Investing in a franchise is a major investment decision, and not every franchise will be the right fit for you. That’s why it’s important to ask the following questions if you’re considering the purchase of a franchise. You may need to ask many more questions to properly conduct your due diligence, and it’s also very critical that you retain franchise professionals to assist you through the process of determining whether to purchase the franchise.
THE FRANCHISOR – IDENTITY & EXPERIENCE
Questions to ask the franchisor:
- Who are the shareholders of the franchisor?
- Who are the officers and directors of the franchisor?
- What is the business experience of the franchisor’s directors and officers?
- Is the franchisor a subsidiary of another company?
• If so, who is the parent company?
• Has that franchisor or any of its affiliates ever franchised other services?
• If so, which concept(s), and how successful are the other concepts?
- What other companies are in the franchisor organizational group? What role do these companies have in relation to the franchise business?
- Are the units franchised under a master franchise agreement? What are the terms/timelines of the master franchise agreement? What is the outcome if the master franchise agreement is terminated?
- Have any of the franchisor’s directors, officers, or shareholders gone bankrupt, or have they been convicted of any criminal offences in the last 10 years?
- For how many years has the franchise been operating?
- For how many years has it been offering franchises?
• In Canada?
• Outside of Canada?
- How many franchises does the franchisor have?
• How many units are corporately owned?
- Is the franchisor a member of the Canadian Franchise Association? If not, why not?
- What is the franchisor’s reputation with the Better Business Bureau?
• With the Chamber of Commerce?
• With D&B Canada (Dun & Bradstreet)?
- What is the franchisor’s financial condition? Have you reviewed its most recent financial statements (prepared in accordance with audit or review engagement standards, and/or as required by franchise legislation in your province)? If the franchisor is permitted to simply disclose an opening balance sheet, do you have sufficient financial information to make an informed decision?
THE FRANCHISOR’S RELATIONS WITH ITS FRANCHISEES
- What is the franchisor’s reputation for relations with its:
• franchisees, customers, and suppliers?
- How does the franchisor choose its franchisees?
• Have your qualifications been reviewed?
• Ask yourself: why do you feel you’re a good match?
- What are the franchisor’s plans for future development, including product, service, and/or technology innovation?
• For expansion and/or diversification?
• How will these plans affect your dealings with the franchisor?
- How does the franchisor monitor franchisee operations?
• Does the franchisor periodically inspect all of the franchises?
- Does the franchisor keep advertising funds in a separate account/entity?
• Will the franchisor regularly provide franchisees with a statement of how the advertising funds are
- Does the franchisor solicit franchisee input into marketing strategies, new product development, etc.?
- Does the franchisor account for the unique needs of different marketing (geographic) areas as it implements its marketing strategies?
- Do all franchisees and corporate stores pay into the advertising fund at the same rate?
- Has the franchisor provided you with a list of all of its franchisees?
- Has the franchisor terminated any of its franchise agreements in the last three years? If so, how many and for what reason?
- What is the failure/turnover rate for franchisees?
• What are the reasons for the failure/turnover?
- Has the franchisor litigated with any of its franchisees in the past?
•What was the outcome of such litigation?
- Is there any pending litigation by or against the franchisor?
• What is the status, nature, and likely outcome of such litigation?
- How does the franchisor describe its corporate culture?
• Will you be comfortable with this culture?
- Does the franchisor have a recognition program for exceptional performance?
• What does this program involve?
- Is there a franchisee association or council?
• Who belongs?
• Does the franchisor relate well with the association or council?
- How innovative is the franchisor?
• How important is innovation to the franchisor’s industry?
• What successful innovation has the franchisor introduced since it began its business?
- How much is the initial franchise fee?
• Is there a deposit?
• How much of the deposit is refundable, and under what circumstances?
- What is the minimum operating cash requirement at start-up, in addition to the original investment?
- Is there a site development fee?
- What is the anticipated cost of leasehold improvements, equipment, signage, and start-up inventory?
- What is the anticipated occupancy cost of the premises?
• Rental payments or purchase cost of real property?
• Anticipated construction costs for the premises?
- What is the general timeline between site selection and opening?
- What other costs may be incurred?
- Does the franchisor assist in the financing of the franchise?
- Does the franchisor have resources to assist with site selection/lease negotiation?
- What is the anticipated period of time between start-up and profitability?
