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Franchising Is Not For Everyone. Explore These Lucrative Alternatives to Expand Your Business.

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Not every business can be franchised, nor should it. As the founder and operator of an exciting, new concept, it’s hard not to envision opening a unit on every corner and becoming the next franchise millionaire. It’s a common dream. At one time, numerous concepts were claiming to be the next “McDonald’s” of their industry.

And while franchising can be the right growth vehicle for someone with an established brand and proven concept that’s ripe for growth, there are other options available for business owners who want to expand their concept into prime locations before their competition does but who don’t want to go it alone for a number of reasons. For instance, they may not have the resources or cash reserves to finance a franchise program (it is important to note that while franchising a business does leverage the time and capital of others to open additional units, establishing a franchise system is certainly not a no-cost endeavor). Or they don’t want the responsibilities and relationship of being a franchisor and would rather concentrate on running their core business, not a franchise system.

Related: The Pros and Cons of Franchising Your Business

But when you have eager customers asking to open a branded location just like yours in their neighborhood, it’s hard to resist. You might think: What if I don’t jump on the deal, and I miss out on an opportunity that might not come around again?

Licensing your intellectual property, such as your name, trademarks and trade dress, in exchange for a set fee or percentage of sales is one way to accomplish this without having to go the somewhat more laborious and legally controlled franchise route. Types of licensing agreements range from granting a license to allow another entity to manufacture or make your products to allowing someone to use your logo and name for their own business. Unlike in a franchise, your partner in a licensing situation will only be allowed certain predetermined rights to sell your products and services, not an all-in agreement to give them a turnkey business, accompanied by training and support, in exchange for set fees. A licensing agreement spells out each party’s rights, responsibilities, and what they can and cannot do under the terms of the agreement. Having a lawyer draw up the paperwork is vital, as well as consulting with a trusted business advisor who has helped others along this path and can shorten your learning curve while protecting your rights. License agreements are governed by contract law as opposed to franchise laws. However, care must be taken: To ensure that you’re staying in your lane and not crossing over into franchisor territory, you’ll want your advisers to detail what you can and can’t do as a licensor.

For instance, a license agreement excludes you from being involved in the day-to-day operations of the licensee’s business. While having no oversight may sound like a relief, it can be a double-edged sword, especially for people who are used to controlling all aspects of their products or services. You won’t have to provide licensees with ongoing services, such as marketing materials and continuous training, but it also means you have no control over how they run their business, their product mix or even how they decorate their space. If you’re a type-A, this may be hard for you.

Most people are more familiar with trademark licensing with a third party because these agreements are big in the sports and entertainment industries, where a celebrity lends their name to endorse a product, whether it’s branded athletic wear or trendy foodservice menu items such as pizza, chicken, or even gelato.

Using a celebrity’s cache garners media attention you might otherwise never get. But not everyone who comes up with a great concept or product has the recognition that would allow them to attract famous business partners or endorsements, and rabid fans that follow.

There are other methods of getting your products in front of more consumers. Some coffee concepts, including Caribou for example, have created market saturation by both franchising traditional stores and granting licenses for nontraditional locations, such as airports, big-box stores, and college campuses. Others, on the other hand, like Starbucks, employ a combination of company-owned stores and licensees in high-traffic locations where a small kiosk can service a high-density population of shoppers. And, of course, bags and pods of these brands’ coffee blends are also sold in retail locations such as grocery stores.

Related: Startups Must Protect Their Trademark. Here’s How and Why

But again, here’s that cautionary note: If you go the licensing route for your products or services, be careful not to cross over into trying to direct the way that licensees do their business, from selecting locations to training employees.

While licensing or franchising may be valid business growth vehicles for many brands, additional business structures that can be considered include:

  1. Company-owned stores: Opening corporate locations using bank loans and/or the profits from already opened units.
  2. Dealerships or distributorships: In a distributor relationship, products are purchased from a manufacturer and then sold through local dealers.
  3. Agency relationships: These are similar to the relationships you’d have with dealers, but in this case, an agent or representative of your company sells your services to a third party. The important distinction to remember so that the relationship doesn’t cross over into franchise territory is that you, as the provider of the services, pay the agent (as an independent sales rep) rather than the agent collecting the money and paying you.
  4. Joint ventures: In this case, you, as the concept owner, would take on an operating partner who also invests his own funds in the business. The two of you would then share in the equity and profits at the percentage rate of your investment.

The appropriate method to grow your business depends on several factors, including your type of concept, service, or products; your risk aversion factor; your access to capital; where you’re located; and current market conditions. So, if you choose another option to franchising, be cognizant of not slipping into becoming a franchise. The Federal Trade Commission’s regulations define a franchise as meeting at least three standards: a shared name, fees and royalty payments paid to the company by the franchisee, and ongoing support and control of the day-to-day operations by the franchisor.

Keep in mind that if you start with one expansion method, you can consider changing that structure with legal and professional guidance should your business needs merit a shift in strategy. Case in point: some licensors will eventually convert licensees to franchises under a newly crafted agreement and program if they see the need to change the fee structure and maintain additional control over operations.

Slow growth can be detrimental to a business, but not picking the right vehicle for that growth can be worse than standing still. That’s why doing your homework — consulting with professionals, such as attorneys, accounting and franchising advisors, and talking to others in the same boat as you will save you from drifting too far from shore.