Buying an Existing Business

One alternative to starting a business “from scratch” is to buy an existing business. To some extent, buying a business is less risky because its operating history provides meaningful data on its chances of success under our concept. We must, however, balance the acquisition cost against what the cost of a startup might have been.

Small-business sales are generally (on the order of 94%) sales of assets, with no assumption of liabilities; only about 6% are sales of company stock. Often the seller finances part of the purchase; typically the buyer makes a down payment on the order of one-third of the sales price, with repayment terms of five years at market rates. Do you see any danger for the seller in financing the sale?

If the decision is made that purchase of an existing business could improve our chances for success, we must then evaluate existing businesses to determine whether any are available at a price that is economically more favorable than a new venture. The most difficult issue in small business sales is establishing a selling price. It is an inexact science, characterized by a seller’s too-high expectations, and an overly skeptical prospective buyer.

Due diligence must be performed before a binding offer is made. Is the company’s history and network of business relationships clear? Are their financial statements representative? What do they say about the business? Are there any unstated dangers or risks? Are there any hidden liabilities? Often, a review of the financials by our banker and accountant can be valuable.

Intangible factors must also be considered, such as the seller’s reasons for offering the business for sale. Often these are for personal and career reasons, such as a readiness to retire with the absence of a successor, or another opportunity perceived as a better fit. Business reasons might include personnel problems, or a weak competitive position. Where business reasons predominate, we must decide whether all that is missing is a quality of management that we can provide, or whether there are some changes that we can make in the way the business is operated that will make the difference.

How “good” an organization is it? How do its customers and suppliers perceive it? If we do not buy it, how tough a competitor will it be? What will be the effect of an ownership change on the customer base, supplier relations, etc.? How much customer loyalty is to the business, and how much to the current owner?

Does the company have a “niche?” Is it the one in which you want to operate? Is there a competitive advantage to the operation that is sustainable? Are its assets useful to you? Will key personnel remain with the business?

Once we have gathered the necessary information, we may decide to extend a purchase offer. We should decide on a bargaining range before we go into any negotiating session. If we cannot meet on price, perhaps concessions on payment terms could make up the difference. We should know the tax and legal consequences of our options. If the discussion takes us outside our range, we should schedule another session, and reanalyze the data. We must allow for the possibility that the deal cannot be made.

Ultimately we must decide whether the purchase, at a price that the seller will accept, gives us a better chance of success than starting from scratch in competition with the business. Perhaps the seller’s errors would start us in a deficit position; we might prefer creating our own corporate culture and customer relationships; maybe we can find a better location, facility, newer equipment, etc. On the other hand, the cost of taking sufficient business away from existing firms could be ruinous.

It must be emphasized that there is no one correct value for a business. Any valuation is based on assumptions, and projections of future performance. Discomfort about basing financial decisions on assumptions and projections is natural. Entrepreneurship requires exploring uncharted territory, and operating in an environment of uncertainty. Success depends on applying our best judgment to reducing that uncertainty.

John B. Vinturella, Ph.D has over 40 years’ experience as a management and strategic consultant, entrepreneur, and college professor. He is a principal in the business opportunity site and its associated blog. John recently released his latest book, “8 Steps to Starting a Business,” available on Amazon.

Taking Stock

Back when I owned an inventory-based business, one of my better customers had a clever barb in his repertoire. If we were out of anything he needed in his order, he would say “You know, this would be a great place to open a supply house.”

But supply, we did for 20 years on my watch. We were in a smaller market, handling about 10,000 separate items, so we enjoyed few economies of scale. We competed with some large distributors and did very well largely due to our focus on inventory control.

At the time we used integrated management software that included an inventory control (IC) module. What made our system work so well was our commitment to keeping accurate inventory on a real-time basis, which necessitated “cycle counting.” defines a cycle count as “an inventory management procedure where a small subset of inventory is counted on any given day.” In our case, this meant that, instead of taking a physical inventory once a year, we counted 2% (one-fiftieth) of our inventory each week up to the fiftieth week of the year. Using this method errors are caught more quickly, and extra counts can be performed on error-prone items.

