To Be, Or Not To Be…a Franchisee?

First in a series of articles by Kathleen Wood

My self-serve yogurt concept, Suzy’s Swirl, receives countless inquiries from people seeking to become franchisees.  When we ask what drives their interest, typical responses include “it’s so much fun here,” “this looks so easy,” “I’ve always wanted own a business” and my favorite, “we want to take your concept and make it better.”

While these are certainly honest and well-meaning answers, they reflect a level of naiveté and/or inexperience that immediately signals to me that this is not a serious franchisee prospect.

I’ve been very fortunate throughout my career to have led or worked in virtually every type of restaurant business structure, including independent, corporate, joint venture, licensee, franchisee, franchisor and even a partner program.  Each offers a different set of rewards and challenges, and achieving success in each model often requires a distinct skill set, temperament and support system.

To Be, Or Not To Be…a Franchisee?Today, I am excited to be wearing my franchisor’s hat again with Suzy’s Swirl, which has carved out a unique niche as an upscale, self-serve yogurt, gelato and sorbetto shop.  Suzy’s Swirl is tailor-made for franchising; but, as with every other franchise concept, the path to success is littered with potholes.

I genuinely believe that franchising is a tremendous business model that offers hard-working people the opportunity to build and live the American Dream.  I once heard a successful franchisor say that franchising is a great way to “distribute ownership.”   That’s so true.

Yet too often, the American Dream of franchise ownership devolves into an American Nightmare.  Any number of factors can lead one to failure, but the most avoidable one of all is also the most elementary: Are you wired to be a franchisee?

At its core, franchising is an investment in an existing concept’s brand and systems. Many budding entrepreneurs view franchising as a ready-made opportunity to take an existing brand, implement established systems and procedures and watch the money roll in.  However, as in every other facet of life, success requires a sacrificial investment of time, an unwavering commitment and a roll-up-your-sleeves, take-no-prisoners work ethic.

Before anyone is ever given the chance to operate a Suzy’s Swirl franchise, we make certain they have excellent answers to a series of specific questions.  I believe these questions translate well to virtually any franchise concept.  They are:

  1. How much do you know about franchising?
  2. What franchise concepts do you really admire, and why?
  3. Why do you want to be a part of our system?  Why not create your own concept?
  4. Do you personally believe in the future of this concept?  Based on what?
  5. Are you willing to channel all of your entrepreneurial energies into becoming a model franchisee?  If so, what experience from your past can you point to as evidence of your likely success?
  6. How do you define “hard work?”
  7. How much time are you prepared to invest in making your business successful?
  8. Are you willing to operate our brand and systems as they are and not change, tweak or unilaterally attempt to improve upon them?

In the restaurant business, there is no shortage of concepts looking to franchise and no shortage of people with the wherewithal to purchase those franchises.  The question, therefore, is not can you become a franchisee, but why you want to go down the franchisee path.

If you start by answering the questions above, you’ll be well on your way to making an informed decision and to living your own version of the American Dream!

Kathleen Wood is a renowned restaurant industry consultant and co-owner of Suzy’s Swirl, a Chicago-based frozen dessert restaurant dedicated to offering the highest-quality frozen yogurt, sorbetto and gelato with craveable, bold flavors. For more information, visit