How Much Can Franchisees Be Charged?

It shall be an unfair or deceptive act or practice or an unfair method of competition and therefore unlawful and a violation of this chapter for any person to sell, rent, or offer to sell to a franchisee any product or service for more than a fair and reasonable price.  


RCW 19.100.180(2)(d)

One long hot button issue in franchising is charges, profits,
and rebates that franchisors receive from
franchisee purchases.  In addition to being
the brand owner, franchisors may also be the supplier of goods or services to
franchisees.  Franchisors have the right to be paid for service and value tendered.  But on the flip side, exorbitant charges can
render the franchisee unprofitable and uncompetitive in the market place. 

Within ever contract, including franchise agreements and
supplier agreements, there is implied a duty
of good faith and fair dealing.   This can translate into to not charging unreasonable
fees.  The obligation of good faith and
fair dealing is not written in the agreement, but rather is an implied obligation
in every agreement.  It is assumed. 

Washington state’s franchise law has codified into law the
obligation of good faith and fair dealing. 
In pertinent part, the codification
is quoted above.  The Washington law says
it is  “unfair or deceptive act or practice or an unfair method of competition……to
sell, rent, or offer to sell to a franchisee
any product or service for more than a fair and reasonable price.

A test of what is a fair
and reasonable price
was challenged in the case of Brewer v. Money Mailer, LLC. 
The court declined
to state a bright line rule about what is an unreasonable price.  But did say:

Selling printing services to a franchisee at more than twice what those services cost violates this provision.


ORDER GRANTING IN PART BREWER’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT – 5

The court’s in its order
granting summary judgment solely looked at the franchisor’s actual cost of
services and the fee charged franchisees. 
The court did not, and it is
unknown if the parties present evidence regarding of fair market valve or
competitor pricing for like services.  The
court, in hand, disregarded per se the franchisor’s argument that it provided considerable
benefit for the fees charged franchisees.

As a matter of law, huge markups in the price of a product or service that a franchisee is required to purchase from the franchisor are simply not permitted.

Id.

The take away is when determining fees charged franchisee.  Look at the cost.  Irrespective of the benefits bestowed or
competitor pricing, the fees charged franchisee must be reasonable something
less than twice the actual cost. 

Source: franchise blaw

Is Your Franchise Claim Subject to Arbitration?

Back in 1925, Congress passed a law allowing for the enforceability of arbitration clause in contracts.  

A written provision in . . . a contract evidencing a transaction involving commerce to settle by arbitration a controversy thereafter arising out of such contract . . . shall be valid, irrevocable, and enforceable, save upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of any contract.  9 U. S. C. §2.

Throughout the almost a hundred years later since enactment,
the enforceability of arbitration clauses has repeatedly been upheld.  In a case argued before the United Supreme
Court on October 29, 2019[i],
the high court has again reinforced the
bounds of arbitration.  The question at issue
before the high court was:

Who decides if a dispute is subject to arbitration pursuant to a contractual arbitration clause- an arbitrator or a judge in a court of law?

The Supreme Court says, if the contract clause such, it is an arbitrator’s place to determine if a dispute is required to resolved by arbitrated.

When the parties’ contract delegates the arbitrability question to an arbitrator, the courts must respect the parties’ decision as embodied in the contract.

HENRY SCHEIN, INC., ET AL. v. ARCHER & WHITE SALES, INC. CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT No. 17–1272. Argued October 29, 2018—Decided January 8, 2019.

Here are a few quick statements
regarding arbitration in general and franchising. 

  • Yes, arbitration offers a quicker resolution than litigation. On average, US District Court cases take more than twelve months longer to get to trial than cases adjudicated by arbitration (24.2 months vs. 11.6 months)[i].
  • Your right to challenge an arbitration decision is considerably more limited than in litigation. 
  • Arbitration decisions, unlike litigation, are not public; however, both must be disclosed in the Franchise Disclosure Document congruently.

[i] A New AAA Study Confirms That Arbitration Is Faster To Resolution Than Court – And The Difference Can Be Assessed Monetarily. Posted by John P. Ahlers  https://www.acslawyers.com/a-new-aaa-study-confirms-that-arbitration-is-faster-to-resolution-than-court-and-the-difference-can-bassessed-monetarily/

[i] HENRY
SCHEIN, INC., ET AL. v. ARCHER & WHITE SALES, INC. CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED
STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT No. 17–1272. Argued October 29,
2018—Decided January 8, 2019

Source: franchise blaw

What is the Recourse for the Filing of a Franchisee Bankruptcy?