With that introduction, let’s talk about the steps you can take to get your inventory under control:
Evaluate your IC “infrastructure.” Are you ready to automate IC? If you are using a management software package, is the IC module adequate for your needs?

Is your inventory layout conducive to administering a “real-time” IC? Can your staff take on the extra duties involved? While getting such a system going can require a lot of initial attention, IC systems save time, by allowing you to know what’s in stock without having to go to the warehouse, by quickly detecting any possible theft, and by lowering rates of stockout (lost sales) and overstock.

Set a target for customer service level. Measures can include percent of orders filled completely, or percent of items delivered to items ordered. The primary constraint on reducing inventory is, of course, customer service level. What’s an acceptable service level for you? 95%? 99.5%? IC software generally uses such a figure to determine how much “safety stock” you need to meet this objective.

Learn industry norms to aid perspective. While it should seldom affect your behavior, it is “nice to know” what the industry norms are for businesses of your size. You can probably get these from your trade association, or go to the “Annual Statement Studies” by the Risk Management Association, or “Industry Norms and Key Business Ratios” by Dun & Bradstreet.
What if the industry norms are 90 days of inventory on-hand, and you only keep 45 days’ worth? What if you keep 120 days’ worth? No action may be necessary, but this gives you a greater context and perspective as you fine-tune your system.

Use “best practices.” Minimum overall inventory is not the end of the story. Ascertain whether a reduction is advisable. Even at a good overall level of stock you may still have many items out of balance, over or under. So our efforts should be about “best practices” that minimize quantities required, while raising the quality of your inventory.
Clean house! In my most recent turnaround consulting appointment, a plumbing wholesaler, we started by identifying all the items that our IC system identified as overstock. We went from thinking we needed more warehouse space to having about a third of existing space available.

Of course, much of it went straight to the trash heap, but some was recent enough to send back to the manufacturer. In between, we sold some at two garage sales we held, and donated the rest to a local housing agency.

Implement “Just-in-Time. “ JIT includes a set of actions that work together to squeeze slack out of your processes. Do you enter received material as soon as it arrives? Can your key suppliers commit to shorter lead times?

Zero-base SKUs. Take a hard look at the realistic contribution of every item in inventory. You may need to keep some losers as “service items,” but you will be amazed at how many of your items are break-even or worse.

Partner strategically. Can you narrow your number of suppliers by getting more items from the “majors?” You may currently split up orders to save a penny here and there, but the vendor left standing would probably meet or beat the other’s prices for a greater share of your business. More from each vendor means more frequent replenishment, and more opportunities for JIT.
These are a few actions that should apply to continuous improvement programs at most inventory-based businesses. As they say, “your mileage may vary.”

John B. Vinturella, Ph.D has over 40 years’ experience as a management and strategic consultant, entrepreneur, and college professor. He is a principal in the business opportunity site and its associated blog. John recently released his latest book, “8 Steps to Starting a Business,” available on Amazon.

Let the market speak!

A market analysis is a study of the market area and of probable future patterns. It should include the current state of the market, and the nature and extent of competition. The purpose of the analysis is to make it possible to develop more accurate, that is, more fact-based sales forecasts.

The first and most logical step in whether or where to start a business is to conduct a market analysis. For a retail business, a few general locations should be chosen for detailed analysis to identify where the opportunity is greatest.

A market analysis is a study of the market area and of probable future patterns. It should include the current state of the market, and the nature and extent of competition. The purpose of the analysis is to make it possible to develop more accurate, that is, more fact-based sales forecasts. The method is to identify the pattern or trend of sales over the past and to use this information to project or estimate sales for the period ahead.

Another important issue is how much it costs in selling effort to produce a given volume of sales. It involves two types of costs: advertising costs, and salaries and wages paid for selling. If the business requires sales-people in the field, as a manufacturer might, information on reimbursable travel expenses should be included.

A study of the competition should be included in any market analysis. The competition may be local and well defined, or quite generalized, depending on the nature of the business and of the market. Trade associations and other data-gathering agencies, both governmental and non-governmental, are sometimes helpful in this area. A good deal of the information about competition, such as estimated sales, pricing policies, advertising and promotional costs , services offered, performance of sales personnel, must come from direct investigation, business by business.

