am I likely to fit with the organisation in terms of personal standards, aspirations and values? Assess this for yourself by looking at the company culture. This is very important – if you don't fit, look for another franchise with a different culture.
□ How long does the initial training last? Where does it take place? Who pays for transport, accommodation and meals during training?
□ Who conducts it and how well-equipped are they to do so? What does it cover and in what depth? What is the balance of theoretical and practical training? Is there any practical experience in company outlets or with existing franchisees?
□ Has anyone ever failed training? Would you stop the training at this stage if you felt I was not suitable after all? Would any money I had paid be refunded? What proportion?
□ Do you provide on-going training in the form of courses, workshops, conferences, seminars, regional meetings, refresher or follow-on/advanced courses? Who pays?
□ Do you provide training for any staff I employ? Who pays?
Getting the business up and running is one thing – keeping it growing and performing well is another. This is where the role of franchise support is crucial. Support is part of the reason for the ongoing royalty fee. Ask the franchisor:
□ Where is your franchise support office based? What does it consist of?
□ Exactly what level of support can I expect? In what areas? How many people are employed by the franchisor? What do they do? How many are in direct support roles, ie, not just in administrative roles? Is there any technical support, or on-going research and development? Do you have specialists in individual functions as well as generalists who understand the overall business? Can I meet some of your staff? Many franchises in their early stages have very few employees – however, as a franchise grows it requires additional support staff to ensure existing franchisees continue to receive service.
□ What support would I receive during the opening period of my business?
□ What on-going support services do you provide? Do you have a programme of visits and meetings to monitor progress and advise on improvements? How do you run the support function?
□ What would happen if I had operational problems that I was unable to solve? What help would I get?
□ How often would I see or hear from you? Is there any support system between franchisees? Would I receive feedback on my performance? How will I know how well I'm doing?
□ Can you demonstrate your capacity to provide the follow-up services needed?
□ What benchmarking systems do you use? Are comparisons of performance across key areas available to all franchisees? Is there help in analysing areas for improvement? This is a key advantage of franchises over independent businesses. Technology makes benchmarking easy nowadays and is part of most good franchise systems.
There is no point in thinking about taking on a franchise unless you are convinced that you would enjoy working for yourself, enjoy the day-to-day running of the business, and have the skills or aptitude to do it extremely well. You owe it to yourself to find out:
□ What would I actually be doing on a daily basis?
□ What will the opening hours of the business be?
□ How many hours will I need to work? What are the hours required outside official business hours, eg, for paperwork? Check out your own commitment level. What is the match between what is required and what you are prepared to do? Talk to existing franchisees as well as the franchisor.
□ Is the business seasonal? When is the best time to start trading?
□ What are the most important keys to success in the business? What are the most common pitfalls?
□ Do I need to employ staff or do all the work myself? What type of people, at what cost? Are the right kind of people readily available in my area?
□ Will the business support a family, or will my partner also need to work outside the business? Is there the potential for my partner to work in the business, too? Is it preferable to be on my own or to have someone else with me?
□ How do I run the business, and where from? What premises and equipment do I need? (eg, a full retail shop-fit or a home office, vehicle and computer).
□ Can I spend some time with an existing franchisee or in a company outlet to see if I like it? How long? At what stage in the buying process?
□ What can I sell and not sell?
□ Do you provide operational manuals and instructions? Are these regularly updated? Are they online?
□ How will I do my bookkeeping and meet the legal requirements of running a business? Is any administration or bookkeeping included?
□ How soon will I be required to spend money on redecorating the premises or replacing equipment?
□ Do franchisees use a standard computerised accounting package? Is there any custom-designed software? What does it cover: quoting, ordering, invoicing, reporting? Is it integrated with other systems, eg. tills or stock control? Can I access it via the Internet when away from the business? How often is it upgraded?
For a franchise to be responsive to customer needs, successful and, above all, a ‘happy family’, there must be constant two-way communication between franchisor and franchisee. Ask the franchisor:
□ What systems do you have for keeping franchisees in touch with you and each other? Eg, mailings, e-mail, intranet, telephone support, personal visits, newsletters, seminars, regional meetings, conferences. How regular are these?
□ Is there a formal system for franchisees to make suggestions? Test new ideas?
□ What are relationships like between the franchisees? Between franchisor and franchisees?
□ Do you have a Franchise Advisory Council and how does it work?
□ How are disputes resolved? Is there an alternative disputes resolution procedure? Has it ever been used? What was the outcome?
If all the above seems a bit daunting, don't be put off. Franchisors are used to answering questions about their businesses, and expect to have to satisfy enquirers and their professional advisors as to the integrity of their business. You owe it to yourself to be thorough.
If you are thinking of buying a franchise, it will pay you to sit down and work out what you need to know before you meet with the franchisor. It will probably take several meetings, with increasing levels of detail, before you are in a position to make your decision, so be prepared for that.
The step you are considering is a major one, so don’t try to do it without taking proper advice. And please don’t be tempted to think that a few hours’ surfing the net is any substitute for doing proper research. There’s some great information available – see www.franchise.co.nz for more advice and information – but there’s no substitute for asking hard questions and getting individual answers.
Buying a business affects your family, your finances and your future. Do everything you can to ensure it will be the best decision you ever make.
This article is updated annually in response to reader feedback.
For a list of 50 questions to ask franchisees, click here .
This material is copyright © Franchise NZ Marketing Limited, Franchise New Zealand ™ magazine and Franchise New Zealand On Line . While it may be downloaded for personal use, no part may be reproduced in any form whatsoever without the specific written permission of the publisher.