Secrets and snags to franchising success

By Lisa LaMotta

From hotel chains to sub shops, there are some 3,000 franchise systems in the U.S. By no means are they all created equal. How to choose? For starters, look for the following four hallmarks:

Quality control. There’s a reason McDonald’s (nyse: MCD – news – people ) French fries taste the same no matter where you are. While it may seem a nuisance to adhere to a slew of strict requirements, that extreme level of quality control keeps customers coming back.

Training. Pick a franchiser with a thorough, established training program. Chances are the head office knows how to run its operation better than you do.

Marketing. How many small business owners can afford a Super Bowl commercial? Franchisers usually ask franchisees to kick in a fraction of sales for regional and national ad campaigns. Make sure the franchiser is doing a good job helping you get the word out.

Fit. Just because you like coffee doesn’t mean that you should open a Dunkin’ Donuts store. If possible, choose a franchise that aligns with your personality and area of expertise.

When Ricki Wilson and her husband, Matt, decided to open a Butterfly Life health club franchise in 2006, they thought they were on the road to financial fitness. “We attended a seminar in Atlanta, and it looked pretty good,” says Matt, 40. “They seemed like they had everything all together. The numbers looked very attractive in the sales pitch.”

It sounds nice: Pay what seems a reasonable fee for a prefabricated business, and watch the cash come rolling in. But when it comes to running your own franchise, pumping up profits isn’t nearly as easy as pumping iron.

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