Of interest also are whether there are businesses entering and leaving the competition recently, and changes in the competitive structure through product mix or services offered. If there is a lot of flux in the market, we need to look into the causes, and whether they are favorable to our entry.

When evaluating a location, be sure to investigate whether there any plans for proposed changes that may have an adverse effect on the future of the business. Urban revitalization programs, changes in highways and streets, flood-control programs, changes in zoning ordinances, could all severely impact what looks today like a favorable location.

The number of people within the market area and the amount of disposable income they have are important market factors. For many kinds of businesses, the total population is less important than certain segments of the population. A business selling hearing aids, for example, will be interested only in persons who have hearing difficulties, which would generally imply an older demographic.

General population figures are obtained from Federal, State, and local government sources. The Federal census gives not only total population figures but also breakdowns that are useful in many business situations. For most of the larger cities, census figures are further classified by sections within the city, called census tracts, on the basis of certain population and economic characteristics.

Business population figures may be available from numerous sources. The Yellow Pages of the telephone directory and the city directory are local sources that are immediately available. Chambers of commerce, trade associations, and State and Federal government agencies can often be helpful.

Many trade associations report the results of research on consumer expenditures. Other sources of data on income include planning commission offices, employment offices, and utility companies. Many newspapers research and report on building permits and demographic trends, especially in newly developed areas.

A much broader yet vital part of the market analysis has to do with what might be called the general state of the market, that is, overall economic conditions of the market area and of the country. These may be widespread movements such as national cycles of prosperity and less favorable times, or they may be purely local conditions.

Perhaps the prospective entrepreneur favors a particular area, near home for example, and is merely looking for a specific location. It can still be very useful to investigate a couple of other areas, in case the opportunity in the favored area is particularly less than in other neighborhoods. The possibility must always be recognized that the nature and /or direction of the industry, or the competitive situation may prove unfavorable in all the areas investigated.

Options then are to wait for conditions to become more favorable, or to “cast a wider net” geographically or in terms of business niche chosen. In any case, finding out at the analysis stage makes it much easier to optimize the opportunity chosen.

John B. Vinturella, Ph.D has over 40 years’ experience as a management and strategic consultant, entrepreneur, and college professor. He is a principal in the business opportunity site and its associated blog. John recently released his latest book, “8 Steps to Starting a Business,” available on Amazon.

Evaluating Business Planning Software

Abstract: Once a business idea is selected, it is highly recommended that we sharpen the concept by a detailed planning process. While this may seem a daunting task to first-time entrepreneurs, many “veterans” have found that there are software packages that can help to organize and format the material required for a comprehensive plan.

Once a business idea is selected, it is highly recommended that we sharpen the concept by a detailed planning process. The result of this step is a comprehensive business plan, with its major components being the marketing “mix,” the strategic plan, operational and logistical structures, and the financial proposal. The purpose of the business plan is to recognize and define a business opportunity, describe how that opportunity will be seized by the management team, and to demonstrate that the business is feasible and worth the effort.

While this may seem a daunting task to first-time entrepreneurs, many “veterans” have found that there are software packages that can help to organize and format the material required for a comprehensive plan. These packages are particularly helpful to those who are intimidated by starting from a blank piece of paper.

So is there a downside to purchasing software that has most of the text “in place?” The text is not always well-written, “fill-in the blanks” tends not to produce very fluid copy, and the parts you write may be in a different style than the words surrounding it. Some experts suggest that the real usefulness of such packages lies in the examples, when they are in a business similar to yours.

The sales leader in “plan-ware” is Palo Alto Software’s Business Plan Pro (BPP, We have tried several packages that are comparable to BPP; you should evaluate a few to find which might fit your unique style best. Figure a price point of about $120 for standard versions of all. Others to consider would be:

 Planware’s PlanWrite (

 PlanMagic’s Business (

In addition to BP software, you may want to consider online services.

 Fundable Plans (; $40 per use

Some of the factors that you would want to consider in your evaluation are:

User-friendliness – easy to get productive quickly; self-guiding, not having to go back-and-forth with instruction manual or help screens; “wizards available for some functions.