Almost universally, franchise agreements expressly state
that the filing of a claim in bankruptcy is grounds for immediate termination
of the franchise agreement.  But, in reality,
bankruptcy laws, prohibit the franchisor from terminating the franchise
agreement based on the franchisee’s
filing in bankruptcy.  This is referred to
as a stay in bankruptcy. 

A debtor [franchisee] in bankruptcy is shielded by the automatic stay under Sec. 362 of the Bankruptcy Code [11 U.S.C. 362] from debt-related proceedings brought by creditors [franchisor] based on pre-petition events.

A bankruptcy stay means the franchisor is not permitted to terminate
or default a franchisee because of the
filing of bankruptcy, delinquent royalties, or any other deficiencies that are
pre-date the bankruptcy filing. 

So what recourse does a franchisor have against a franchisee in bankruptcy?  Two options include moving to dismiss the bankruptcy
and seeking to lift the automatic bankruptcy stay, may be available.  Either way, the franchisor must file a petition
with the bankruptcy court.  This is not a
matter that can be handled by simply
sending a notice to the franchisee or the
franchisee’s attorney. 

These two options were pursued by GNC in the case of In re:
Meena, Inc[i].
While GNC was not successful in getting the franchisees’ bankruptcy
dismissed or the automatic stay lifted,[ii]
the court provided a nice outline of what
is required for dismissal of bankruptcy claim and was is required to the lift
the automatic bankruptcy stay.

The bankruptcy may be dismissed if:

  1. the continuing loss to or diminution of the estate [franchised business] and absence of a reasonable likelihood of rehabilitation;
  2. inability to effectuate a plan;
  3. unreasonable delay by the debtor [franchisee] that is prejudicial to creditors [franchisor]; [or]
  4. failure to propose a plan under section 1121 of this title [the federal bankruptcy law] within any time period fixed by the court.4[iii]

To the lift the automatic bankruptcy stay, the franchisor
must show:

  1. the debor [franchisee] lack of adequate
    protection of an interest in property [franchise agreement or franchised
    business assets] of such party in interest; or
  2. the debtor [franchisee] does not have an equity
    in such property [franchise agreement or franchised business assets], and such property is not necessary for an
    effective reorganization.

[i] In
re: Meena, Inc., Debtor. In re: Desa of NY, Inc., Debtor. In re: SDA, Inc.,
Debtor. In re: Choudry Sajid Javaid and Gulmeena Javaid, Debtors. ¶16,304. U.S.
Bankruptcy Court, E.D. New York. Case Nos. 8-18-74693-reg, 8-18-74694-reg,
8-18-74695-reg, 8-18-74804-reg. Dated November 6, 2018.

[ii] GNC
was not successful in getting the franchisees’ bankruptcy dismissed or the
automatic stay lifted in part due to issues non-conveyance of the franchise
agreement and money security agreement from the individual franchisees to the business
entity franchisee.  See are previous blog
http://gettinslaw.com/franchising/2018/12/20/who-owns-this-franchise/

[iii]
In re C-TC 9 th Avenue Partnership , 113 F.3d. 1304, at 1311 (2d Cir. 1997).

Source: franchise blaw

Is There an Anti-Poaching Clause in Your Franchise Agreement?

Poaching in the employment realm is the act of scouting,
soliciting, recruiting, and hiring employees already employed by another
entity.  The consequence of having
a key employee poached can be a great
hardship on the business, and it can
create hard feelings between poacher and poached companies. 

The rationale of anti-poaching clauses are to avoid discord among and promote harmony between franchisees.  Anti-poaching clauses are common in franchise agreements.  Often the anti-poaching clause is cushioned within the non-solicitation provision.  A non-solicitation clause goes something like this:

You covenant that you will not, during the Term and for a period of one year after expiration or termination of the Franchise, employ or seek to employ any person who is employed by us, our Affiliates or by any of our franchisees, or otherwise directly or indirectly solicit, entice or induce any such person to leave their employment

Greer v. Papa John’s, S.D.N.Y., Case No. 1:18-cv-11312, December 4, 2018

The non-solicitation clause prohibits the franchisees from during and post the term of the franchise agreement from
deriving Franchised Business customers and employees from another. 

Recent claims by employees are claims are challenging the
premise the rationale of anti-poaching clauses is to promote harmony and avoid
discord amount franchisees. In two recent cases involving Papa Johns[i]
and Jiffy Lube[ii],
employees are asserting that anti-poaching clauses unfairly suppress
competition and suppress wages. 

