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franchisor Archives - Duell | Law

Should You Consider A Merger Or Acquisition?

By | Newsletter

Your company’s founder has laid a solid foundation and the franchise business has grown to a point where economics dictate that the company must remain the same size or expand to establish a larger royalty base for profitability. If you choose the role of expansion, it could be accelerated through merger or acquisition of another franchise company. Your decision to expand may even be far removed from a financial one. It could be predicated on a product or service which is complimentary to your existing business or perhaps, another company has an excellent management team in place and you believe a merger or acquisition would help position your company as the dominant franchisor in a particular field.

Up to this point, the entire process of whether to engage in a merger or an acquisition of another company has been based upon various business decisions, all of which ultimately relate to profitability. And of course, profitability is extremely important, but you must not base a decision solely on profitability. This a good time in the decision process to call upon your franchise counsel to see if there are any legal implications before moving forward. If your decision process fails to include legal counsel as part of your merger or acquisition team, be forewarned your next step might be the defense of one or more lawsuits from franchisees in your own system.

If not handled properly, a good plaintiff’s attorney may craft a lawsuit against your company which includes breach of contract. He or she may contend that your merger or acquisition effectively created a complete modification of the Franchise Agreement, by revamping the franchise concept. They may even throw in a count for violation of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing based  upon such issues  as market expansion, encroachment, dual distribution and interference with contractual relations. Next comes one of their favorite counts, fraud. Plaintiff attorneys love to use the fraud count and if they can find a way to get the lawsuit tried in their own ballpark, “let the good times roll.” To add spice to the lawsuit, they might add a count for violation of state franchise relationship laws and franchise disclosure laws. For the icing on their lawsuit, they may even throw in an antitrust count by contending your company’s conduct and your co-conspirators’ conduct (that is, the conduct of the other company you are acquiring or with whom you are merging) is designed to eliminate their client and other similarly situated franchisees by saturation, or perhaps elimination of the market. If they are really feeling mean, they might go with a class action count or securities violation if one of the defendants is a public company. Their case for the franchisee looks pretty favorable, all because the franchisor didn’t establish a plan which included the legal aspects of merger and acquisition in the decision process. Fortunately legal consultation before making any decision on merging or acquiring another business can save you hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees alone.

Conclusion

A merger or acquisition may be very desirable, but it may also turn out to be a nightmare if you fail to make a proper legal plan.

Have You Considered Going International?

By | Newsletter

Many Franchisors ignore the thought of Foreign Expansion, believing that their U.S. market poses more than enough challenge. They reason that their hands are full just trying to ward off problems in this country, much less taking their concept to foreign shores. But BEWARE. If your franchise is successful in the U.S., you can bet there are foreign competitors looking at your concept to replicate it overseas. In fact, if you look at the website for “Hungry Jack’s” in Australia, you will find it looks familiar to the “Burger King” concept in the U.S. They even have a “Whopper”. Years ago, an enterprising Australian company snapped up much of the “Burger King” concept. After a successful run without Burger King being able to stop the replication, the company is now part of the international Burger King Corporation.

Franchising is booming overseas! There are new foreign franchisors springing up every day. Just like U.S. franchisors, foreign franchisors are looking to expand in the U.S. A good example of this is occurring in the restaurant field – Hispanic eateries are coming to America. Their initial in-road is to capture the Latino immigrants in this country. But ultimately, all these chains aim to compete with U.S. restaurants for mainstream consumers.

For the U.S. Franchisor, global markets may prove much more accessible than in earlier years. Finding information about retail trends in international markets has a multitude of websites which can provide franchisors with a vast assortment of information.

Today’s technology enables Franchisors to respond quicker than ever before. When an inquiry comes in from overseas, do you have a plan to respond?  More often than not, U.S. Franchisors attempt to react and end up in a quagmire trying to dig their way out of legal and cultural differences. U.S. Franchisors should welcome the opportunity to expand overseas. In addition to building BRAND awareness, it opens new untapped markets and, with the recognition your company will receive, it also opens new doors in this country.

Don’t wait and be caught flat-footed. Start now to develop a plan and begin evaluating the viability of going overseas. From the legal standpoint, Duell Law will help you look at the different methods of franchising when going international. Next, we help you review foreign laws and work with you in developing a legal plan to make your overseas launch successful and not a regrettable one. After your legal plan is in place, we will work with you and your team to evaluate the financial and personnel resources necessary for your launch.

CONCLUSION

A Franchisor’s vision that started in this country can make the same impact overseas by laying a solid foundation through proper planning.

