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Tuesday
Nov292011

Franchise Law – 23 Items of the Franchise Disclosure Document (Part 2 of 2)

Business Litigation Attorney EncinoFranchise & Business Litigation Attorney

 

by David Gurnick
818.907.3285

This is the second of a two part blog on the Franchise Disclosure Document, or FDD.  Anyone who offers or sells a franchise in the United States must prepare an FDD and present it to their prospective franchisees.

A prospective franchisee must receive the FDD at least fourteen (14) days before any agreement is signed, or before the franchisor receives any consideration relating to the sale of the franchise.

The FDD contains information about the franchisor, its history, management personnel, litigation, terms and obligations of the franchise and other key aspects about the franchise that an investor should know.

The first 12 points of the FDD are explained in: Franchise Law – 23 Items of the Franchise Disclosure Document (Part 1 of 2). Items 13-23 are discussed below.

13. Trademarks.

One of the defining elements of every franchise is the existence of a trademark that the franchisor permits the franchisee to use, and that the franchisee uses to identify the business.

In this disclosure the franchisor identifies its principal trademarks, provides details as to their registration status in the United States Patent and Trademark Office and the trademark office of any state, and discloses if there have been any infringements of the trademark.

14. Patents, Copyrights and Proprietary Information

In addition to trademarks, most franchise systems also claim to own trade secrets. In a few systems, the franchisor claims to own valuable copyrights or patents that are licensed to the franchisee. Information on trade secrets, copyrights and patents is disclosed in this disclosure item.

15. Obligation To Participate In The Operation of the Franchise Business.

Often, an individual or couple buys and actively operates their franchise. It is common to see the owner behind the counter of a Subway sandwich shop, or local gas station, or in the management office of a franchised hotel. Franchisors prefer this and sometimes require that the franchisee actively participate in operation of the business.

Some franchisees acquire multiple units. When that occurs, the franchisee cannot possibly be in all locations at once. Sometimes investors buy franchises, planning to hire others to run them.  This item discloses the extent that the franchisor requires the franchisee to actively participate in operating the business or will allow the franchisee to be absent or passive with the franchise operated by others.

16. Restrictions On What The Franchisee May Sell.

All McDonalds sell hamburgers, fries and shakes. Imagine if some locations also sold tacos, burritos and enchiladas, and other locations sold spaghetti, ravioli and macaroni, and still others sold chop suey and won ton soup. Soon the public would be confused about the system’s products.

To maintain uniformity between locations, franchisors set limits on the products and services that their franchisees may sell. This disclosure item summarizes those limits.

17. Renewal, Termination, Transfer and Dispute Resolution.

At its core, a franchise is a license that permits a franchisee to do business using the system and identity and know-how of the franchisor. Because franchises involve a sizeable investment, some important considerations in buying a franchise, are the duration of the license, circumstances in which the license could be terminated early, whether it can be renewed and any restrictions on the franchisee’s ability to transfer the franchise to someone else.

This disclosure item is a table that identifies and summarizes key provisions of the franchise agreement on these and related subjects.

18. Public Figures.

In the 1970s franchisors often enlisted famous people to endorse their business and lend their names and reputation to the process of offering and selling franchises. Typically, these famous people were getting paid, but that was not disclosed to naive franchisee investors. Therefore, the FDD is required to disclose whether any famous people are involved in offering and selling franchises, and summarize their compensation for doing so.

19. Earnings Claims.

A question that many potential franchisees ask is “how much money will I earn?” By presenting selective data, or even manipulating numbers, the answer to this question could potentially be overly positive, or even misleading.

The FDD permits a franchisor to present information on the past financial results and even future projections. But they must be accurate, have a reasonable basis, and be accompanied by certain disclaimers specified in the disclosure rules. Any such earnings claims are contained in this item of the FDD.

20. List of Outlets.

The franchisor is required to attach a list of locations, with names and contact information for the owner of each franchise.  A list of ex-franchisees who recently left the system must also be attached.  This information assists a prospective franchisee who may wish to contact and interview some existing and former franchisees to hear and evaluate their satisfaction with the franchise system.

22. Financial Statements

A franchisor is required to provide its audited financial statements for the past three years. This is useful for the prospective franchisee to evaluate the franchisor’s financial performance and financial condition.

22. Contracts.

A copy of each contract to be entered into, must be attached as an exhibit to the FDD. This provides the potential franchisee an opportunity to review the actual contracts before they are entered into.

23. Receipt.

The last item of the FDD is a receipt. Two copies of the receipt are attached to the FDD. One copy is to be signed by the recipient of the FDD and returned to the franchisor. The recipient may keep the other copy.

