Franchise owners call their own shots

With the economy getting stronger and the labor market improving, running a franchise might not seem quite as appealing as it did during harder times. Still, for many would-be entrepreneurs, especially those who like the idea of working from home, a franchise can offer many benefits.

There are two big advantages to a home-based franchise. There’s the convenience and lifestyle of working from home. Then there’s the fact that with a franchise, a company owner doesn’t have to try to come up with a business concept and hope that it succeeds.

Franchises tend to be known quantities, and many have instant recognition with the public, or businesses or both; they also come with ready-made marketing and advertising campaigns.

But work-at-home author Robert Spiegel warns that running a franchise out of your house doesn’t mean you’ll work exclusively at home. You’ll still need to go out and meet customers, call on new prospects and work with outside vendors.

The big attraction to a home franchise is “a huge savings on overhead,” said Spiegel, author of “The Shoestring Entrepreneur’s Guide to the Best Home-Based Franchises.”

Operating at home means you’re not spending money to rent an office and, if you have a large garage, you’ll have a place to store supplies, materials and even inventory. It also means you can deduct many expenses on a home office, including a portion of your mortgage and utilities and some home repairs.

There are a variety of franchises that can be run out of a home, including photography businesses, cleaning services, home inspection businesses, children’s art schools and more. Spiegel’s advice is to find a franchise that is something you like to do.

Roger Homan, who co-owns a United Coupons business that he runs out of his Milton, Mass., home turned to the franchise after working for coupon companies like Val-Pak. Now he has the luxury of an easy commute, and is saving on his overhead.

There are some downsides. For example, Homan noted the competing demands on his time from the personal and business sides of his life.

“You have to still treat it like a business. … You have to block those things out,” he said. “Your time can be torn 1,000 different ways.”

Running a franchise from home doesn’t necessarily mean working solo. Depending on the franchise you decide on, there’s also a good chance you’ll need to hire employees. You might also need to invest in equipment.

Tom Gallo, who with his wife Carol operates a CertaPro Painters franchise in Hunterdon County, N.J., has three work crews and three vans. But most of the equipment his workers need can be stored in the van. He’ll occasionally store scaffolding or other items in his garage.

Gallo said he and his wife chose a home-based franchise because it was affordable.

“The overhead was a lot less,” he said. “We knew it was feasible to operate from our home.”

The couple turned one of their bedrooms into an office, with filing cabinets and desks.

If you’re thinking about acquiring a franchise, you absolutely must do a lot of research before you get started.

There are books about franchising available in stores and libraries, and plenty of resources online.

For would-be franchisees worried about scams or bad investments, Spiegel offers a reminder: Franchises are regulated by federal law, which means they must file documents about their businesses. Perhaps more important, they must make available lists of current and former franchisees to prospective buyers. Those former franchisees can have critical information for someone trying to decide on a given franchise.

“You can’t get that anywhere on earth in buying and selling a business except with franchisees,” Spiegel said.

A Google Web search will turn up a number of sites that are basically collections of franchise ads. There are also consultants that offer to help you find a franchise. You can use these as resources, but keep in mind that their agenda is to help a franchise company get franchisees and not necessarily to help you find the franchise that’s right for you.

Small Business is a weekly column on the topic from the Associated Press.

Franchise info

The Federal Trade Commission has “A Consumer Guide to Buying a Franchise” that provides general information about franchising, including the factors you need to consider before investing in a franchise business. It can be found at www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/ pubs/invest/buyfran.htm.

You also can get information on franchises from the industry trade group, the International Franchise Association. Its Web site is www.franchise.org.

Franchise info

The Federal Trade Commission has “A Consumer Guide to Buying a Franchise” that provides general information about franchising, including the factors you need to consider before investing in a franchise business. It can be found at www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/ pubs/invest/buyfran.htm.

You also can get information on franchises from the industry trade group, the International Franchise Association. Its Web site is www.franchise.org.

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