Franchise Associations: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

By | Newsletter

In determining whether franchise associations will benefit or undermine a franchise system one must first determine the manner in which the association is to be organized and secondly, the purpose behind the proposed formation. Generally, franchisee associations are either formed by franchisees themselves, primarily for their own interest, or they are formed by the franchisor, primarily for the franchisor’s interest first and secondarily that of the franchisees.

The Good

If a franchise association is being formed by the franchisor rather than franchisees, the association is customarily denoted a Franchise Advisory Council (“FAC”). As the name connotes, FAC’s are purely advisory. Organizational, communication, travel and other expenses are normally paid by the franchisor. Franchisors considering whether to form a FAC usually look for the best and most loyal franchisees to be on one or more committees to advise the franchisor on topics such as marketing, new product development, reporting and operations. FAC’s are a good mechanism for franchisors to obtain valuable input from prime franchisees. Because franchisees feel that they are a team member and their contribution is meaningful (which it should be), the FAC members normally give the franchisor their endorsement which in turn draws the support of the entire franchise system.

The Bad

When an association is formed by franchisees rather than the franchisor, the franchisee association usually involves a conflicting economic interest with that of the franchisor. Franchisees sometimes find that by pooling together their resources they jointly have a much louder and stronger voice. As a result, a franchisor is much more apt to listen and address complaints of franchisees. Unfortunately, for many franchise systems, franchisee associations formed to address a single issue common to the system expands to include a wide range of issues, including issues that might have otherwise been addressed by a FAC. An example of this change of direction occurs in the franchise system discussed in an article appearing in the magazine, Franchise Times. The story is about a franchisee association initially formed for the sole purpose of helping franchisees survive a number of lean financial years. After the franchisees were again profitable, the franchisee association changed its purpose and became primarily concerned with decoupling the franchise brand from that of the franchisor’s parent company. Neither franchisor nor franchisee could ever have foreseen the total change of direction.

The Ugly

The ugly referenced in our title occurs when politicians and academia get involved. Today there is growing sentiment that franchisee associations should be treated like labor unions and be granted an antitrust exemption. With this type of protection franchisee associations could engage in collective bargaining and be free to negotiate royalties, advertising fees, operational issues, termination rights and many other facets of the franchise system.

Like so many aspects of franchising, the decision of whether associations should be allowed in your system depends upon the intent of formation. Before agreeing to an association contact our firm. Together we can look at the legal ramifications pertaining to an association. Perhaps it may be more important to be proactive and form a franchisee advisory council yourself, or address the specific issues without even having to address the formation of an association. The choices you make can mean a win-win for all parties or the ultimate demise of your entire franchise system.

2016 Annual Legal Checkup

By | Newsletter

We all acknowledge the importance of seeing our doctor annually for a physical checkup. Unfortunately, when it comes to the well-being of your franchise business, many companies never consider the importance of an annual legal checkup. If you are not reviewing documents or systems yearly, then new technology, new legislation or changing case law among other factors, may put your franchise business at risk.

Statistics show that most franchise systems which fail, do so within the first five years, principally for one or more of the following: undercapitalization; poor operations; lack of training and support; selling franchises for survival; lack of the skills required to be a successful Franchisor; or, looking only at the short term rather than building for the long-term. All of these failure precepts are likely to result in litigation against the franchise entity and against the principals and franchise sellers of the Franchisor, who are likely to be sued individually by the disgruntled franchisees. Without question, such litigation can be avoided by the company regularly consulting with its franchise attorney to provide advice and guidance in advance of any legal entanglements.

The need for a legal checkup is not just for the new Franchisor. For the mature Franchisor to be successful, there must be constant innovation and change. Change facilitates resistance from franchisees and requires close legal support from the planning stage through the implementation of the change.

A clear example of change occurred when McDonald’s added breakfast to its franchise system. Suddenly franchisees were faced with increased cost, not just for additional equipment, but new labor cost and having to manage a whole new process.

Without legal input prior to implementing the modification, McDonalds would have been in court for years from suits by their own franchisees.

In a field so seemingly narrow as franchising, it is always interesting to me that few law students and law professors have ever heard of and many, perhaps the majority of practicing lawyers, likewise have no awareness of and do not recognize the field of franchise law and the fact that there are so many subcategories of the law to consider. Franchising is filled with numerous subfields starting with the law of contracts and includes the core of franchising, trademarks, trade secrets and copyrights. Always present in franchising are antitrust issues, changing laws, litigation and the rapidly developing areas of joint liability and ostensible agency. From the initial prospect package through the termination of a dissident franchisee, a Franchisor’s records, information and processes should be reviewed no less than annually and, when necessary, updated, modified or changed to meet legal requirements. 

CONCLUSION

Does your company conduct an annual legal checkup? Will you be one of the casualties when the list of former franchise companies is posted? How successful do you want to be?

Modifying The Franchise System

By | Newsletter

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.