Interface – the package works with the other software that you will need in the process, such as Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.

Support – free technical support by telephone or email; useful help screens; program updates; and, resources such as articles and links that assist in the business planning process.

Features – functions beyond the basic “fill-in-the-blanks” templates, such as PowerPoint templates; market research data; industry codes; lots of rich examples; and, assistance with the more technical aspects of the plan, such as finance and strategy.

One of the dangers of using such packages is that your focus may shift from producing a complete and convincing plan to simply filling out the templates. Their real value lies in their support of getting it in writing.

Many entrepreneurs insist that their business concept is so clear in their heads that the written plan can be produced after start-up; this attitude “short-circuits” one of the major benefits of producing the plan. The discipline of writing a plan forces us to think through the steps we must take to get the business started, and, to “flesh out ideas, to look for weak spots and vulnerabilities,” according to business consultant Eric Siegel.

A well-conceived business plan can serve as a management tool to settle major policy issues, identify “keys to success,” establish goals and check-points, and consider long-term prospects. The plan must realistically assess the skills required for success of the venture, initially and over the long run, and match the skills and interests of the team to these requirements. Test the plan, and an accompanying oral presentation, on friends whose business judgment you value. Let them assume the role of a prospective investor or lender.

John B. Vinturella, Ph.D has over 40 years’ experience as a management and strategic consultant, entrepreneur, and college professor. He is a principal in the business opportunity site and its associated blog. John recently released his latest book, “8 Steps to Starting a Business,” available on Amazon.

Used-Book Case Study

This is a case study to sharpen your skills at forecasting and break-even analysis.

Dwight Payne and Gary Heap reside in Santa Barbara, CA, where they attend college and pursue their mutual hobby of science-fiction book collecting. They pooled their book collection of over 4,000 volumes, and sci-fi magazines going back over twenty-five years. All neatly cataloged and indexed, they estimate it would cost $20,000 to assemble the collection today.

Payne and Heap decided that, at the end of this school year, they will dedicate the summer to getting a used-book store started in Santa Barbara as a means of supplementing their income year-round. Heap’s uncle owns a storefront near the University, and agreed to rebuild it as a used-book store. He also co-signed an inventory loan for $4,000 for some start-up working capital. In exchange he gets 25 percent of store sales for two years.

In addition, they bought a collection of over 10,000 paperbacks, magazines, and comics for $3,500, and some used shelving for $1,500. These purchases required borrowing the money from some fraternity brothers.

Provide business strategy planning advice to Dwight and Gary (There is no one right answer).

Decide on days of the week and hours the store will be open. Estimate staffing required and hourly salary costs. Do Dwight and Gary really work for free? What is a reasonable expectation of customers per day? Average purchase per customer? What are pessimistic and optimistic values of these estimates? How much will they have to spend on advertising and promotion to meet these estimates?

What will they pay, on average, for each book? How much can they get, on average, for each book?

Put together a projected (often referred to as pro forma) income statement. Relate the estimates developed above to monthly sales (pessimistic, expected, and optimistic), cost of goods, and expense amounts for wages and promotion. We should add 25% to wages paid for the payroll estimate, to account for taxes, sick days, etc. Debt service payments may be assumed to total $400 per month. Estimate rent and utilities and any other expenses that you feel might be incurred.

Conclusions: Find a break-even sales estimate, that is, the value for sales that produces a Gross Margin just equal to Total Expense. When gross margin generated equals expenses, profit/loss is equal to zero; this sales level is called the break-even point.

Would you do it if you were they? Why or why not? What kind of a test is this where you can’t look up the answer? It’s an entrepreneurship test; learn to be comfortable with your best estimate. If you are not comfortable with this seek consulting services for small businesses.

John B. Vinturella, Ph.D has over 40 years’ experience as a management and strategic consultant, entrepreneur, and college professor. He is a principal in the business opportunity site and its associated blog. John recently released his latest book, “8 Steps to Starting a Business,” available on Amazon.

Using Break-Even Analysis

A significant advantage of some business ideas is that the venture can break even at what seems to be an easily achievable volume. A technique for quantifying that volume, called break-even analysis, examines the interaction among fixed costs, variable costs, prices, and unit volume to determine that combination of elements in which revenues and total costs are equal.