The franchisor is required to present the FDD to the prospective franchisee at least 14 days before any agreement is entered into and any consideration is paid. The receipt, when signed and dated to acknowledge receipt of the FDD, provides the franchisor a record confirming that this requirement was satisfied.

Franchise Law in the United States

The FDD is a useful tool for prospective franchisees in evaluating a franchise being offered. Even though the categories of information are uniform, each company’s FDD differs from each other company, and a particular company’s FDD will differ from year-to-year.

This article has summarized the contents of the FDD’s 23 disclosure items, but the discussion is only a summary. The detailed regulatory instructions for preparing the FDD include various additional subjects and requirements within the above categories.

David Gurnick is a franchise law attorney and author of two books, Distribution Law of the United States and Franchise Depositions, both available through Juris Publishing, Inc.  Mr. Gurnick is certified as a specialist in Franchising and Distribution Law by the State Bar of California, Board of Legal Specialization. You may reach him at Lewitt Hackman: 818.990.2120 or dgurnick@lewitthackman.com.

 

 

Disclaimer:
This Blog/Web Site is made available by the lawyer or law firm publisher for educational purposes only, to provide general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog/Web Site publisher. The Blog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.

Wednesday
Nov232011

Franchise Law – 23 Items of the Franchise Disclosure Document (Part 1 of 2)

Business Litigation Attorney EncinoFranchise & Business Litigation Attorney

 

by David Gurnick
818.907.3285

 

Since 1979, any company wishing to offer and sell franchises in the United States has been required to prepare and present a written disclosure document to prospective franchisees.

The document provides extensive information about the company that offers and sells franchises, and the terms of the franchise being offered. Over time, the rules have changed concerning the name and precise contents of the document. But generally, the overall categories of information to be disclosed have remained the same. Today, it is called a “Franchise Disclosure Document,” or an “FDD.”

Here are the first 12 of the 23 categories of information that a franchisor's FDD is required to contain.

1. The Franchisor, It’s Predecessors and Affiliates.

This category provides a general introduction to the franchisor and the business. It describes the nature of the business, the market for the services or merchandise to be sold, particular laws the franchisee must comply with, the franchisor’s history, and information about companies affiliated with the franchisor.

2. Business Experience.

The FDD identifies the board of directors, officers and other key management personnel of the franchisor, and describes their current positions and employment histories, going back five years. With this information a potential franchisee can assess the business experience of the franchisor’s management in relation to the business of the franchise.

3. Litigation.

Litigation and arbitrations brought against the franchisor during the last 10 years, and their outcomes are described here. This category also provides summary information on suits and arbitrations that the franchisor brought against its franchisees. This information can be a useful tool in assessing the quality of relations between the franchisor and franchisees, and the types of problems that have occurred, that resulted in litigation.

But it is only a partial tool. The existence of litigation and claims does not automatically mean franchisor-franchisee relations are generally bad. The cases that were brought could be aberrations. The absence of litigation or arbitration does not mean relations are good. There could be disputes that did not result in litigation.

4. Bankruptcy

Bankruptcies of the franchisor or management during the past ten years are covered here. As with litigation, the existence of a bankruptcy or two among management does not, by itself, mean the franchise should be avoided.

Many individual managers, like other people, have been forced into bankruptcy for extraneous reasons having little to do with the franchise, such as a spouse or relative experiencing costly health issues. On the other hand, where key management has had one or more bankruptcies, it may be fair to ask why, and evaluate if they are individuals who have problems managing financial affairs.

5. Initial Franchise Fee

This information category discloses all amounts the franchisee must pay to the franchisor before the franchise starts operating.

6. Other Fees

Other Fees include all amounts the franchisee must pay to the franchisor after the franchise starts operating. This can be a particularly useful disclosure as it assists the potential franchisee in understanding the various fees and charges that will be imposed.

7. Initial Investment

Food FranchiseThe Initial Investment appears in a table that shows, for each category of expense that a franchisee will incur, a high-low range and an overall high-low range for the total investment to establish and start operating the franchise. This disclosure item can be particularly useful for a franchisee in determining affordability of and budgeting a potential franchise investment.

8. Restrictions On Sources Of Products And Services

Franchise systems often set restrictions on who the franchisee may obtain supplies, inventory and services from. Franchisors do this as a quality control measure, and to assure uniformity among the various outlets in their franchise system.

This category discloses the restrictions that the franchisee will be subject to in obtaining merchandise and services for the franchise.