Employees are to the only one to challenge anti-poaching
provisions in franchise agreements.  The
Papa Johns’ employee class action case, follows a settlement between Papa Johns
and the Washington Attorney General, in which the Washington Attorney General
asserted the Papa Johns’ anti-poaching clause

restricts worker mobility and decrease[s] competition for labor by preventing workers from moving among the chain[]’s franchise locations


[1] http://www.wkcheetah.com/?cpid=WKUS-Legal-Cheetah#/read/8ffbf8ce7d2f1000ba3d90b11c2ac4f101!csh-da-filter!WKUS-TAL-DOCS-PHC-%7BFEE144B1-5FC2-4E25-99A6-968163C6D1D7%7D–WKUS_TAL_1852%23teid-0?searchItemId=&da=WKUS_TAL_1852#8ffbf8ce7d2f1000ba3d90b11c2ac4f101-8ffbf8ec7d2f1000892990b11c2ac4f108

Papa Johns’ settled with the Washington Attorney General, and as part of the settlement, Papa Johns
agreed to remove the anti-poaching clause from its franchise agreement. 

Does your franchise agreement include an anti-poaching
provision?  What can you do?  What should you do? How can you preeminent
any potential governmental or employee claims?


[i] Greer
v. Papa John’s, S.D.N.Y., Case No. 1:18-cv-11312, December 4, 2018

[ii] Fuentes
v. Royal Dutch Shell PLC, E.D. Pa., Case No. 2:18-cv-05174-AB, November 29,
2018

priority52

Source: franchise blaw

Franchise Disclosure Document Update: Do I Need an Audit?

Yes, it is that time of year.  Every year 120 days post the close of the
franchisor’s fiscal year, the franchisor disclosure document must be updated with
the previous year’s data.  The update is
required by the federal FTC Franchise Disclosure Laws.  For must franchisor’s the deadline to update
the franchise disclosure document is April 30th.

It does not matter if you sold any franchises, if you tried to sell franchises last year, you will need an audit.

In the first year of franchising, startup franchisors may
have been able to evade getting an audit. 
However, post the first year of franchising and every year thereafter,
all franchisors must have an auditor completed of the franchisor entity incident
to the annual franchise disclosure update[i].

If you offered franchises in last year, you will need an audit.  It does not matter if you only offered franchises for 1 month, 3 months, or 12 months-you will need an audit.

The audit must be prepared in accordance with GAAP, and the audit must be done by an independent auditor.  The audit cannot be completed your in-house
accountant or the accountant that you use to complete your taxes.  


[i] In
leu of a franchisor audit, an audit may be completed “…of any of its affiliates
if the affiliate’s financial statements satisfy paragraphs (u)(1)(i) and (ii)
of this section and the affiliate absolutely and unconditionally guarantees to
assume the duties and obligations of the franchisor under the franchise
agreement. The affiliate’s guarantee must cover all of the franchisor’s
obligations to the franchisee but need not extend to third parties. If this
alternative is used, attach a copy of the guarantee to the disclosure document

Source: franchise blaw

Who owns this Franchise?

It is not uncommon for a prospective franchisee to purchase and sign a franchise agreement before forming a limited liability company or
corporations.

Again, not uncommon and it is not a big deal.  However, it is important to make sure to transfer the rights and obligations under the Franchise Agreement [and to the preserve the non-compete and guaranty by  individual franchisees] to the newly formed franchisee business entity.  A consent to transfer agreement between the individual franchisee, newly formed business entity and the franchisor should be signed when
the business entity is formed.

Yes, even though it is a transfer from a franchisee individual to a business entity that the franchisee owns, the franchisor needs to consent to the transfer.  The consent to transfer conveys the rights under the franchise agreement to the business entity.  Without the consent, the franchisee business entity never becomes obligated under the franchise agreement.  Without the consent to transfer, the franchisee business is not obligated to pay royalties, to follow system standards, or follow any other obligations under the franchise agreement.

Yes, even though it is a transfer from a franchisee individual to a business entity that the franchisee owns, the franchisor needs to consent to the transfer.

The potential outcomes are not good.  Hence the case of the In re: Meena, Inc.[i], In this case, two individuals purchased 3 franchises from GNC.  The individuals later formed a corporation.  A consent to transfer was never signed.  The franchise agreements remained under the names of the individual franchisees.  In purchasing the franchises, the individuals signed money security agreements collateralizing the franchised business assets.

The money security agreement went delinquent and unpaid after the issuance of termination notices, extensions by the franchisor, the franchisees individually and the franchisee business entities filed bankruptcy.  The franchisor was in a pickle.  There was a money
security agreement signed by individual franchisees, but the franchisee
business entity owned the assets.  The franchisee business collateral was not attachable; the assets were not owned by the individual persons
that signed the money security agreement.   The assets were owned by the franchisee business entity.


