Anyone can start a business, but it takes a unique entrepreneur to turn it into a franchise. After all, hamburger stands dotted the interstate for years, but it took Ray Kroc to dream up McDonald's.
Not everyone is cut from that cloth. For every Best Buy there's a Radio Shack; for every Pizza Hut there's a Sbarro's — and public relations kerfuffles notwithstanding, for every Subway there's a Quiznos. So what separates the former from the latter?
No one really knows. There's no surefire formula, and many businesses that must have seemed like can't-miss propositions disappeared with a whimper, their dreams of global domination crushed. By the same token, some entrepreneurs dream up successful franchises based on ideas that few would bet on.
What follows is a list of entrepreneurs who not only figured it out but did it with ideas that openly defied logic. These businesses span multiple sectors of the economy, from clothing to food service to pet care, and all of them found success as franchises, or at least they seem to be on the cusp of doing so.
CNBC.com presents 10 unusual franchises that you won't believe actually exist.
— By Dan Bukszpan, special to CNBC.com
Posted 12 May 2016
The Anger Room is what you might call a "franchise in progress." This Texas-based business has 10 franchise units in the United States, with international units pending, but it's a good bet that given the service they offer, people are going to want in.
The Anger Room arms patrons with baseball bats and allows them to destroy rooms that have been mocked up to look like offices, kitchens, basically any room where garden-variety frustration gives way to runaway rage. It's been good for $170,000 in annual revenue so far.
The Anger Room is "complete with dummies, mannequins, TVs, tables and many, many more breakable items," according to the website. "We assure you once you've tried this method of stress relief, nothing else will compare."
Cost to buy: $18,000
Annual fee: $6,000
Tina Bacon-DeFrece is president of Big Frog Custom T-Shirts and More. The company makes low-quantity custom shirts based on designs made by the customer and a staff artist. Orders are turned around in 24 hours or less.
The company started as just a single shop, but the idea proved popular enough to turn into a franchise. Bacon-DeFrece told CNBC that Big Frog opened nine new stores in 2015 and produced more than 2.5 million T-shirts in that year alone. The company plans to add 20 new franchise locations this year.
"Currently, the company has more than 65 store locations open across the United States, and it eclipsed its 2014 total of $14.3 million in gross revenue to $18.7 million in 2015," Bacon-DeFrece said. "Big Frog remains one of the top franchise opportunities in the market for 2016."
Cost to buy: $39,500
Annual fee: 6% royalties and 1.5% national advertising fund
We all need help with household chores from time to time. Vacuuming, dusting, cleaning the toilet ... Those tasks are a time-wasting yawn at best. But what if the household that needs cleaning is the site of a gruesome multiple homicide that requires a remedy way beyond
Luckily, Bio-One is there to help out in such cases. This crime-scene cleaning franchise, based in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, was founded by president and CEO Nick-Anthony Zamucen, whom the website says "has done for the crime and trauma scene cleaning industry what Mark Zuckerberg has done for social media."
Bio-One has 43 franchise units and estimates its annual revenue as upward of $5 million. It offers its services for such occasions as blood-spill cleanup, medical waste disposal, emergency vehicle decontamination and much, much more.
Cost to buy: $75,000
Annual fee: 7% Royalty
Rita Goldberg is the owner of British Swim School. A former national swimmer, she wanted to start her own swimming school, but instead of situating it in the typical white-tiled environment, aromatic with chlorine, she built a pool in the basement of a derelict Victorian house that she had bought.
That was 1981. A decade later Goldberg emigrated to the United States and opened four more schools in eight years. There are now 83 pools in 14 states and one in Turkey, with almost 8,000 students taught every week altogether. The company's annual revenue is $6.8 million. So 35 years after founding her business, what advice does she have for other entrepreneurs?
"Never give up," she said. "It is very difficult to plug away at a new concept, but if you believe in it, keep going."
Cost to buy: $75,000
Annual fee: $39,500
Now in its 13th year, Cuddle Party is a workshop in which a group of adults gather, lie on the floor together and snuggle. That's it. No affection beyond innocent spooning is permitted, and if you get any ideas (wink wink), you'll be asked to leave and take your footie pajamas with you.
"Facilitators," who must complete 10 weeks of training at a cost of $1,490 in order to be certified, lead the Cuddle Parties. They are also required to complete the Foundations of Facilitation course, a workshop that teaches general skills to anyone wishing to create workshops of any kind. Once that's all squared away, you're ready to host a Cuddle Party of your own.
The Cuddle Party site features testimonials from numerous individuals who have taken part in them. Many of them, such as "Jim," are from the stressful streets of New York City,
"After attending the cuddle party this past Sunday, I stepped out onto the street and definitely had a very good feeling, a lightness, peaceful and smiley," Jim wrote. "I hope to join you again soon for oodles of cuddles!!"
