When was the last time you made a fast food stop or purchased a cup of coffee before work? If the brand is recognizable and has multiple locations throughout your city or town, like McDonald's or Dunkin', it's quite possible your favorite food joint is a franchise.

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Owning a franchise has countless benefits. You can profit from the franchiser’s recognizable brand while essentially running your own operation. The most profitable franchises rarely fail, removing the risks typically associated with opening a brand new business. 

Let’s take a look at the definition of a franchise, the basic criteria for evaluating an opportunity, and the best franchises to own this year. 

You’ve done business with a franchise before, even if you don’t know it. Maybe you've even considered purchasing and owning one yourself. 

But which franchises are best suited for your budget and skill set? Let’s take a look at how you can evaluate a franchising opportunity.

How to Evaluate a Franchise Opportunity

No franchise is one-size-fits-all. Entrepreneurs who want to open a franchise must take into account their budgetary constraints and the franchiser’s support system during the evaluation phase. 

Here are a few criteria that you should consider.

Franchise Fees and Set-Up Costs

Every franchiser requires an upfront fee. This can range from hundreds to hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

Preferably, the franchise fee would be paid out-of-pocket (though some franchisers offer financing options). Either way, we recommend having at least $10,000 to invest up-front. 

Profitability

When you're evaluating a business investment, it's important to know if the opportunity is worth the money. Determining the profitability of a franchise isn't an exact science, but there are a few factors to consider:

  • Unit growth: See how many units (franchise locations) have opened in recent years.
  • New franchisee success rates: Look at the percentage of new franchises that are still operating after a year.
  • Franchiser's financial statements: Analyze the franchise disclosure document and look at average sales per unit. 

Support Systems for Franchisees 

When selecting a franchiser, take a look at the support systems they’ve put in place to ensure their new location is a success. 

7Eleven, for example, flies accepted franchisees to their support center in Dallas for training. They also have a resource center with seminars and events. Not all franchisers, especially small ones, will have extensive resources like 7Eleven, but make sure they offer basic training. 

Time Commitment 

Operating a franchise will be a decades-long commitment, ideally longer — you can’t operate a store and leave after a year. The franchise term for McDonald’s, for example, is 20 years. 

Be sure that you’re prepared to stick around for a while without pursuing other time-consuming commitments (such as an additional career). If you feel that you’ll want to leave in less than ten years, be sure to choose a brand whose franchises are easier to sell.

Available Territories 

Most, if not all, franchisers are looking to grow in a particular geographical area. It wouldn’t be profitable, for example, to open a new location just miles from another, or in an area where there’s no demand. 

Be sure to check whether your target franchiser wants to open a location in your area. If not, decide whether you’re willing to relocate. 

Brand Recognition or Growth

How recognizable is the brand that you’ll be franchising? If it’s a smaller brand, has it seen significant growth in the past year? 

These two characteristics will determine whether it will be profitable to operate a franchise for a prospective brand. Sometimes, going for a big, highly recognizable brand isn’t ideal, because up-front costs are significant. 

A smaller franchiser could be an easier entry point — so long as the company has been growing in revenue.

Now that you know how to evaluate an opportunity, let’s take a look at our list of the best franchise opportunities to select from. Throughout the pandemic, these franchisers have either seen growth or very little stagnation, making them the best franchises to own in 2021. 

Let's take a look at some of these franchises and see how they stack up. I'll review what each franchise requires in terms of the franchise fee and the initial investment you'll need to make. A franchise fee is a cost a potential franchisee pays up front to operate the franchise. And the initial investment amount includes expenses such as royalty fees, real estate, and inventory costs.

Let's take a look at some of these franchises and see how they stack up. I'll review what each franchise requires in terms of the franchise fee and the initial investment you'll need to make. 

Each opportunity will have the following information: 

  • Category: This is the business or industry category for the franchise. 
  • Franchise fee: A franchise fee is a cost a potential franchisee pays up-front to operate the franchise. 
  • Initial investment: The initial investment amount includes expenses such as royalty fees, real estate, and inventory costs.
  • Financing available: This will tell you whether financing is available for initial investments. 
  • Franchise details: This is a link that will lead to the franchising page for the business. 

1. McDonald's

Category: Fast-Food Franchise

Franchise fee: $45,000

Initial investment: $1,008,000 to $2,214,080

Financing available: Yes, through third-party lenders 

Franchise details: McDonald's

If you want golden arches of your own, you'll need to put in a hefty initial investment. But with that investment, you get brand recognition, popularity, and years of experience in the fast-food industry.

2. 7-Eleven

Category: Retail Franchise

Franchise fee: $10,000 to $1,000,000

Initial investment: $37,550 to $1,149,900

Financing available: Yes, through 7-Eleven’s internal program

Franchise details: 7-Eleven

As the #1 convenience store, 7-Eleven is seeing unprecedented growth. Its stores are turnkey and you can get started within three to six months, including application, testing, and training.