[i] Debtor.
In re: Desa of NY, Inc., Debtor. In re: SDA, Inc., Debtor. In re: Choudry Sajid
Javaid and Gulmeena Javaid, Debtors. ¶16,304. U.S. Bankruptcy Court, E.D. New
York. Case Nos. 8-18-74693-reg, 8-18-74694-reg, 8-18-74695-reg, 8-18-74804-reg.
Dated November 6, 2018.

Source: franchise blaw

What Franchisors Need to Do Before Advertising

You have your Franchise Disclosure Document [FDD] updated, and you are ready to sell franchises.  Before advertising, there may be one other step that you need to take.  The following states require that your franchise advertisements be submitted for review before publication or distribution.

·      California ·      Indiana ·      Maryland
·      Minnesota ·      New York ·      North Dakota
·      Rhode Island

·      South Dakota

·      Washington

The word advertisement in this context is used loosely.  For purposes of state review of advertisements, an “advertisement” includes virtually any document or letter given or sent to a prospective franchisee before or during the sale of the franchise, including, but not limited to, any

  • Brochures;
  • Photographs;
  • e-mails or letters sent or given to prospective franchisees;
  • newspaper, magazine, radio or television ads;
  • leaflets, photographs or brochures left in the company’s office;
  • signs or pictures in the office directed at selling franchises; and even
  • recorded telephone messages.

Advertisements in newspapers or other publications of general, regular and paid circulation which have had more than ⅔ of their circulation outside the state during the past 12 months, and radio or television programs originating outside the state, are NOT required to be submitted for pre-publication approval.

However, a newspaper or magazine article about the company that was originally published in another state or in a newspaper or magazine with more than ⅔ of its circulation outside the state must be submitted for approval if you mail copies to prospective franchisees in a state that does require pre-publication approval.

Source: franchise blaw

Where are Your Franchise Wrapped Vehicles?

Wrapped branded vehicles are a wonderful way to promote your franchise brand.  It is like a moving billboard.  But what happens when the vehicle is involved in an accident and is totaled?  What happens to the vehicles?

In the case of one Domino’s car, the whereabouts are now known.  It has been featured on the YouTube channel Samcrac.  Samcrac purchases and restores salvage vehicles.  There is no doubt that it is a Domino’s branded vehicle.  The hood has the Domino’s logo, it has a Domino’s car top and it is equipped with a Domino’s custom warming oven.

What is in doubt is what Domino’s can do about it.  Samcrac was notified by YouTube of a trademark complaint received.  Per YouTube’s complaint policy, Samcrac was encouraged to work something out with the complainant.  YouTube would do its own investigation.  If pursuant to its own investigation, YouTube found that a trademark violation was present, YouTube would remove the video.  But the video was never removed.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qN-yLTDkAS4

Next Samcrac received an offer to purchase the vehicle from the complainant.  The offer was low.  The offer to purchase had terms that Samcrac did not like.  Samcrac negotiated with the want-to-be purchaser, let’s delivery pizza to a school with disabled children and homeless shelters.  Can Samcrac be forced to sell the car to the Domino’s?  Samcrac has hired a lawyer and started a GoFundMe page.  https://www.gofundme.com/PizzaCar

In an update Samcrac shut down the donations saying in an update:

Hey guys, earlier I shut off all donations and refunded everyone. I’d like to greatly thank everyone who took the time to visit this page, and especially those who gave. I’ve been offered assistance for this matter, and will be giving a little more information in tomorrows video. Thanks again.

Trademark infringement is about preventing customer confusion as to the maker or provider of services.  Samcrac is not in the business of making or selling pizzas.  Samcrac’s position is there is no custom confusion.  Samcrac says it is making fair use of the trademark and Samcrac can’t possibly be forced to the sell the vehicle to the Domino’s franchisee.  Note, Samcrac never says it is Domino’s franchise that filed the YouTube complaint or the one who is demanding to buy the car.  To make matter worse.  Samcrac has acquired a second vehicle thanks to a tip from a YouTube viewer.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-i6K2JvQCBg

Samcrac has meritorious arguments and could win.  What a bad situation.

 

Source: franchise blaw

What Can Franchisors Say about Financial Performance?