This article is drawn from our Entrepreneurship Knowledge Services series.

Fixed costs are those expenses necessary to keep the business open, and are not impacted by sales volume. They will include such things as rent, basic telephone expenses and utilities, wages for core employees, loan or lease payments, and other necessary expenditures. An entrepreneur should also include a living wage for himself/herself as a fixed cost.

Variable costs include those expenses that change as a result of sales volume. This can be a relatively simple relationship, as in cost of goods sold, where for example the variable cost of baked goods sold at a coffee shop is what we pay the baker for them, $0.30 each. Variable costs can also be very complex; for example, higher sales in one area of our business may increase long distance charges. Labor costs may be fixed for full-time employees, then, as sales increase, some overtime is incurred until additional personnel can be justified.

Generally, an initial break-even analysis focuses on a relatively narrow range of sales volume in which variable costs are simple to calculate. The variable cost in a coffee shop is simply the cost of goods sold. For a pizza delivery operation, it might be the cost of ingredients, and some cost allocated for operation of the delivery vehicle. A general term often used for the difference between selling price and variable cost is “contribution margin,” or the amount that the unit sale contributes to the margin available to pay fixed costs, and generate profit (we hope).

Now let’s take a look at how break-even analysis can be helpful to us. For this example, let’s assume we have determined that the level of fixed costs (salaries, rent, utilities) necessary to run a coffee shop on a monthly basis is $9,000. In addition, a cup of coffee that we sell for $1 costs us $0.25 for the bulk coffee, filters, and water.

The contribution margin of a cup of coffee is, therefore, $0.75. We can now calculate how many cups of coffee we have to sell to cover our fixed costs:

Break-Even = (Fixed Costs) / (Contribution Margin)

= $9,000/$0.75 = 12,000 cups of coffee per month

Let us say, further, that the fixed cost estimate was based on being open 6 days a week, 8 hours a day. This converts roughly to 200 hours a month, so we have to sell 60 cups an hour. This is a cup a minute for every minute we are open.

Does this seem feasible? Let us assume not, and evaluate some options.

(1) Cut expenses

Remember that we are still in the planning stage here, and experience has shown that prospective entrepreneurs almost always underestimate expenses. Let’s pass on this approach.

(2) Raise prices

We could plan on charging $1.25 per cup from the beginning, for a contribution margin of $1 per cup. The arithmetic is easy; to cover $9,000 in fixed expenses we need to sell 9,000 cups of coffee per month. The most important factor here is what the competition is charging.

(3) Broaden our product line

For the sake of clarity in demonstrating relationships between price, cost, and sales volume, we have considered a simplified version of how a real coffee shop might operate. The market severely constrains the amount we can charge for an ordinary cup of coffee, and a one product shop would have limited appeal. Perhaps we could also offer gourmet coffees, which cost us $0.50 per cup to brew, at $2.00 per cup. We could also offer baked goods, which cost us $0.30 each, at $1.30.

Suffice it to say that the break-even calculation now becomes a bit more complex, and outside what we are trying to accomplish here. Feel free to try it on your own.

This has been a very brief overview of how break-even analysis can be used in helping the entrepreneur better understand the relationship of the financial factors involved in measuring the feasibility of a proposed venture.

From a preliminary analysis of selling prices that the market will bear, prevailing costs, and reasonable expectations of sales volumes, the entrepreneur can avoid making serious mistakes and may discover significant opportunities.

If the business is feasible but beyond the entrepreneur’s reach the challenge becomes raising entrepreneurial capital.

John B. Vinturella, Ph.D has over 40 years’ experience as a management and strategic consultant, entrepreneur, and college professor. He is a principal in the business opportunity site and its associated blog. John recently released his latest book, “8 Steps to Starting a Business,” available on Amazon.

Venture Research Service Provider

If you are considering buying or selling a service industry business you need to start with an evaluation. This can be very complex and the use of a venture research service provider can often give you a value that you can easily defend. The following article outlines the process, and is extracted from FBB Group Ltd:

Service businesses run the gamut, from accounting firms, to drycleaners, to janitorial services, engineering, public relations firms, and many other options. Despite their disparity, they all have one thing in common: offering a service to clients.