3. Dunkin'

Category: Food & Drink Franchise

Franchise fee: $40,000 to $90,000

Initial investment: $109,700 to $1,637,700

Financing available: Yes, through third-party lenders

Franchise details: Dunkin'

Dunkin' dropped the "Donuts" from its name, but this business is as recognizable as ever with locations in 32 countries. It was rated #1 in customer loyalty by Brand Keys’ Customer Loyalty Engagement Index. And they support their franchisees with training and assistance with site selection, construction, operations, management, and marketing.

4. The UPS Store

Category: Printing and Packing Franchise

Franchise fee: $29,950

Initial investment: $138,433 to $460,031

Financing available: Yes, through Guidant Financial

Franchise details: The UPS Store

The UPS Store is the top-ranked franchise in the business services industry. It boasts financial stability, brand recognition, and dedicated training and support — and 84% of the U.S. population lives within 10 miles of a UPS Store.

5. Popeyes

Category: Fast-Food Franchise

Franchise fee: $50,000

Initial investment: $383,500 and $2,620,800

Financing available: No

Franchise details: Popeyes

Popeyes is consistently one of the top franchises to own in Entrepreneur's Franchise 500 Rankings. It's a well-known fast-food brand with a global presence, strong advertising strategies, and well-developed core philosophies.

6. Sonic Drive-In

Category: Fast-Food Franchise

Franchise fee: $45,000

Initial investment: $1,240,000 to $3,540,000

Financing available: No 

Franchise details: Sonic Drive-In

This drive-in chain prides itself on its operational excellence and customer service. This brand keeps growing — its franchise owners saw $1,341,000 in average gross sales. 

7. Great Clips

Category: Hair Salon Franchise

Franchise fee: $20,000

Initial investment: $136,900 to $259,400

Financing available: Yes, through third-party lenders  

Franchise details: Great Clips

Great Clips has been in business for 30 years and provides its franchise owners with up-to-date technology and training. It has invested heavily in market research to provide customers with the best service and experience.

8. Taco Bell

Category: Fast-Food Franchise

Franchise fee: $25,000 to $45,000

Initial investment: $525,100 to $2,622,400

Financing available: Yes, through third-party lenders  

Franchise details: Taco Bell

This quick-service restaurant brand has been around for 50 years and has developed financial stability and brand recognition. It has a proven operating system and gives you access to restaurant resources and a community of more than 350 franchisees who know the business.

9. Kumon Math & Reading Centers 

Category: Children’s Education Franchise

Franchise fee: $1,000

Initial investment: $74,428 - $156,590

Financing available: No, but Kumon will cover up to $36,000 of your business expenses

Franchise details: Kumon

Kumon is ranked consistently in the top 10 of Entrepreneur’s Franchise 500 list. This is an ideal franchise to buy because of its low fee and potential for high profitability in a time of remote learning. 

10. Sport Clips

Category: Hair Salon Franchise

Franchise fee: $59,500

Initial investment: $224,800 to $373,300

Financing available: Yes, through third-party lenders

Franchise details: Sport Clips

Sport Clips is growing and showing its strength and stability — it has a high continuity rate of 95.4% over the past five years. This means that out of all the stores that opened throughout the last five years, more than 95.4% of them are open today. It attributes this stability to relatively low startup costs, solid support systems, and continual monitoring of store performance.

Low-Cost/Cheap Franchises

The initial investment in a franchise can be pricey, and range anywhere from a few thousand dollars to over a million. If you're looking to purchase a franchise at a lower price point, there are options for you in a variety of industries.

1. Cruise Planners

Category: Travel Franchise

Franchise fee: $6,995

Initial investment: $2,095 to $22,867

Financing available: Yes, through third-party lenders

Franchise details: Cruise Planners

Cruise Planners is a cruise planning agency. It's home-based, so you don't need to factor in the cost of real estate. Prior experience in travel planning is not required, and the company offers comprehensive training.

2. SuperGlass Windshield Repair

Category: Vehicle Maintenance Franchise

Franchise fee: $9,500 to $28,500

Initial investment: $9,910 to $31,000

Financing available: No

Franchise details: SuperGlass Windshield Repair

SuperGlass Windshield Repair has been operating for 30 years and specializes in the repair of rock damaged and cracked windshields. Overhead costs can be kept low due to its mobile option — a physical shop location is not required. It also offers classroom and on-the-job training, 

3. JAN-PRO

Category: Cleaning and Maintenance Franchise

Franchise fee: $2,520 to $44,000

Initial investment: $3,985 to $51,605

Financing available: Yes

Franchise details: JAN-PRO

JAN-PRO is a commercial cleaning franchise whose clientele is other businesses. They offer three options for franchising: international master franchise, executive business, and home-based opportunities.

4. Jazzercise

Category: Group Fitness Franchise

Franchise fee: $1,250

Initial investment: $2,500 to $38,000

Financing available: No

Franchise details: Jazzercise

If you're looking to start a low-investment, exercise business, a Jazzercise franchise might be a good fit for you. It offers various price points to begin a franchise and you can find the one that aligns with your budget.