Cost to buy: $1,490
Annual fee: None
If you're going away on a business trip and can't take Fido with you, fret not. A high-end luxury hotel for dogs exists, thanks to Jason Parker, co-founder and co-CEO of K-9 Resorts Daycare & Luxury Hotel. The business launched in 2005, and after five years of steady annual growth, it was time to franchise. Today the company earns more than $4 million in systemwide sales.
"It's very successful," he said. "We have eight units, just received a multimillion-dollar private-equity investment in our franchise company and are ready to award franchises across the country."
When asked what advice he would give to other aspiring franchisers, he assumed the posture of a wise Zen master.
"There will always be challenges in life and business," he said. "It is our job as entrepreneurs to overcome them."
Cost to buy: $49,500
Annual fee: 6% royalty
Santiago Martin is the founder of Nutty Scientists. The business was founded as an unconventional way to teach science to children.
"I was always interested in added-value services to education," he said. "The concept then grew through birthday parties and shows in shopping malls."
Today, Nutty Science has 245 franchise units in 42 countries, including 14 in the United States, which the Madrid-born entrepreneur describes as a fundamental market to his concept.
"The United States has been a crucial market for our brand, especially since the number of STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics] jobs has grown three times as fast as opportunities in non-STEM-related fields over the past decade," he said. "Parents are looking for additional resources to supplement their child's STEM education at a younger age."
Cost to buy: $50,000
Annual fee: 6% royalty and 2% advertisement fund
Elena Linares describes herself as a serial entrepreneur. She's also the CEO and founder of RazzleDazzle Barbershop, a business that offers men a lot more than the standard haircut.
"Guests receive a complimentary shot of 'sugar' (whiskey or vodka) while a 'Dazzler' (girl in costume) gives you a hand and neck massage with your RazzleDazzle Haircut," the website says. "You'll leave feeling like a gentleman and a scholar."
Linares left her abusive husband in New York 30 years ago and relocated to Miami, eventually getting a job at Supercuts, where she became a franchisee with 12 locations. She decided to strike out on her own, and today RazzleDazzle has five corporate locations in the greater Miami area and generates more than $2 million in annual revenues. So what's her secret?
"Don't be afraid to leverage your gift of femininity — if you know what I mean," she said. "A sexy, knowledgeable woman who lets her work speak for her has the professional world in the palm of her pretty little hand."
Cost to buy: $30,000
Annual fee: 6% royalty
Snip-its is a children's haircutting franchise founded by Joanna Meiseles. Like a lot of entrepreneurs who start businesses for children, she was inspired by how uninspired most children's barbershops seemed to be, particularly the one where she brought her 3-year-old son.
"We went to one of those family walk-in salons," she said. "I wanted the hairdresser who cut his hair to talk to him and help keep him relaxed, but she didn't. I knew I wanted to create a brand that would be synonymous with quality children's hair care, all surrounded within a welcoming and entertaining environment."
Meiseles had no formal business experience, so the idea of turning it into a franchise was daunting. But she envisioned the business as a national chain, and today she boasts 63 salons in 22 states and sees annual revenue of $15.5 million. Her tip to other people thinking of starting their own franchise is simple: Start today.
"I learned the importance of launching a start-up quickly rather than waiting to perfect the business model," she said. "Nothing is ever going to be perfect when launching a new business, but it is important to get out there and do what you've set out to achieve, as opposed to sitting around and waiting for every small detail to fall into place."
Cost to buy: $35,000
Annual fee: $35,000
Jerry Hancock holds a bachelor's degree in chemistry from Brigham Young University. This has served him well as founder and CEO of Sub Zero Ice Cream, which provides gourmet custom-made ice cream with a twist — the flavors and mix-ins are flash frozen with liquid nitrogen.
"There were no guidelines or set of instructions to create this sort of product," he said. "It took us about two or three years to refine the process and get to the point of franchising."
Sub Zero Ice Cream currently operates 55 stores in the United States, China and the United Arab Emirates, and it generated $8.5 million in sales in 2015. Hancock said the franchise has grown by an average of 15 stores each year, and if he has any advice for the aspiring franchisee, it's to know what you don't know, and don't be shy about handing it off to someone who does.
"We got caught up over our heads in 2010, since we expanded faster than we should have," he said. "My wife and I were doing everything for the company — website, graphic design, bookkeeping, buildouts and franchisee manuals. We've slowly started to bring in vendor partners to help us grow the business and let us focus on what we do best."
Cost to buy: $155,000
Annual fee: $30,000 plus 6% royalty