9. Franchisee’s Obligations

The obligations table outlines 24 categories of obligations the franchisee will be required to comply with, and identifies particular sections in the Franchise Agreement, and/or in other agreements to be entered into, that concern that type of obligation. Rather than state the substantive obligation, this disclosure table points the franchisee to the statement of the obligation in the written agreement to be entered into.

10. Financing

Many franchisors offer to assist their franchisee with financing the franchise investment, either by accepting a promissory note for some of the investment obligation, or by making arrangements with third party lenders. This disclosure item provides a table summarizing key aspects of any financing arrangements that the franchisor is willing to make.

11. Franchisor’s Obligations

This disclosure category is one of the most extensive in the FDD. It summarizes assistance the franchisor has promised to provide before the franchise starts operation, and ongoing assistance to be provided after the start of operation.

Franchisors usually offer a training program in the operation of the franchised business. This category details the training, in a table that lists subjects, hours devoted to each, and whether that portion of the program is conducted in a classroom or on-the-job setting.

Other subjects addressed in this disclosure item include information on the franchisor’s advertising program, existence of advertising cooperatives, required participation in an advertising fund, details of any electronic point-of sale system the franchisee must purchase and the table of contents of the franchisor’s operating manual.

12. Territory.

Franchisees often want, and receive, a promise of exclusivity in a geographic area or market sector. Their franchisor promises not to establish another franchise within a stated area or market sector. This disclosure describes any territory exclusivity for the franchisee, how it is determined, and the circumstances in which exclusive territory may be modified.

In my next blog, we’ll discuss the final items franchisors must divulge in Franchise Law - The FDD Part 2 of 2. In the meantime, please contact me if you have any questions regarding franchise law, the Franchise Disclosure Document, or any of the points above.

David Gurnick is a Certified Specialist in Franchise and Distribution Law, as specified by the State Bar of California’s Board of Legal Specialization. E-mail him at dgurnick@lewitthackman.com

 

 

Disclaimer:
This Blog/Web Site is made available by the lawyer or law firm publisher for educational purposes only, to provide general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog/Web Site publisher. The Blog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.

Friday
Sep302011

Franchise Law Claims: Time Limits

Business Litigation Attorney EncinoFranchise Litigation Attorneyby David Gurnick
818.907.3285

Franchise laws in California and several other states seek to protect both franchisors and franchisees in their investment in a new franchise business. Franchisees are protected under these laws because franchisors must:   

▪   Register with the state each year,

▪    Present a disclosure document about the investment, and

▪    Allow a cooling-off period before the new franchisee signs any
   agreement or pays any money to the franchisor. 

These laws permit franchisees to bring a legal claim if the franchisor violates the law, such as by making a misrepresentation in offering or selling the franchise.   

For the franchisor,  the laws limit the time when franchisees can bring claims. 

A franchisee’s claim alleging violation of California’s Franchise Investment Law, is barred if not brought within the earliest to occur, of: 

▪   Four years from the act or transaction claimed to have violated the law, or

▪   One year after the franchisee discovers facts constituting the claimed violation. 

Moreover, under an old California law (from the 1800s), anyone, including a franchisee, who knows circumstances that should cause him or her to investigate, is deemed to know the facts the investigation would have revealed. This rule can make the one year time limit start and end quickly. 

Time limits differ in the various states that have franchise laws.  Here are some of them:

State

Time Limit for Franchise Law Claim

HawaiiFive years from claimed violation; or two years from discovery of facts constituting the claimed violation; but no later than seven years after the violation.
IllinoisThree years after act or transaction claimed to violate franchise law, or one year from being aware of circumstances indicating there may be a claim.
Indiana Three years after discovery of facts constituting claimed violation.
MarylandThree years after grant of the franchise.
MichiganFour years after act or transaction constituting the claimed violation.
MinnesotaThree years after action accrues.
New YorkThree years after act or transaction constituting the violation.
North DakotaFive years from date franchisee knew or reasonably should have known facts that are the basis for the claimed violation.
OregonThree years after sale of the franchise.
Rhode IslandFour years after act or transaction claimed to violate the state’s franchise law.
South DakotaOne year from claimed violation (for a rescission claim); Two years from discovery of facts constituting the claimed violation or three years from claimed violation (for a damages claim).
VirginiaFour years after claimed cause of action arose.
WashingtonTwo years from date of signing of franchise agreement.
WisconsinThree years after act or transaction constituting the claimed violation.

 

Some Effects of Franchise Law Time Limits

 

▪   Sometimes they encourage litigation.  They force franchisees to bring claims sooner, to reduce or avoid the risk of a claim being lost due to the statute of limitations. 

▪   They also give franchisors a strong tool to defend and defeat some claims, because the franchisee waited too long to sue. 

