Amy Leite is a solicitor at Pinney Talfourd Solicitors in Essex. She has specialised in franchise law for many years and shares her expert legal knowledge with Workingmums.co.uk readers who are looking into buying a franchise.
The most important tip is not to be afraid to ask the franchisor difficult questions – these will undoubtedly form part of your decision-making process. If the franchisor can’t or won’t answer them you should think very hard about whether you really want to be tied in to a five-year agreement with that franchisor.
You need to know from the start exactly what your commitment is. Is the franchise agreement for a term of five years or more or less? And what are your commitments in terms of opening hours/ business hours? Can you carry out the business part time or is it strictly a full time (and potentially more) business? Some franchisors will tell you it is up to you how many hours you put in, but you must check the franchise agreement and/ or operations manual which often stipulate the minimum business hours. Also consider the amount of admin/ back office work you will be required to do and add this on to your time commitment each day. Try to find out how much back office assistance you get from the franchisor (if any) so do they centrally invoice for example or do they offer a calls line to cut down your admin time?
You need to know and understand exactly what it is you will be receiving from the franchisor on an ongoing basis. Ask them what they provide i.e. will they negotiate the best deals for franchisee’s from third party product suppliers, do they provide a central telephone enquiry line, do they pass on leads and if so within what timeframe, what advertising and promotion of the business will they do independently of your own obligations? Once you have a detailed and specific list of what you are actually receiving by way of support, assistance and guidance ensure this is set out in the franchisor’s obligations under the franchise agreement. If the franchisor’s obligations are vague and do not specify any of these things you will not be able to force the franchisor to provide these things.
Do not be afraid to ask if there have been any franchise failures. These things happen and a good franchisor will be open and honest with you about any franchises that haven’t worked out and the reasons why. You need to know whether there has have been a high turnover of franchisees, why this was and what the franchisor did about this. Ask the franchisor if they have been required to take legal action against any ex-franchisees and for the circumstances. This will help you work out what they do to protect the franchise network from ex-franchisees.
If your strategy is to buy a franchise that you can build up, have an income stream from and then potentially re-sell at a later stage you need to know whether this particular franchise re-sells easily or at all. Find out how many have been re-sold, at what price and how long they were part of the network and how long the businesses were up for sale. This is all key information you will need to know to plan your future within the network.
A franchisor should be willing to provide you with a full list of franchisees who you can speak to about the opportunity. You can then pick from the list a few franchisees who are a few months into their franchise to see what support on setting up they have received and how things are going, a few who are mid-term again to see how they have found things and any tips and a few people who are nearing the end of their term and who have renewed their agreements. This will give you a good spread of people and hopefully you will receive a balanced view of the network. If a franchisor is selecting one or two franchisees that they are willing for you to speak to you should exercise caution and ask to pick your own franchisees to speak to.
More often than not you will be provided with cash flows/projections on what you could/may/might earn whilst a franchisee. You need to be absolutely clear on what the figures show, where the figures came from and that they are showing the full picture. Ask the franchisor whether they are from an existing franchisee and, if so, in what territory. Bear in mind the dynamics of different territories – London figures are highly unlikely to be the same as a town in Yorkshire. Find out whether the franchisee whose figures have been used in the cash flows has any expenditure which is not included and where this particular franchisee sits in the performance of the network – if they are the top performer in the network ask for a mid and lower end performer’s figures. If they are an average across the network dig deeper into how many franchisees figures were used and when the average was taken (think about this if your business is seasonal).
If they are not franchisee figures then whose are they and where have they come from? Ask if there are any circumstances where expenditure may be more – think about staffing and if you need assets such as equipment/vehicles that the other franchisee/figures have excluded. You must remember at all times that the figures given will contain non-reliance statements which try to seek to prevent you relying on them as will the franchise agreement. The franchise agreement may even go as far to say you have not been given any cash flows. If anything is particularly important to you on those cash flows i.e. that they contain all of the expenditure required ask the franchisor to confirm that fact in a side letter attaching the cash flows.
Find out what the franchisor has in mind over the next one, two, five and 10 years. Are they looking to stay in this business indefinitely, are they developing any new systems, methods, products or services? What marketing campaigns and future plans for growth do they have? These matters are not binding on the franchisor, but at least you will know before you sign up an insight into their plans. Look at how passionate and excited they are about driving the franchise forward and consider how this will help you.
It is absolutely imperative you understand exactly how every aspect of the business works. You should be able to explain to your lawyer how the business works and how that fits with what is in the franchise agreement when asked. If there is anything you don’t know, no matter how small you need to find out.
Don’t be afraid to ask all the questions that occur to you and are important to you. The franchisor’s reactions will give a good insight into what you can expect from your franchise relationship.
*Amy Leite is an Associate Solicitor at Pinney Talfourd Solicitors. Pinney Talfourd is an Essex-based Legal 500 law firm offering services throughout the country. Amy specialises in franchise law and employment law. Workingmums.co.uk is holding its first Top Franchise Awards in May. For more information, click here.