- What are the anticipated franchise earnings, and has the franchisor provided you with any earnings claims? If so, have you been provided with the underlying assumptions that substantiate the projections or claims?
- What is your anticipated “personal” working capital required through the launch period (the amount you need monthly to cover living expenses, multiplied by the number of months before you can draw income from your franchise)?
FRANCHISED PRODUCT OR SERVICE
- What makes the franchisor’s product or service unique?
• Does it satisfy a need?
• Is it marketable in your territory?
- Is the franchise system easily replicated, and if so, how will the franchisor differentiate itself from its competitors?
- What are the current sales of the franchisor’s product or service?
• Have sales been increasing or decreasing?
- How long has the product/service been on the market?
- What is the competition for the franchisor’s product or service in your market?
- On a scale from 1 to 10, how competitive is the pricing of the franchisor’s product or service?
- Is the sale of the product or service subject to certain legal restrictions? If so, what are the applicable federal and provincial standards and regulations, and does the franchisor comply?
- Is the product protected by patent, trademark, or copyright?
• Are the trademarks, copyrights, or patents registered in Canada?
• Who owns the trademarks, copyrights, or patents?
• Are they owned by the franchisor or its affiliates?
- Are there product warranties?
• Who is responsible for such product warranties – the franchisor, the franchisee, or a third-party
- What products must be purchased from the franchisor or designated suppliers?
• On a scale from 1 to 10, how competitive is the cost with third-party suppliers?
• If supplies are interrupted, can purchases be made through alternate suppliers?
- How often does the franchisor update product/service offerings?
- How often does the franchisor require renovation/upgrades to be completed?
• What is the general cost of these renovations/upgrades?
SALES TERRITORY AND LOCATION
- Is your franchise territory exclusive?
• If not, is there any territorial protection?
• Will there be other outlets opening near your territory which may undermine your sales?
• Would these be company-owned or owned by other franchisees?
• Can you get a first right of refusal for any adjoining territories?
• Does the franchisor sell its products through other channels of distribution?
• If so, what are these channels, and how will they impact the profitability of the franchise?
- Can you decrease or expand your sales territory?
• Under what conditions?
• At what additional investment level?
- Has the franchisor conducted a site selection analysis of the location of the franchised business and the territory, and provided you with information that substantiates the viability of the location and territory? If not, how could you obtain this information?
QUESTIONS TO ASK CURRENT FRANCHISEES
- What was your total investment in the franchise?
- Were there any unexpected costs? If so:
• What were they for?
• How much were they?
• Were they unique to that individual, or is it something several franchisees experienced?
- On a scale from 1 to 10, how good is the quality of the products or services supplied by the franchisor or its designated suppliers?
- On a scale from 1 to 10, how satisfied are you with the price-quality relationship?
- On a scale from 1 to 10, how reliable are deliveries from the franchisor or its designated suppliers?
- On a scale from 1 to 10, how effective was the franchisor’s initial training? How long was the training?
- What is the franchisor’s initial and ongoing training program?
• On a scale from 1 to 10, how effective is the:
i) initial training
ii) ongoing training?
iii) group training calls?
iv) mentoring by the franchisor?
v) mentoring by other successful franchisees?
- On a scale from 1 to 10, how effective is the franchisor in responding promptly and helpfully to questions you have or advice you seek?
- What type of ongoing support and advice (including advertising, marketing, and promotional assistance) do you receive from your franchisor?
• On a scale from 1 to 10, how satisfied are you with this support?
- On a scale from 1 to 10, how profitable is your franchise as compared to initial expectations?
- How long did it take for revenue to cover operating costs?
- How long did it take for you to break even?
- What have you done to make your franchise successful, and would you recommend this franchise?
- Does the franchisor have a dispute settlement board with both franchisee and franchisor representatives? On a scale from 1 to 10, how effective is it?
- Have you ever had a serious disagreement with your franchisor? What was the disagreement about? How was it settled?
- If you have experienced financial difficulty in operating the franchise, how has the franchisor supported the franchisee through the difficult time?
- What is the time investment for the franchisee (high amount of owner involvement, or more self-sufficient operations)?
- Knowing what you know now, would you do it over again? Why or why not?
THE FRANCHISE AGREEMENT
- Have you retained a franchise lawyer with expertise in reviewing franchise agreements?