▪    These statutes also lead to some compromises and settlements, due to the complaining franchisee being uncertain if a statute of limitations may apply. 

▪   In some cases, by the time a franchisee becomes suspicious of a problem, dissatisfied enough to consult a franchise lawyer, and then certain enough to make a claim, more time has passed than the statute of limitations allows.   

▪   Sometimes, a franchisee knew the facts more than one year before bringing a claim. 

As a business owner, actual or potential franchisor or franchisee, you should keep in mind the statutes of limitations under state franchise laws.  

Franchisees should be aware to avoid losing or giving up a claim, by failing to bring it until after the time limit has passed.  Franchisors should be aware of statutes of limitations as a tool to bar or defeat an untimely claim, sometimes after only a relatively short time. 

David Gurnick is the author of Distribution Law of the United States and Franchise Depositions (Juris Publishing) and is Certified by the State Bar of California as a Specialist in Franchise and Distribution Law. Please reach him by calling 818.990.2120 or by e-mail: dgurnick@lewitthackman.com.

 

 
Disclaimer:
This Blog/Web Site is made available by the lawyer or law firm publisher for educational purposes only, to provide general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog/Web Site publisher. The Blog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.

 

 

 

Tuesday
Sep202011

When to Franchise Your Business - 7 Questions to Ask

Franchise Agreement LawyerState Bar Certified Specialist, Franchise & Distribution Law

 

by Tal Grinblat

818.907.3284

 

When to franchise, or not to franchise. . .that is the question many business owners routinely ask themselves.  There are certain guidelines and considerations companies can assess in deciding whether or not it’s time to franchise.  Here are some considerations:

If you’re content with the size of your business, your income, the positioning of your brand in the marketplace, the breadth of work involved in maintaining your business...then perhaps franchising is not for you. 

But if you want to grow your business and look forward to having new challenges to overcome, one very effective way to do so (with the added benefit of using other people’s money)  is through franchising. 

In deciding when to franchise, you should consider these questions:

1. Are You Profitable? Will Your Franchise be Profitable for Others?

This may seem like a no-brainer, but you’re not going to find people who want to buy into a struggling business model. And if you’re thinking franchising your business will actually turn diminishing profit margins around, it won’t.

You’ll need to take a look at why you are profitable and whether or not your income depends on fads, or solid products and services which can be turned into sustainable profits for years to come.  Franchised concepts that do not make a profit for their owners will not survive long, and may also lead to litigation.

2.  What is Your Business Model?  Will You Attract a Large Pool of Franchisees?

If entering the franchise will be too cost-prohibitive for potential licensees, you may not get many buyers. Franchising a new cleaning company for example, could be affordable to many people looking to break into business ownership. Franchising space travel launching pads would only be feasible for certain billionaires.   

3. Why Franchise Your Business? What are you offering that’s new?

You should consider your company’s unique traits that make you different and better than your competitors. If you’re not sure you have any unique traits that differentiate you from others, it may not be the right time or business to franchise.

4. Is Your Concept Replicable?

If your franchise concept is too dependent on your special qualities and traits which other franchisees may have difficulty replicating, franchising may not be for you. For example, a magician with unique skills and abilities may have difficulty franchising his magic concept if others cannot replicate these unique abilities.

5. Are You a Good Leader?

Are you prepared to offer support and training, and how much of it are you willing to provide? Many people who buy franchises are looking for guidance as they break into business ownership. But if you find it difficult to relinquish control, provide ample hand-holding for others, or are compelled to micromanage every last detail, selling franchises may not be an option for you.

6. How Will You Grow Geographically?

Imagine moving your business model from Los Angeles (or wherever your original store is headquartered) to Riverside. Will it still do well? Now try imagining it in Boise or Miami. If you think your concept will still draw customers and be profitable in many geographies, your business might make a good franchise.  However, if your concept is geographically dependent, like a windsurfing training camp, your market area for franchising may be more limited.

7.  What is the Regulatory Climate for your Business?

You should also consider specific regulations for your business. Are there certain states or geographies where your franchise will not succeed?  Will you need special permissions in local, county or state governments for your business? You’ll need to do plenty of due diligence before launching into franchise agreements.

When to franchise is always a tough question for business owners wanting to expand operations. Hopefully some of the questions above can help you start thinking about your available options.

Tal Grinblat is a California State Bar Certified Specialist in Franchise and Distribution Law. He can be reached via email: tgrinblat@lewitthackman.com.

 

 

Disclaimer:
This Blog/Web Site is made available by the lawyer or law firm publisher for educational purposes only, to provide general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog/Web Site publisher. The Blog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.

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