If you are at the point where you are focusing on a narrow list of potential franchise opportunities, then you are ready to start talking to other owners. Their opinions, suggestions and advice will serve to be an excellent barometer of whether or not a particular franchise is worth investing in or not. However, it’s important to talk to a few different owners in order to get a really good sense of direction because one may be overly enthusiastic while another may be negative. While each opinion matters, it is up to you to weigh the information that you learn with your own thoughts and feelings. This will help you to see the franchise from the perspective of what it is like to operate in the field as opposed to reading a sales brochure or earnings report.
In the United States, franchisers are required by law to provide contact information about the closest franchisees to your intended location of business. This is designed to give you the opportunity to talk with them and use these conversations in your decision making process so that you end up making a wise and carefully considered investment. However, there is nothing to say that underhanded franchise companies cant also talk to franchisees and encourage them to describe the company in a positive light. While a good franchise will never do something like this, it is not unheard of for shady and less than scrupulous companies to use this tactic in order to skew results.
You do not have to talk to the franchisees that are on that particular list. In fact, you can criss-cross the country and ask questions to whomever you want. The point is that you should seriously consider getting the honest opinion of people who have invested their time, money and life in that particular business. You can learn many things just from sitting and chatting (even on the phone) with a franchisees that will be hard to discover by other means. But, you should know that many franchisees are not all that willing to talk about money, their business or their growth ideas. You may need to use a little bit of finesse in order to get them to talk to you.
This is not because they are scared of enduring repercussions from the home office, rather they don’t want to let go of their closely-held business secrets that have contributed to their current or future success. This is especially true when it comes to talking to someone who they do not know, who randomly calls them in the middle of the day and wants to know about the nuts and bolts of their business experience. So, chances are that the direct and head-on approach will not work with many franchisees. But, there are plenty who are willing to share their stories as well. It just takes some time, patience and the establishment of rapport and trust before a lot of owners will open up and respond to your questions.
One thing that you should keep in mind is that it’s always better to talk face to face instead of over the phone. Maybe you can set up a lunch, take them for coffee or walk into their store and introduce yourself when they are not busy. Your presence will be an inconvenience to one degree or another, and its important that you are sensitive and mindful that you are taking time from a small business owner who will not be getting compensated for the advice they give you. That being said, use your best judgment and try and be as friendly and understanding as possible when you try and get them to talk. Once you have someone that is willing to share their experiences, you should have some questions in mind that they can answer without giving up specific information.
You should ask them how they feel about the company and whether or not they are treated fairly. You should ask whether the investment and fees are worth the return and whether or not the company adequately serves the needs and interests of the franchisees. Maybe you can ask whether or not they would recommend this franchise to a friend or family member as well as what kind of advice they would offer before they sign up. Ask them if the contract terms seem fair and when you can expect to break-even on your investment. Try and avoid asking them direct questions about specific earnings or other money-related topics unless you sense they are comfortable or willing to do so, and try and make that happen towards the end of the conversation. That way, if they get upset or nervous, then you don’t risk closing the door to getting all of your other questions answered first.
Learning about the business from other franchisees will be an important step in the process of deciding whether or not a particular opportunity is for you. Take the time to investigate, ask questions and even build some relationships that may help you to make a good decision. Who knows, if you decide to open that particular franchise, the contacts you made during the interview process may turn out to serve you well as you get your feet wet. Information is power, especially when looking at a franchise opportunity, and learning from people who are in the thick of things will go a long way with helping you to see what you can expect.
Not everyone will be willing to talk to you, and not everyone will give you the information that you want. This is why it’s important to talk to more than one or two franchisees, and using these suggestions can go a long way when it comes to opening the door to meaningful conversations that can lead to your questions being answered. Take advantage of this opportunity to learn more about the business and what you can expect if you decide to sign the contract and set up shop with a particular company.