Valuing a service business involves many factors – a tidy, one-size-fits-all formula doesn’t exist. That being said, sellers should recognize that buyers will be particularly interested in certain characteristics for most service businesses. This, again, is where a venture research service provider can come in.

Normally, valuation is based on several criteria, including: history of profitability, cash flow, overhead, intellectual property, company reputation, number of years in business, opportunities for further growth and added profits, stability of key employees/management team, and customer diversification.

Crucial areas for valuation include intellectual property, ongoing relationships with clients, and having a good team in place – ensuring the company will retain its competitive edge, even when the seller (who typically drives new and repeat business) leaves.

Without significant capital assets, key customers and employees are critical. A strong management team adds to the value of a service business (often more so than in manufacturing) and, conversely, it can detract from value when there’s a poor or inexperienced team.
Another measure of value may include the amount of market share. Companies that provide a niche service and don’t have much, if any, competition will command higher multiples of value.

Cash flow is “king,” so the primary consideration for bankers is a buyer’s ability to stay current on loans for acquisitions and working capital. Banks focus heavily on reliable cash flow for service businesses, given that there is little, to no, collateral within the service business itself.

Whether you’re in the market to buy or sell, understanding the various considerations of valuation for a service business will make the process smoother and increase the probability of a more successful transaction.

Dr. Vinturella, has over 40 years experience as a management and strategic consultant, entrepreneur, and college professor. He is a principal in the business opportunity site and its associated blog. John recently released his latest book, “8 Steps to Starting a Business. “ See, available on Amazon.

Adventures in Self-Publishing

Do you have an idea for a book? Unless you can find a traditional publisher to fund it (no small feat) your only alternative is to self-publish. There are essentially no standards to what can be self-published. Of course, you fund the project yourself. For an overview of self-publishing see

There are several companies that offer packages for on the order of $4,000. I used iUniverse out of Bloomington Indiana. For one’s investment, one gets the book ID (ISBN), the style of the book and delivery of a print-on-demand (POD) copy. An alternative is to print offset, a process that runs in quantity. With this you get into the inventory management business.

Few authors get by with the standard package. The publisher’s marketing resources all cost extra and it seems to me that they were a total waste. With offset there are also warehouse fees. The average self-published book sells 250 copies over its lifetime. In addition the eBook competes with the hard copy.

I made a terrible mistake, aided by misinformation about royalties from my book representative at iUniverse, and printed 2,000 copies of my book. For information on the book see This site also contains a link to purchase the book. After I realized the mistake I tried to back out, and the vendor was extremely uncooperative. I took them to small claims court and got close to half of my purchase returned.

So, what advice would I give? Don’t print offset. Live with the POD even though the return is less. Do more research than I did; there are less expensive alternatives, particularly if you are comfortable managing your own marketing. Choose an underserved topic; mine is about business startup and the selection is huge.

Entrepreneurial Career Consulting

The following is excerpted from Careers in Entrepreneurship, If you find it overwhelming, consider entrepreneurial career consulting. There are sources of free consulting such as SCORE,

Entrepreneurs start new businesses and take on the risk and rewards of being an owner. This is the ultimate career in capitalism – putting your idea to work in a competitive economy. Some new ventures generate enormous wealth for the entrepreneur. However, the job of entrepreneur is not for everyone. You need to be hard-working, smart, creative, willing to take risks and good with people. You need to have heart, have motivation and have drive.

There are many industries where wealth creation is possible be it the Internet and IT, personal services, media, engineering or small local business (e.g., dry cleaning, electronics repair, restaurants).

But there is a downside of entrepreneurship too. Your life may lack stability and structure. Your ability to take time off may be highly limited. And you may become stressed as you manage cash flow on the one hand and expansion on the other. Three out of five new businesses in the U.S. fail within 18 months of getting started.

It’s important to be savvy and understand what is and is not realistic. The web is chock-full of come-ons promising to make you rich. Avoid promotions that require you to pay up front to learn some secret to wealth.

