Whenever we speak at major franchise shows there are always plenty of attendees at our leasing seminars and workshops. The majority of these are future franchisees who are virgin tenants. Not only are they faced with selecting a great franchise system, they are entering into unfamiliar waters with regard to commercial leasing. Many of these entrepreneurs have never negotiated a lease and do not know what questions to ask their franchisor about the commercial leasing process. We are very much pro-franchising but trust us, ignorance is not bliss when it comes to leasing commercial space.
These are some of the many questions that franchisees need to ask their franchisor in advance of even beginning to look for suitable space to lease:
1. Will the franchisor sign the Head Lease and sublet the space to the franchisee – or will it be the franchisee alone who signs the lease?
Whichever party signs the Head Lease will assume the responsibility for the lease. Most franchisors want to avoid liability if the franchisee fails; therefore, more often than not, the franchisee solely signs the Head Lease. Ideally, the franchisee would want to sign the Head Lease to retain as much control as possible. As a subtenant to the franchisor, the franchisee would be 100% responsible, along with the franchisor, so why not sign the Head Lease yourself? A franchisee subleasing from a franchisor receives no extra protection or benefit.
2. What role(s) will the franchisor and franchisee play in the site selection and leasing process?
One reason so many franchisees get upset with their franchisor is the lack of defined roles each party will play in the process. Some franchisors truly provide next to no real estate/leasing help at all. Weeks turn into months and no deal has been done because no timeline checklist or targets were created. While other franchisors say they will handle most of the leasing process many do not deliver. Alternatively, other franchisors may shovel the process off to a real estate agent who may care more about his/her commission than your long-term viability.
3. Will a real estate agent or broker be involved in the leasing process?
There are most commonly two types of agents - the listing or inside agent and the outside agent. You will recognize the listing agent as having his/her “For Lease” sign on the building. This agent’s job is to get the landlord the best deal possible (the highest rent, most deposit etc). The outside agent may or may not be working in the tenant’s best interest. Some franchisors may match their franchisees up with local brokers who find a location and do the deal but ultimately get handsomely rewarded with a commission check from the landlord. So who is the agent really trying to please – the tenant or the landlord?
4. Will the franchisee have final control or say over the location and lease terms?
Most franchisors will defer to a franchisee’s wishes when it comes to choosing between two or three sites for lease. But did you ever stop to confirm that you, the franchisee, have that right? The argument may not be even picking the best site – it might be you trying to avoid a location you hate because the franchisor insists that you lease there. The franchisee is the one taking the risk, signing the lease and paying the rent – make sure you have the power of veto when it comes to site selection.
5. What if we can’t find a good location or reasonable lease deal?
After speaking at the franchise show in Washington, DC a young couple approached us to help them. They had just signed up for a franchise and knew several plazas in their community that would be perfect for their concept. They wanted us to negotiate one of these locations to a completed lease. Unfortunately, upon investigation all of these plazas were achieving rental rates 25-30% above the franchisor’s maximum recommended rental rate. As a result, they chose to not open a business and forfeited their franchise fees because the right space at the right price was not available. Don’t assume that just because you buy into a franchise system there will be a location or landlord waiting to take you in.
6. How will my site(s) ultimately be approved or denied?
Most franchisors will provide a checklist in advance to be completed on various sites to determine their potential. Desired criteria would include traffic count, demographics, etc. However, not all franchisors will send someone from their head office to negotiate or personally visit your city or site. One franchisor with several hundred locations told us the franchisor did not have the manpower or the money to fly there in person – and that the franchisee was pretty much left on his/her own. Many franchisees complain that the franchisor’s site visit was only in the late stages of the leasing process instead of in advance to help them scout the territory.
7. Who is responsible for reviewing all lease documents?
An entrepreneur in California decided to buy a franchise and recruited our assistance with the leasing process. We have to admit that the franchisor was both knowledgeable and ready to help at some levels; however, this did not include the lease document review. Another tenant called us in frustration after paying a lawyer over $20,000 to do his lease. Franchisees may mistakenly think that they need a lawyer to ensure the lease agreement is legal. Pretty much all lease documents are legal – it’s the real estate business terms or moving parts within a lease document that need to be negotiated.
For a copy of our free CD, Leasing Do’s & Don’ts for Franchise Tenants, please e-mail your request to DaleWillerton@TheLeaseCoach.com.Dale Willerton and Jeff Grandfield - The Lease Coach are Commercial Lease Consultants who work exclusively for tenants. Dale and Jeff are professional speakers and co-authors of Negotiating Commercial Leases & Renewals For Dummies (Wiley, 2013). Got a leasing question? Need help with your new lease or renewal? Call 1-800-738-9202, e-mail DaleWillerton@TheLeaseCoach.com or visit www.TheLeaseCoach.com.