“Are we there yet?” Anyone who has ever taken a long car trip with small kids is more than a little familiar with that question. It is usually posed in a small, high-pitched voice that is dripping with frustration and sarcasm – mostly because the kids don’t care a hoot about the journey, they just want to get to the destination. I can’t blame them a bit since I didn’t develop any patience myself until I was about 40!
In many ways, this is the same dynamic we face in the franchise industry. Once people decide that they want to get their own piece of the American Dream by owning and operating a franchise business, they want it to happen now! The frustration some people experience is that there are a few time-consuming things that have to get done before the business is ready to open – and rushing these things might be a very bad or expensive idea.
Let’s take a look at some of the major milestones you must pass before your new franchise is actually ready to open for business.
1. Drawing a Line in the Sand. This is the beginning of the process. You have made up your mind that you want to get your own business, be your own boss, control your destiny and live a life of freedom! Of course you don’t yet have any solid idea of what the franchise of your dreams might be, so you need to embark on a journey of discovery. We know exactly how long it takes to reach this milestone – your whole lifetime up to now.
2. Searching for the New World. Just like Columbus, you set out on a journey into the unknown – finding the right franchise for you. Perhaps you’re starting with a focus on some product or service you like and that you think would create the foundation for a good business. You start researching franchises, probably online. You find that there is a ton of information – so much, in fact, that it is almost impossible to figure out how to organize or sort through it. You finally decide to start contacting individual companies that seem like they might work for you, based on the service or product they offer. Columbus never found Asia (his destination), but he did finally find land because he kept heading in one direction. This portion of your process can be as short as a month but it can also go on to infinity if you make the mistake of sailing your boat in circles during this stage.
3. Selecting Your Dance Partner. If you’re lucky, you’ll be smart enough to give some thought to what your life will be like as a franchisee in each business you are checking out. That will help you avoid making a huge mistake by entering a business that you’d be miserable in. Once you complete your investigations and have determined the right franchise for you, you’ll need to complete all the initial paperwork to become an official franchisee. This part of the process usually involves contract reviews, territory analysis and selection, and preliminary finance commitments. Though there is definitely some work to be done here, this can usually be completed within a couple of weeks.
4. Putting Your Stake in the Ground. The biggest variable in determining how long it will take from picking the franchise to actually having it open for business is selecting your real estate location. Some franchises are home-based; for them, this step takes no time at all. Others are businesses that can go into a variety of locations so that real estate selection and lease completion is relatively easy and fast – say a month or two. The final type of franchise has very specific location needs and/or space requirements – often needing sites that are in high demand with relatively low availability. In this type of franchise, it can easily take six to 12 months or even longer to find the right quality of site with the right financial terms to give the business the best possible chance for success. As frustrating as delays may be in a location-dependent franchise, trying to cut corners on either the site quality or the lease terms can put you in a position that limits your earnings potential the entire time you operate the business. This is an area where you have to take the time necessary to get it right and don’t sweat the delay. If that’s not going to work for you, then pick a different franchise opportunity.
5. Building Your Castle. Most franchises require some degree of construction and buildout for your location, even if it is simply setting up an office in your house for a home-based business. In other franchises, buildout can be an elaborate process of selecting a general contractor; obtaining permits and variances; ordering equipment, furniture, and other leasehold improvement supplies for your facility; and a myriad of other things. Typically, the more complicated the buildout the more assistance is available from the franchise company – but count on at least one to three months for this process for any site-dependent franchise.
6. Learning the Game. At some point you are going to have to go through the franchise company’s new franchisee training process. This can usually be completed while you are doing other things like working on your real estate needs or preparing your grand opening marketing plans. Most training programs last from one to three weeks, though that can be extended dramatically if you’re also required to get operating experience in an existing unit (which is often a fantastic learning experience).
Now you come to the glorious day when your new franchise opens for business. Depending on the type of franchise, it has taken somewhere from two to 12 months on average for you to get your business open. The delays may seem interminable while you’re going through them, but the pleasure of opening will make you quickly forget those times as you focus on your customers. As you’re going through this period, remember the lesson of Columbus – his crew almost mutinied before they discovered the new world, but he held true to course and succeeded as a result. Have patience, and so can you!
Jeff Elgin is the CEO of FranChoice, Inc., a national network of franchise referral consultants in the United States. Elgin has more than 20 years of franchise industry experience on both the franchisor and franchisee side. A noted franchise expert, consultant and speaker, he is nationally recognized for creating effective franchisee recruitment systems.