5. Dream Vacations

Category: Travel Franchise

Franchise fee: $495 to $9,800

Initial investment: $3,245 to $21,850

Financing available: Yes, through their internal financing system 

Franchise details: Dream Vacations

Dream Vacations is a home-based travel agency franchise with no overhead or inventory — this keeps the cost of initial investment low. It's a great option for military veterans and offers discounted investment prices.

Some companies have seen unprecedented growth or are particularly driven to grow. They’re actively looking for new opportunities because they’re still in the initial stages of expanding their reach. 

These are prime opportunities for prospective franchisees. You can take advantage of a growing name in the business while being the reason the name grows and becomes more authoritative. 

Below are our top picks for the best-growing franchises to buy. In this list, we’ll take a look at the initial investment, the franchise's growth rate over the past three years, and the number of franchise locations, or franchise units.

1. Freddy's Frozen Custard and Steakburgers

Initial investment: $640,552 - $2,077,046

Three-year growth rate: 44.6%

Total franchise units: 386

This fast-casual restaurant is known for its burgers and freshly-churned custard. After your initial investment, you can expect your restaurant to open in eight to 18 months, depending on location and whether you're buying or leasing property.

2. Culver's Butterburgers and Frozen Custard

Initial investment: $2,349,000 - $5,356,000

Three-year growth rate: 21.2%

Total franchise units: 765

Founded in 1984, Culver's has been a well-recognized name in the burger and custard business. It's a top franchise and offers an established operating system with over 35 years of experience.

3. Planet Fitness

Initial investment: $968,100 - $4,113,000

Three-year growth rate: 45.9%

Total franchise units: 2,059

Planet Fitness is known for its Judgment Free Zone® philosophy — making first-time gym users feel comfortable as they begin their fitness journeys. This gym has over 14 million members and franchisees have a median annual operating income of $567,000.

4. Club Pilates

Initial investment: $178,000 - $365,200

Three-year growth rate: 192.6%

Total franchise units: 597

Club Pilates is one of the top pilates franchises in the United States. Founded in 2007, this group fitness franchise carries out up to 8 million pilates workouts a year. 

5. Nothing Bundt Cakes

Initial investment: $430,200 - $624,300

Three-year growth rate: 60.6%

Total franchise units: 355

This bakery is unique because, despite being a franchise, it has a "Mom and Pop shop" feel. There are locations across the United States, and its cakes have been featured in popular media outlets like Food and Wine Magazine, Food Network "Unwrapped", and Franchise Times.

6. Pure Barre

Initial investment: $204,100 - $461,700

Three-year growth rate: 20.6%

Total franchise units: 563

Pure Barre is a popular, boutique fitness brand with nearly 600,000 clients. The business offers multiple revenue streams: bar classes and activewear. And it provides support and training for real estate, operations, consulting, marketing, and more.

7. uBreakiFix

Initial investment: $98,350 - $303,000

Three-year growth rate: 14.8%

Total franchise units: 585

uBreakiFix specializes in repairs of all types of electronics — from computers to TVs to gaming consoles. The rise of remote work and in-home entertainment makes this a great contender for this year. 

8. Soccer Shots

Initial investment: $41,034 - $55,100

Three-year growth rate: 26.7%

Total franchise units: 242

Soccer Shots is a children's soccer program with a focus on character development. It has a low overhead cost, supports its franchisees, and has well-established relationships with national brands like Adidas and the U.S. Soccer Foundation.

9. Mathnasium

Initial investment: $112,750 - $149,110

Three-year growth rate: 26.1%

Total franchise units: 1,074

This math learning center opened in 2002, and its mission is to "help every child understand — and master — math." Mathnasium has earned many accolades, and over the past four years, its average-per-unit gross sales grew 10% annually.

10. Kona Ice 

Initial investment: $145,600 - $169,200

Three-year growth rate: 43.7%

Total franchise units: 1,305

Kona Ice, a seller of shaved ice, offers the benefit of having relatively low initial costs while still having solid brand recognition. Each franchise is operated out of a truck, meaning that you won’t spend money on land or real estate. The best part? You can open a Kona Ice location in less than two months

Next, we curate the most profitable franchises overall — taken from both our list and lists around the web.  

The franchises listed above are seeing the largest growth in franchise locations over the past year, which is one of the key indicators of profitability. 

Feeling overwhelmed? Not sure how to get started? Read our guide on how to become an entrepreneur to get the basics down before purchasing a franchise.

Become an Entrepreneur by Buying a Franchise

You can become an entrepreneur by starting your own business — or by buying a franchise from a major brand. Take advantage of an established brand name while enjoying the perks of running your own operation. Franchises can be highly worthwhile to own, especially when you create a strong business plan that helps your profits grow. 

Editor's note: This post was originally published in October 2020 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

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Originally published Feb 18, 2021 2:00:00 PM, updated February 18 2021

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