The Facts on Franchising: While Franchises Don't Offer Complete Autonomy over Your Business, They Do Provide Resources and Support Important to Small Operations

Article excerpt

A franchisee is a particular breed f retailer that is often incomprehensible to the independent entrepreneur. Like the independent retailer, the franchisee seeks success in a business venture, is willing to work hard to achieve that goal and is prepared to invest monetarily in that dream. However, in return for a known business name, ongoing operational support and a lower cost for some goods and services, a franchisee must pay ongoing royalty fees and must follow, without deviation, a set recipe for running the business. While this may not make sense to merchants who seek freedom and creativity in their businesses, many franchisees say they'd have it no other way.

While a great majority of frame shops remain independently owned and operated, some successful independent framing retailers are looking at franchising as a way to expand their businesses. And even more people are entering the framing field for the first time on the backs of a few growing framing franchise corporations.

Indeed, framing was not foremost on the minds of Caroline Webber and her business partner, Jeff Melyon, when they left jobs in retail merchandising and marketing, respectively. They knew only that they wanted to start their own business together and soon determined that a franchise suited them best.

That said, they next had to choose from what some experts estimate are more than 5,000 franchise businesses in the United States, representing a wide gamut of products and services, from automotive repair shops to dry cleaners to restaurants. As Webber and Melyon began matching their skills and needs with available franchises, they eventually chose framing, which they said they thought would allow them to explore their creativity, was not too inventory intensive and was a business the two partners could run together. Additional research led them to a company called Fastframe, based in Newbury Park, Calif. Today, the partners own two Fastframe stores in Dallas and Plano, Texas.

Frame shops represent the ideal franchise business, according to Don DeBolt, president of the International Franchise Association based in Washington, D.C. He should know: His organization counts more than 30,000 franchisees, 800 franchisors and 300 franchise suppliers among its members. "Framing is a skill that can be taught" explained DeBolt. "Potential retail locations are fairly flexible, ranging from high-end malls to strip malls. It's a business that depends on personal relationships, which franchising teaches you how to develop. It's a field that requires you to update your knowledge. It lends itself to marketing and advertising. It can be replicated fairly easily. Framing," he said, "is a perfect fit for franchising."

Framing franchise companies agree. Among the most well-known of these is Fastframe, which boasts 214 locations in the U.S., and Franchise Concepts, which lays claim to 338 stores under the names Deck the Walls, The Great Frame Up and a Canadian franchise called The Framing and Art Centre.

While framing may be a perfect fit for a franchise, what type of person pairs perfectly with a framing franchise? "We're looking for someone from any walk of life who we're able to train in the mechanical functions of running a frame shop," said Brian Harper, president of Fastframe. "We're looking for a nice person. It sounds naive, but that's what makes or breaks this business. We want people who want to be part of their community." Like all franchises, Fastframe is also looking for people willing to utilize the company's particular recipe for success.

Steve Lowrey, president of business development for Houston-based Franchise Concepts, said they are looking for "someone who wants to own and operate his or her own business, who has the heart of an entrepreneur but is willing to be part of a system. The challenge to owning a franchise comes in doing what it takes to achieve self actualization. To have the desire to implement and follow systems to achieve all that they are capable of, business-wise. …