If there is one thing you can be sure of, it is the fact that change is imminent. In Franchising, if you don’t stay in touch with the market or consumer demands, you are setting a course for extinction. I am sure everyone can think of multiple examples of companies that remained static and are no longer with us today.
As a Franchisor, you are constantly evaluating and modifying the Franchise System to determine how new products, advancing technologies and changing consumer demands might affect your bottom line. Modifying the Franchise Systems occur in many forms. At one point, McDonalds did not serve breakfast. The modification of their Franchise System required a major investment by both Franchisees and McDonalds, with new equipment, advertising, additional labor cost and additional training. Almost all of the pizza franchises added delivery service to their system. Today you see many concepts that co-brand with other Franchise concepts. When you walk into a convenience store there are usually several franchise concepts in place under one roof. Computer technology has required many companies to modify a Franchisor’s system to stay abreast of competition.
Unfortunately, no matter how hard you work to lay the groundwork for changes to your Franchise System, there will always be one or more hostile franchisees who, even though they bought the franchise for your expertise, think they know more than expire. Be prepared for the argument that your modifications have caused a constructive termination of their Franchise Agreement or that you have modified or amended the original contract without their required written consent or that you have violated the covenant of good faith and fair dealing.
Fortunately, the good news is that courts around the country generally uphold a Franchisor’s right for modifying the Franchise System – when the Franchisor has reserved the right to do so in its Franchise Agreement. The key is reserving your right to make modifications. It is important that your franchising counsel is part of your planning team so that counsel knows what your future expectations are and can help build your documents to avoid franchisee disputes. Before making modifications to your Franchise System, be sure you have the legal ability to implement the system change. If the subject of your future Franchise System Modifications is not already on your list, make sure to add it to our annual legal checkup review.