Look for inefficiencies in markets. Places where a better idea, a little ingenuity or some aggressive marketing could really make a difference. Think about problems that people would pay to have a solution to. It helps to know finance. It’s a must to really know your product area well. What do consumers want? What differentiates you from the competition? How do you market this product?

A formal business plan is not essential, but is normally a great help in thinking through the case for a new business. You’ll be investing more in it than anyone else, so treat yourself like a smart, skeptical investor who needs to be convinced that the math adds up for the business you propose starting.

John B. Vinturella, Ph.D. has over 40 years’ experience as a management and strategic consultant, entrepreneur, and college professor. He is a principal in the business opportunity site and its associated blog. John recently released his latest book, “8 Steps to Starting a Business,” available on Amazon.

Franchise Business Consultant Service 2

A franchise is a continuing relationship between a franchisor and a franchisee in which the franchisor’s knowledge, image, success, manufacturing, and marketing techniques are supplied to the franchisee for a consideration. This consideration usually consists of a high “up-front” fee, and a significant royalty percentage, which generally require a fairly long time to recover.

Here are some statistics about the industry (

• There are an estimated 3,000 different franchisers across 300 business categories in the U.S. which provide nearly 18 million jobs and generate over $2.1 trillion to the economy.

• Franchises account for 10.5 percent of businesses with paid employees; almost 4% of all small businesses in the USA are franchises.
• It is estimated that the franchise industry accounts for approximately 50% of all retail sales in the US.

• The average initial franchise investment is $250,000- excluding real estate; the average royalty fees paid by franchisees range from 3% to 6% of monthly gross sales.

Franchising offers those who lack business experience (but do not lack capital) a business with a good probability of success. It is a ready-made business, with all the incentives of a small business combined with the management skills of a large one. It is a way to be “in business for yourself, not by yourself.”

Franchises take many forms. Some are simply trade-name licensing arrangements, such as TrueValue Hardware, where the franchisee is provided product access and participation in an advertising cooperative. Some trade name licenses, particularly in skin-care products, are part of a multi-level marketing system, where a franchisee can designate sub-franchisees and benefit from their efforts.

Others might be distributorships, or manufacturer’s representative arrangements, such as automobile dealerships, or gasoline stations. It could be Jane’s Cadillac, or Fred’s Texaco; the product is supplied by the franchisor, but the franchisee has a fair amount of latitude in how the business is located, designed and run. The franchisor will frequently specify showroom requirements and inventory level criteria, and could grant either exclusive or non-exclusive franchise areas.

The most familiar type of franchise, however, is probably the “total concept” store such as McDonald’s. Pay your franchise fee, and they will “roll out” a store for you to operate.

The advantages can be considerable. The franchise fee buys instant product recognition built and maintained by sophisticated advertising and marketing programs. The franchisor’s management experience and depth assists the franchisee by providing employee guidelines, policies and procedures, operating experience, and sometimes even financial assistance. They provide proven methods for determining promising locations, and a successful store design and equipment configuration. Centralized purchasing gives large-buyer “clout” to each location.

The large initial cost can be difficult to raise. The highly structured environment can be more limiting than it is reassuring. Continuing royalty costs take a significant portion of profits. You may wish to use a franchise business consulting service. Several small business periodicals evaluate and rank franchise opportunities. There are now several franchise “matchmaking” firms who can assist in the evaluation process.

How do you choose among all the available franchises? Does it complement your interests? Even if you hire someone to manage the business, expect to spend a lot of time with the operation. Is the name well known? If not, what are you paying for? Is the fee structure reasonable, and all costs clearly described?

Is the franchisor professional? Evaluate them on the clarity of the agreement, and how well your rights are protected, the strength of their training and support program, and their commitment to your success. Be sure to talk to current franchisees about their experiences. Beware of a franchisor committed to a rate of growth that exceeds their ability to manage; they may not be sufficiently interested in the sales they have already made.

Is a franchise a sure path to instant riches? Is it the only hope for independent firms in today’s market? Can Jerry’s Quick Oil Change compete with SpeeDee? Does the franchise deliver business that we might not have gotten anyway? Is it really entrepreneurship; did I go into business or did my money?

This is excerpted from “8 Steps to Starting a Business.” See