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Buying A Franchise:
A Consumer Guide

... Continued From Previous Page

Earnings Information

You may want to know how much money you can make if you invest in a particular franchise system. Be careful. Earnings information can be misleading. Insist on written substantiation for any information you may receive that suggests your potential income or sales.

Franchisors are not required to disclose information about potential income or sales, but if they do, the law requires that they have a reasonable basis for their claims and that they make the substantiation for their claims available to you. When you review any earnings claims, consider:

Sample Size

Say a franchisor claims that franchisees in its system earned $50,000 last year. The claim may be deceptive if it doesn’t represent the typical earnings of franchisees. The disclosure document should tell the sample size and the number and percentage of franchisees who reported earnings at the level claimed.

Average Incomes

A franchisor may claim that the franchisees in its system earn an average income of, say, $75,000 a year. Average figures tell very little about how individual franchisees perform. An average figure may make the overall franchise system look more successful than it is because just a few very successful franchisees can inflate the average.

Gross Sales

5 Some franchisors provide figures for the gross sales revenues of their franchisees. These figures don’t really tell about the franchisees’actual costs or profits. An outlet with a high gross sales revenue on paper may be losing money because of high overhead, rent, and other expenses.

Net Profits

Franchisors often do not have data on net profits oftheir franchisees. If you get net profit information, ask whether it includes information about company- owned outlets; they often have lower costs because they can buy equipment, inventory, and other items in larger quantities, or they may own, rather than lease, their property.

Geographic Relevance

Earnings may vary with geography. If it’s reported that a franchisee earned a particular income, ask about the franchisee’s location. The disclosure document should note geographic or other differences among the group of franchisees whose earnings are reported and your likely location.

Franchisees’ Backgrounds

Keep in mind that franchisees have different skill sets and educational backgrounds. The success of some franchisees doesn’t guarantee success for all.

Reliance on Earnings Claims

Franchisors may ask you to sign a statement— sometimes presented as a written interview or questionnaire—that asks whether you received any earnings or financial performance representations during the course of buying a franchise. If you heard or got any earnings representations, report it fully during an interview or on a questionnaire or other statement. If you don’t, you may be waiving any right to contest the earnings representations that were made to you and that you used to make your decision to buy.

Financial History

The disclosure document gives important information about the company’s financial status, including audited financial statements. You can find explanatory information about the franchisor’s financial status in notes to the financial statements. Investing in a financially unstable franchisor is a significant risk; the company may go out of business or into bankruptcy after you have invested your money.

It’s a good idea to hire a lawyer or an accountant to review the franchisor’s financial statements, audit report, and notes. They can help you understand whether the franchisor:

  • has steady growth

  • has a growth plan

  • makes most of its income from the sale of franchises
    or from continuing royalties

  • devotes sufficient funds to support its franchise system

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VI. Before You Sign
The Franchise Agreement

The company’s disclosures may change between the time you receive the disclosure document and the time you sign the franchise agreement. For example, the company may have updated its disclosures; it is required to do that at least annually after its fiscal

year ends. You have the right to ask for a copy of any updated information before you sign the franchise agreement. An updated disclosure document may indicate the filing of new suits by or against the franchisor, changes in the franchisor’s management team, new financial data, and more current financial performance data, among other information.

Additional Sources of Information

Accountants and Lawyers

In addition to reading the company’s disclosure document—including any updates—and speaking with current and former franchisees, consider talking to an accountant and a lawyer. An accountant can help you understand the company’s financial statements, develop a business plan, assess any earnings projections and the assumptions they’re based on, and help you pick a franchise system that is best suited to your investment resources and your goals.

A lawyer can help you understand your obligations under the franchise contract. These contracts usually are long and complex. A contract problem that arises after you have signed the contract may be very expensive to fix—if it can be fixed at all. Choose a lawyer who is experienced in franchise matters, but rely on your own lawyer or accountant for a recommendation, rather than the franchisor’s recommendation.

Banks and Other Financial Institutions

These organizations can offer an unbiased view of the franchise opportunity you are considering. They should be able to get a Dun and Bradstreet report or similar financial profile of the franchisor.

Better Business Bureau

Check with the local Better Business Bureau (BBB) in the city where the franchisor has its headquarters. Ask whether there are complaints on file about the company’s products, services, or personnel.

Government

Several states regulate the sale of franchises. Check with the state office that regulates franchising—it may be the Office of the Attorney General—for more information about your rights as a franchise owner in your state.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) enforces the Franchise Rule. The FTC publishes a number of business guides—for example, Getting Business Credit , Dot Com Disclosures, Business Guide to the Mail and Telephone Order Merchandise Rule, and Complying with the Telemarketing Sales Rule that may be helpful to your business.

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