America’s Best Franchises was created in 2005. Our goal was to become a leader in the franchise website portal space, aiming to provide prospective franchisees with an educational resource that aids them in choosing the right franchise opportunity. We were one of only a handful of websites serving this purpose at the time.
Now, more than 10 years later, we have hundreds of competitors and remain one of the leading sites in our sector. As the franchise industry has evolved, so have we. America’s Best Franchises recently completed an entire website overhaul to serve our readers better. And the process inspired a trip down memory lane. It got us thinking about why we got into this business in the first place.
So, we sat down with our Founder & CEO, Bill Bradley, for a Q-and-A to not only talk about America’s Best Franchises’ origin story but get expert insight about franchising.
How did you get into the franchise industry?
In 2002, my venture capital business was at a crossroads. Venture capital was drying up or on the sidelines waiting to see how we were going to respond to the tragic events of 9/11. I found myself playing too much golf while living in Rancho Santa Fe, California and wondering what my next venture might be.
I had always been an entrepreneur and owned multiple businesses by the time I was 40 years old. In 2003, franchising seemed appealing, so I began researching franchise models for a launch in San Francisco. While searching for a franchise, I crossed paths with Marc Kiekenapp, a well-known, highly respected, franchise veteran who was starting a consulting company called Franchise Buyer.
Marc thought my background and skill set would translate to great success in franchise consulting. I spent over a decade on Wall Street polishing and refining my sales skills in the securities industry. And, I had a successful venture capital business that helped fund more than $100 million of new venture start-up companies over a span of 10 years.
Marc convinced me to give franchise consulting one year, and if I didn’t like it, I’d at least leave with broadened knowledge about the world of franchising.
After spending a year with Franchise Buyer, an investment banking group reached out to me about purchasing a popular franchise portal. I researched the business and concluded I could start my own franchise website portal, and by 2005, I launched America’s Best Franchises.
How would you say the franchise industry has changed since you started America’s Best Franchises?
The franchising space is far different than it was 5, 10 and especially 20 years ago. When I first started, there weren’t as many franchisors, and most of them ran their franchise the same way. But, after the tragic events of 9/11 and the Great Recession, sophisticated investors started searching for an investment alternative like franchising.
Now, there’s a lot broader spectrum of franchise opportunities. New brands are popping up every year, with all-new franchise concepts, geared for multi-unit growth. And everyone from venture capitalists to worldwide investors is showing interest in thriving franchise models.
What is the secret to finding the right franchise opportunity?
Getting a solid understanding of what a franchisor expects is complex in its own right. Prospects often get overwhelmed in this initial getting-to-know-you phase because franchisors and broker consultants sometimes try to push you to make a decision quickly.
Just remember, take the time you need to get to know yourself, your interests and your skillset. Consult with your family and other loved ones. All of these factors play a huge role in choosing a franchise that fits your needs. Because once you enter a franchise agreement, you’re often locked in for 10 years. So, you have to make sure you franchise with a business you can get on board with and are happy to wake up to every morning.
What would you say is the most rewarding aspect of starting a website like America’s Best Franchises?
Over the last 15 years, I’ve spoken to thousands of franchisee candidates and franchisors. What I’ve found is that a lot of people have no idea how to start the process or navigate buying into a franchise concept altogether.
From the time they send us their contact information, and beyond, we want to help people with every step of their franchise journey. The new website has its own learning center, and it’s geared toward helping our readers understand precisely what they need to enter the franchising industry and make smarter business decisions.
We attribute our great success to our passion for helping others succeed in the franchising industry. And we’re extremely proud to call ourselves a boutique portal that cares about franchise candidates.
What was the most significant obstacle you faced since launching America’s Best Franchises? How did you overcome it?
Our most significant challenge was overcoming the Great Recession. Real estate values were plummeting, and home equity was low because as interest rates trended lower, homeowners were refinancing their property multiple times.
And since franchise businesses are often funded with home equity, the franchise industry took a huge hit. Franchisors became stricter with qualification criteria. Banks weren’t loaning money. And prospects didn’t have enough collateral to offer. It was a domino effect.
As a result, franchise companies struggled to expand their brands because they couldn’t get funding. They were forced to reduce advertising budgets which in turn, affected the bottom line of all franchise portals. Many did not survive this crisis. We, however, thrived. Despite this series of unfortunate events, we continued to pump out quality content and stayed honest with our readers. We think it’s our commitment to quality and honesty that sparked our growth during such a dark time.
What’s the greatest piece of advice you’d give someone just starting out in franchising?
First and foremost, get a full understanding of the franchise’s FDD to ensure your budget is within means. Take everything into account, including working capital. And never buy more than you can afford.
Before buying into a franchise, you also want to make sure you take the time to get to know the management team. You’re going to be speaking and working with these people almost every single day. So, it’s crucial to gauge if you work well together or not.
But I’d say the most important piece of advice I could give is to speak with current franchisees. They will be your best source of information. Pick franchisees who operate in similar communities to yours. For instance, it wouldn’t make sense to compare a Los Angeles franchisee’s experience with one from Des Moines, Iowa. Find out if they are happy with their decision and ask these questions:
- Did you get the training and support you needed from the franchisor?
- Is the franchisor adding value to the concept every year?
- How long did it take to break even?
- How long before your business became profitable?
And finally, be very selective when building your team. You want to find people who understand what you’re looking for and have the same passion you have for your business. You can’t afford to make too many staffing mistakes, especially early on.
What’s the greatest piece of advice you’d give someone interested in multi-unit ownership?
Be cautious of multi-unit ownership and take it one step at a time. Make sure the franchisor is capable of sustaining ownership of multiple units. Before committing to purchasing multiple units, get a single unit, first. See how it performs after a year or two of business. If it does well AND the franchisor has been consistently expanding in that time, then start looking into multi-unit ownership.
What would you say is the secret to success?
After decades as a businessman, I’ve learned the secret to success — no matter the field — is having a passion for your venture. Don’t do it by yourself; get advice from experts in franchising to assist with every aspect of investment. From a budget point of view, find the sweet spot for you and your family. And don’t commit to anything until you’ve done a deep dive into the pros and cons of the business.