5 Myths About Successful Franchisees

Scott Greenberg’s Wealthy Franchisee: Game-Changing Steps to Becoming a Thriving Franchise Superstar will be released via Entrepreneur Press on November 17. It can be preodered via Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

As a speaker and small-business coach, I get to talk to a lot of franchisees. I interview them before every live and virtual presentation so I can customize my message. I know the audience will be diverse, so I ask to speak with a variety of people achieving various levels of success. 

Struggling franchisees express their concerns and explain what’s lacking in their business. They compare their operation to those of high-level franchisees and point out the differences. Thriving franchisees share their perspectives, as well, explaining their reasons and tactics for success.

When you conduct of enough of these interviews, you start to see some patterns. You see what all top franchisees from many brands all have in common (which is the subject of my upcoming book). 

You also identity what’s not true. There are many myths about franchise success. It’s important to dispel these falsehoods to paint a clearer picture of what it takes to be successful in franchising. Here are the most common ones.

Myth #1: Top franchisees have great locations

Without a doubt, a good location can help a business succeed. You’ve got to fish where the fish are. This is especially true for restaurants and retail. Convenient, well-exposed locations have an advantage. Sometimes this advantage is so good, it makes up for the poor business skills of the franchisee. But great locations aren’t always affordable. That top-ranked franchisee in your system may be pouring all profit into rent, and great locations may not be available in your territory. Geography can be tough to replicate. 

Truth: The top franchisees I meet do not all have great locations. In many cases, they acquired a franchise from a struggling owner who blamed their location for poor performance and sold it cheap. Top franchisees turn these locations around and make them winners. When they don’t have as much foot traffic, street exposure or even the ideal demographic, they compensate with better management, great customer service and consistent marketing. And with cheaper rent, they often make a lot more money with less-than-ideal locations. Every franchise system has turnaround stories of “bad locations.” Unless you’re running a great operation, you really can’t accurately assess your location. Geography matters, but not as much as other factors that are morewithin your control.

Myth #2: Top franchisees are workaholics

To get those kinds of results, they must be living in their business. Day and night. Open to close. Saving money by doing as much as they can themselves. Success is built with sweat. 

Truth: Hard work isn’t the secret to success. It’s the prerequisite. Plenty of franchisees are putting in the hours and have little to show for it. The top franchisees I meet work hard, but more importantly, they work smart. Their hours aren’t spent running the business as they are growing the business. They invest time turning employees into leaders. The create systems that don’t rely on their direct personal involvement. If there’s a task they can train someone else to perform, they do. They understand that being busy isn’t the same thing as being productive. Their time is best spent on the big picture. Not getting caught up in the minutiae affords them the ability to strategize and expand. It also allows them to maintain a balanced life with time for family, fun and travel. Or if they choose, more work. Their business doesn’t run their life. It supports it.

Myth #3: Top franchisees are more educated

They’ve gone to college. They have MBAs. The schooling they got taught them how to run a business.

Truth: Many franchisees have college degrees. Many do not. I’ve not seen a correlation between the successful franchisees and their formal education. In fact, many legends in the franchise world never went to college. Jersey Mike’s founder and CEO Peter Cancro bought his first sub shop while still in high school. My former franchisor Tariq Farid from Edible Arrangements also started as a teen running a flower shop. Wendy’s founder Dave Thomas didn’t even get his GED until he was 61. I’ve seen lawyers and engineers drive their franchises into the ground. I’ve seen young, aspiring entrepreneurs embrace the systems their franchisor taught them and thrive. I went to college and will be sending my kids. It’s great for having a better understanding of our world. It’s not necessarily the most important asset for running a franchise business. To succeed in franchising, what you’ve learned in school is less important than what you’re still willing to learn from your franchisor, your employees and your customers. 

Myth #4: Top franchisees have more business experience

Many people come to franchising from different industries. I speak to a lot of people with a corporate background. They’ve had important jobs for many years. All of that experience in a high-pressure, fast-paced environment should make it much easier to run their own business.

Truth: Absolutely not true. In fact, many franchisees struggle because of their past experience. One common trait among the top franchisees I’ve interviewed is a willingness to stick to the system developed by the franchisor. They’re not interested in innovating something new or pulling in ideas they learned elsewhere. They’ve paid for a proven model. They focus on excellent execution. Franchisees who come with ideas that have worked somewhere else often struggle to let go of what they know and trust the system they’ve invested in. Another issue is that having a job — even an important one — is not the same as owning your own business. There’s less structure and stability. There’s less personal feedback and accountability. There’s no guaranteed paycheck, and it’s harder to walk away. Certainly, there are plenty of practical skills that will translate, such as marketing, bookkeeping and employee management. Knowledge in these areas can be really helpful provided you’re still able to embrace your franchisor’s proven systems.

Myth #5: Top franchisees love the business

To operate at that level, they must be passionate about their business. They must love frozen yogurt. They get excited about senior homecare. They live to clean their customers’ carpets. “Find something you love to do and you’ll never work a day in your life.”

Truth: In writing my book, I asked every successful franchisee I interviewed if they’re passionate about their business. Their answers varied. Some really do get excited about the specific product or service they provide. Others enjoy interacting with customers. Some have fun crunching numbers. I spent 10 years as a franchisee with Edible Arrangements. I didn’t especially love fruit baskets. I did enjoy helping people celebrate special occasions. It seems that successful franchisees don’t necessarily love the business, but they all love something about it.