Pursuant to an article appearing in the Luxora Leader reports a Roast Plant franchisee is suing its franchisor based asserting it was given false figures and projections.  According to the article:

Roasting Plant founder and CEO Mike Caswell sent [franchisee] Shehadi a spreadsheet showing all of the then-existing Roasting Plant locations doing about $1.1 million in yearly revenue, with strong profits, the lawsuit says. Another spreadsheet projected that an Ann Arbor coffee shop, once open, would do $1.4 million in revenue with above-average profits. https://luxoraleader.com/franchisee-sues-roasting-plant-coffee-for-9-5m-alleging-fraud/577560/

Item 19 of the franchise disclosure document [FDD] gives franchisors the opportunity to provide prospective franchisees with information about the financial performance of the franchise brand.  Once a financial performance representative is made in item 19 of the FDD, the franchisor can then discuss the representation disclosed and substantiation for the representation.

Financial performance representation means any representation, including any oral, written, or visual representation, to a prospective franchisee, including a representation in the general media, that states, expressly or by implication, a specific level or range of actual or potential sales, income, gross profits, or net profits. The term includes a chart, table, or mathematical calculation that shows possible results based on a combination of variables. 16 CFR Parts 436 and 437

Without an item 19 financial performance representation in the FDD, the Franchisor may not discuss the financial performance of the franchise brand.  Conversely, inclusion of a financial performance representation does not have to operate as a franchisor’s a free pass to speak everything financial, profits, revenue, and performance.  Franchisor must confine discussions and information sharing to the information disclosed in the FDD and supporting data to substantiate the item 19 financial performance presentation.

Item 19 financial performance representations is commonly based on the existing outlet location.  Project or future financial performance representations are not so common.  The requirement for project or future financial performance representations are quite robust.  Project or future financial performance representations must be, among other things, prepared in accordance with the AICPA Audit and Accounting Guide by qualified personnel using appropriate accounting principles.

The disclosure of an existing outlet location’s financial performance representation does give the franchisor a free pass to discuss future projected financial performance.  In order for the franchisor to discuss projected future financial performance representation, the franchisor must include a projected financial performance representation in the FDD.  A project or future financial performance representation can not be boot strapped on to a historic financial performance representation.

Source: franchise blaw

What is the Key to the Happy and Successful Franchisees?

What factors do you look at when recruiting franchises?  Do you look for the prospective franchisees with a college degree, prior business ownership experience, or industry experience?  Recruiting and identifying prospective franchises that will be successful and happy franchisee owners is a challenge facing every franchise.

[T]the motivation for an individual buying a franchise is much different for someone who has never owned business versus an individual who has previously owned a business.  In contrast, individuals who have been previously self-employed value the competitive advantages that franchises have over small independent businesses [Kaufmann & Stanworth, 1995].

A recent study entitled THE INFLUENCE OF HUMAN CAPITAL FACTORS ON FRANCHISING by Martin J. McDermott and Thomas C. Boyd from Purdue University Global which appeared in Small Business Institute ® Journal provides some interesting insight.  The study is based on 251 of 1,280 randomly selected home repair and improvement, maintenance, cleaning, and business service franchisees that responded to a 25 item self-administered mail survey.

While many studies have found a positive relationship between education and entrepreneurship, there were no significant differences found in satisfaction between franchisees that have a higher level of education versus franchisees with a lower level of education.

The study offers the following practical suggestions;

  • [F]franchisees who have never owned a business prior to buying a franchise most appreciate the ability to do things that don’t go against their own conscience.
  • [A]a market of aspiring entrepreneurs may be found in the Corporate America segment. A popular description of franchising suggests it is a way of being in business for yourself but not by yourself, which might appeal to the Corporate America sector.
  • [E]education and industry experience should not be core factors in deciding if a candidate is a strong fit for a franchise.
  • [I]individuals who have not owned a business prior to buying a franchise should be seen as an asset and not a liability to funding.
  • Because a system is in place, franchising allows an individual with no prior business ownership or experience the opportunity to be an entrepreneur because it can be taught and learned.

Caution in applying the study.

As stated the Study was limited to home repair and improvement, maintenance, cleaning, and business service franchisees.  For example, if you are a restaurant franchise model will the practice suggest hold?  The survey respondents were 41 percent business service franchisees, 32 percent maintenance and cleaning franchisee, and 26 percent home repair and improvement franchisees.

The survey respondents were overwhelming 40 years and older.  Eighty-five percent of respondents were over 40.  How about the newer generation of the franchisees?  Will the results be different? Furthermore, the study is largely based on men.  Of the 251 survey respondents, 204 or 81 percent were men.  Is the same true for women?

What is your experience?  What do you look for in franchisees?  Looking at your historical franchises, what are their educational backgrounds, work experience, and business ownership history?

Source: franchise blaw

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