- Are the franchise, the location, and the territory clearly described in the contract?
- Does the contract clearly describe the duration, type, and cost of the training to be provided by the franchisor?
- Does the contract clearly describe the support to be provided for the grand opening?
- Does the contract clearly specify the type, amount, and timing of all payments to the franchisor? This includes the franchise fee; any deposits and the conditions for any refunds; royalty payments based on a percentage of gross sales; local, regional, and/or national advertising contributions; fees of continuing services provided by the franchisor; and any other payments.
- Are you required to purchase supplies from the franchisor or other designated suppliers?
• If so, what and how much?
• Are there any minimum purchase quotas?
- Can you use alternate suppliers (provided the franchisor’s quality standards are maintained) if the franchisor’s supply deliveries are interrupted or for other reasons?
- Do you have the right to use any innovation developed by the franchisor?
- Is there a sales quota that you are required to meet?
• Is it attainable?
• What are the consequences if you fail to meet it?
- What is the length of the contract term?
• Is the term renewable, and on what basis?
• Are the renewal conditions reasonable?
- What types of records and reports are you required to provide to the franchisor? How cumbersome are the requirements?
- Are you leasing your location directly with your landlord, or will you enter into a sublease with the franchisor?
• Is the lease for the same period as the franchise contract?
• Can the lease be renewed, and on what terms and for what time period?
• Can you change locations? If so, on what conditions?
- Are you required to build, or can you renovate existing franchise premises?
• Will the franchisor provide design and construction specifications, and/or monitor the construction?
• Can these specifications be changed?
- Do you choose the location or sales area of the franchise, or does the franchisor?
- Can you operate more than one franchise in your sales area?
- Can you sell your interest in the franchise?
• Does this require the franchisor’s consent?
• What are the conditions of such consent?
• How is the sale price determined?
• Is there a pre-determined valuation formula?
- Can you terminate the contract?
• If so, what are the termination conditions?
• What are the costs and/or penalties?
- On what basis can the franchisor cancel the contract?
- If the contract is terminated, will you be compensated for any component of the goodwill that you have built up in the business?
- Is there a post-term non-competition covenant, and is it a reasonable one?
- If you violate any provision of the agreement, do you have adequate time to correct the situation?
- Does the contract provide for arbitration or mediation as a pre-requisite before litigation is commenced?
- What happens if you suffer a prolonged illness or death?
• Will your survivors, for example, be entitled to operate and maintain ownership of your franchise in
- Can you engage in any other business enterprise during the term of the contract?
For franchisees in provinces where legislation mandates the provision of disclosure documents – currently British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island.
- Has the franchisor provided you with a disclosure document that complies with the applicable franchising disclosure statute? In particular, does the disclosure document contain all disclosure required by the relevant franchise disclosure statutes, including the franchise agreement, all other agreements, and the franchisor’s financial statements for its most recently completed fiscal year?
- Have you retained a franchise lawyer with expertise in reviewing disclosure documents?
- Have you retained an accountant with expertise in franchising matters to review the franchisor’s financial statements?
- Is the disclosure made by the disclosure document consistent with the terms of the franchise documentation and the representations made by the franchisor’s salespersons?
- Has the franchisor complied with the disclosure requirements of the relevant disclosure statutes by providing you with at least 14 days in which you could review the documentation before paying the franchisor any monies or before you signed any agreements?
For franchisees in provinces without legislation mandating the provision of disclosure documents
Has the franchisor provided you with a disclosure document? (CFA member franchise systems comply with a voluntary disclosure document.)
Have you retained a franchise lawyer with expertise in reviewing disclosure documents?
Have you retained an accountant with expertise in franchising matters to review the franchisor’s financial statements?
Is the disclosure made by the disclosure document consistent with the terms of the franchise documentation and the representations made by the franchisor’s salespersons?
These questions have been prepared with the assistance of the following franchise experts:
- Franchise Lawyer: Joseph Adler, Hoffer Adler LLP
- Franchise Consultant: Gary Prenevost, FranNet
- Accountant: Lyn Little, BDO Canada LLP
*Note: The Franchisee Checklist is a public resource of general information which is intended, but not promised or guaranteed to be correct, complete, or up to date. It is not intended to be a source of legal advice. Readers should seek the advice of competent legal, accounting, and business counsel.