According to the International Franchise Association, almost 4% of all small businesses in the U.S. are franchises. It's an industry that generates more than $ 2.1 trillion and employs 18 million Americans.
One of the most appealing reasons to buy a franchise is that you're buying a proven concept rather than starting a business from scratch. The operating details, marketing plan and advertising campaigns all have been developed and tested by the franchisor, and often you can connect with numerous other franchisees to gauge what it takes to be successful.
All that convenience, however, can come with a hefty price tag. To open a Taco Bell or McDonald's franchise, for example, you have to have at least $750,000 in liquid assets. To open a KFC, your net worth has to be at least $1.5 million. The average initial franchise investment is $250,000, excluding real estate, says the IFA, and average royalty fees paid by franchisees range from 3% to 6% of monthly gross sales.
Fortunately, there are other franchise choices that cost a lot less to start and still offer you the chance to be your own boss. The Franchise Business Review, a leading market research firm that sort of acts as the "Consumer Reports" for the franchise industry, recently identified 10 low-cost franchises that let you get started for $15,000 or less in cash.
"Many people think you need hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy a franchise business, but the reality is that there are some great low-cost franchises that can provide a very high return on your investment in the long run," said Eric Stites, CEO and managing director of the Franchise Business Review. He added that some of the greatest opportunities are in franchises most people have never heard of before.
Among them is Image One, a janitorial cleaning service.
After a 20-year career as a sales manager for an electric tool company, Bob Caramusa opened his Image One franchise in Chicago in 2010 as a way to own his own business and to make some extra money.
"I have a wife and three kids, so the price was very important to me," he said. For $15,000 Caramusa says he bought "a complete turnkey business." The investment included equipment, training, ongoing support from the franchisor and two accounts to get started. "The financial risk was pretty minimal, so I knew I could make my money back even if I didn't stay with the business," he says.
Caramusa did stay, quitting his corporate job in 2015 to work on Image One full-time. Today the business is on track to book revenues of $1 million by the end of this year. Said Caramusa: "I wish I would have done this the day I graduated from college."
According to the Franchise Business Review's Franchising@WORK 2019 Employee Engagement & Compensation Report, 90% of corporate franchise employees rated their job as "rewarding & satisfying," with 56% responding "strongly agree" and another 34% responding "agree."
That's good news, especially with more Americans looking for alternative ways to make money, realizing they don't have enough in the bank for retirement.
"Franchising is about to experience a significant growth spurt over the next decade," said Stites. "Investing in a franchise business could be a great way for many people to supplement their retirement, especially with some really great, low-cost opportunities available that can provide income, flexibility and long-term equity."
So if you aspire to be your own boss but don't want to break the bank and build a business from scratch, these low-cost options may be for you.
(Figures reported are from each company's 2018 Financial Disclosure Document.)
If you love to travel and want to make a living at it, Dream Vacations might be the right franchise. Started in 1991, the home-based travel agency specializes in both land and cruise vacations and counts more than 1,200 franchisees today. Getting started costs $9,800 and includes six days of training at company headquarters in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, website design, invoice and booking software and ongoing support on how to build your business. Alex Greene started her Dream Vacations franchise in Fountain Hills, Arizona, in 2017 without any travel agency experience and is on track to book more than $1 million in sales by the end of this year.
Weddings are a $72-billion-a year industry, and this franchise lets you own a piece of that. For $10,000 franchisees get training and ongoing support to offer brides and grooms help with everything from photographers, DJs, videographers and lighting. Complete Weddings + Events teaches franchisees how to hire these professionals, what to charge and keeps them current on the price of weddings in their area. The company founder, Jerry Maas, was a DJ at the first wedding for Complete Weddings + Events in 1974 and began franchising in 1983.
If you've ever watched HGTV and marveled at all those beautifully decorated homes, Showhomes Home Staging could be the franchise for you. The company takes vacant and other homes for sale and revamps them with temporary furnishings and accessories so that they look neat, clean, and stylish.
A survey by Coldwell Banker Real Estate found that staged homes spent half the time on the market than ones that weren't staged and sold for more than 6% above the asking price. Potential franchisees can get started for $10,000 which includes in-person training at the company's Nashville headquarters, proprietary CRM software, website creation, hosting, and SEO, and a one-on-one business coach.
School and sports team photos is the heart of TSS Photography. The company has been around since 1983 and began franchising the following year, so it has a solid history of helping people start and run their own businesses. The cost is $10,500, and for that franchisees get photography training, sales and business development and help with day-to-day operations. One of the extra advantages of this company besides its low cost is that TSS doesn't charge franchisees a standard monthly royalty — rather, they make their money on the markup of products and printing — so the franchisee keeps more of what they make.
This vacation planning franchise is aimed at folks who want to work from home and have a passion for travel. Cruise Planners franchisees sell full-service vacation packages, including cruises, land-based vacations, trip insurance and car rentals. The Coral Springs, Florida-based company was started by veteran travel agent Michelle Fee in 1994 and began franchising in 1999. Getting started costs $10,995 and includes a six-day in-person training course in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, ongoing home office support and $1 million in insurance.
Shopping for a mortgage is typically one of the less pleasant aspects of buying a home. Motto Mortgage aims to change that. Launched in 2016, the franchise connects loan originators and real estate agents to create a seamless, one-stop experience for homebuyers. Each office is independently owned, and potential franchisees can get started for $12,500 in cash. In addition, there is an additional initial investment of $47,800 to $68,100. This includes a three-day broker-training program at company headquarters in Denver that covers various mortgage products and services. It also gives franchisees access to a design center where they can produce marketing materials.
Most real estate brokers charge a commission, ranging from 3% to 6% or more, to sell your home based on the sale price. Help-U-Sell Real Estate, established in 1976, has a different playbook. It was the first fee-for-service real estate franchise in the country, meaning that it charges a flat fee for its services to list, market and help close on the sale. Franchises cost $15,000 to get started and include training, front- and back-office support, marketing supplies and ongoing coaching.
Who knew cleaning could be lucrative. Image One is a commercial cleaning service started in 2010. It started franchising the following year and now has 103 franchises across the country. For $15,000, franchisees get training in the proper commercial cleaning methods, equipment, cleaning supplies, billing and paperwork, money collecting, marketing, and on-going support. The company also offers help with obtaining insurance and discounts on additional supplies and equipment.
This eponymous children's clothing consignment franchise was started in 1997 and has now expanded to 22 states. For $15,000 it offers potential franchisees the chance to organize large consignment events in the territory they purchase. Rhea Lana's provides franchisees training, its proprietary inventory management technology, bar-coding programs and website design. The company claims its franchisees work two to three months a year on a consignment event in a mid-sized market and make as much as they would at a full-time job.
As one of the oldest real estate franchising organizations in the country, United Country Real Estate specializes in country, rural and lifestyle properties. Rather than focus solely on where a buyer wants to live, the United Country approach advertises a lifestyle, whether that's small-town living, ranching, farming, waterfront or hunting and fishing. For $15,000, franchisees get a yearlong office onboarding training program, live webinar training sessions and an on-demand library of training tools.
Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that Cruise Planners is based in Coral Springs, Florida and Motto Mortgage has 100 locations and start-up costs are $12,500 in cash, and an initial investment fee of $47,800-$68,100.