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Earn millions through franchising

Last updated on: December 19, 2006 12:40 IST

Rajat Mathur, 36, had always wanted to strike out on his own. So, when he left the i-flex Solutions office in Mumbai as its senior banking analyst for the last time on April 30, 2006, he did not regret it. An alumnus of the Indian Institute of Technology - Bombay and Indian Institute of Management - Lucknow, he had worked at Times Bank and ICICI Bank before i-flex.

You would walk into Orbit Mall on the Malad-Goregaon Road in Mumbai to the aroma of freshly baked cookies. The bouquet will lead you past the Good Earth store on your left, and round the corner to the Cookie Man shop.

And there, presiding over chocolate and honey-almond cookies, you would meet Mathur again. Counting the cash, checking the cookies, and serving them straight out of the oven at the back to the crowds thronging the counter. "I always wanted to do something on my own as I think that's where the real fun is. You can never get that in a nine-to-five job." Mathur's entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well.

While Mathur cut loose, a lot of others wanting to do so have not. With responsibilities and dependents, they don't dare to leave the warmth of a regular income and plunge into the financial turbulence a new business could bring. But today, the 'fresher' can go in with the safety tube of franchising. That's what Mathur did.

T K S Kumar, a franchisee of Whirlpool Service Centre in Chennai for a decade now, says: "I wanted to realise my long-cherished dream of becoming an employment giver from an employment seeker." But P Ramarao, president, Australian Foods, which owns Cookie Man, warns: "It's not for people who aren't passionate."

What is a franchise?

During the Great Depression, Colonel Harland Sanders started selling fried chicken in the little town of Corbin, Kentucky, on the road to Florida. He is said to have used 11 herbs and spices in a secret recipe that gave the chicken its distinctive taste. Sanders' fare gained fame and Corbin was a routine stop en route to Florida till a new highway bypassed it. That's when the colonel shut shop and tried selling his chicken to restaurant owners.

In 1952, Pete Harman of South Salt Lake, Utah, signed an agreement to sell Sanders' chicken and pay him five cents for each piece sold. The eatery was called Kentucky Fried Chicken. It was the world's first franchise. While Sanders was sharing proprietory knowledge and reputation with Harman for a fee, the latter was running the business on Sanders' behalf. And that is the essence of a franchise even today.

Why a franchise?

The simple answer is to mitigate risk. "The franchiser can expand its reach by investing almost no money and capital, while the franchisee is almost sure of success as he is working in a tested area," says C Y Pal, president, Franchising Association of India, an industry body.

A US Department of Commerce study conducted during 1971 to 1997 showed that less than five per cent of franchises closed down each year. In contrast, a study by the US Small Business Administration found that from 1978 to 1998, 62 per cent of non-franchised businesses could not make it past the sixth year.

But remember that a franchise will never give the returns that a successful own business will. For example, Biocon CEO Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, who started her business with Rs 10,000 in 1978, is now the richest woman in India with a net worth of about Rs 2,000 crore (Rs 20 billion). Some franchises could give you annual returns of 70 per cent, but most will be in the 20-40 per cent range.

Good franchisers will help you get your business rolling and to keep it that way. Vivek Kaicker, 44, runs a U$ Dollar Store franchise in Delhi. "I had a retail business, but I liked this concept and thought it would increase footfall," he says.

On 27 November 2006, retail giant Wal-Mart, with a turnover of $316 billion, announced that it would franchise its Indian operations to Sunil Mittal's Bharti Enterprises. The latter would own and run Wal-Mart retail stores in India. Wal-Mart would also set up a joint venture with Bharti for the supply chain. Thus, systems honed over 46 years would be Bharti's from Day One.

Overnight, Bharti, whose retail plans had earlier been dwarfed by the Rs 3,200-crore (rs 32 billion) investment announced by Mukesh Ambani's Reliance Retail, was being billed as the company that would battle for supremacy in organised Indian retail. That's the kind of fillip the right franchise can give. The model is versatile enough to work for Mittal, as well as Mathur. And it can work for you.

Why is this a good time?

As a share of GDP, franchising accounts for 12 per cent in the US, but not even one per cent in India. The comparison gives an idea of where it could go. Industry estimates indicate franchising has grown to a Rs 8,000-crore (Rs 80 billion) sector now, from Rs 4,578 in 2004.

Pal says there are over 750 franchisers in India today. Throw in the foreign franchisers, and the opportunity grows even bigger. It is attracting local talent in sectors such as food, lifestyle, retail, business services, healthcare, communication, education, entertainment and travel, among others.

India is now the world's largest franchise market after North America and is growing at about 30 per cent a year, says Tony White, managing director, White Connections, which advises franchise companies.

A big opportunity is in the Rs 40,000-crore (Rs 400 billion) organised retail sector, of which less than a fifth is franchised. It is expected to grow at 30 per cent a year for the next five years. But it may not be for everyone.

"Retail often involves high costs as prime real estate, decoration and furnishing," says Gaurav Marya, president, Franchise India Holdings, an integrated franchise solutions company. A cheaper option is a service franchise. Instead of the local guy, more people are getting specialists to, say, find a match, or clean a water tank. For a money-spinner education franchise, "in most cases all you need is a room and the course material", Marya adds.

"Eating out constitutes 11 per cent of the wallet of Indians; mom and pop stores are being replaced by organised F&B outlets," says Ajay Bansal, director (business development), Yum International, which owns Kentucky Fried Chicken. But growth is concentrated more in the takeaways and value eateries than fine diners (see 26 Hot Franchises: An Invitation to Join the Fast-growing Fraternity, page 24).

Which franchise?

While buying a franchise, you have to consider several issues.

Anagh Pal, Outlook Money