Franchising more than helps flush +$100 million CDN annually down the toilet

January 4, 2010

A good Canadian Press article called Ottawa’s loan program for small business still troubled: report by Dean Beeby.The revenue paid to Industry Canada was supposed to cover the default claims paid out, but the math has never worked in Ottawa’s favour.

Claims paid out have risen steadily over the decade, and now top $100 million annually, while revenues have consistently lagged, costing taxpayers a net $335 million so far.

Put another way, cost recovery is currently at only about 60 per cent rather than the 100 per cent that was planned, and is in steady decline.

“The gap between claims and fee revenues will continue to exist and most likely expand,” predicts the KPMG report, dated Oct. 30 and obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.

The program’s portfolio of loans has become ever more risky over the decade, now catering especially to newly established small firms with weak credit scores and little collateral, many in the food-and-beverage sector.

These loans are used extensively in franchising although the franchise bankers frequently don’t even bother to try to register or make a claim on the phantom loans. The difference between new and used equipment nicely covers the money split between the mob (see here for details).

I’ve kept a close eye on the Canada Small Business Financing program and how the franchise industry misuses it (see my 2005 paper called Franchising Opportunism)

Program results from 1999 to 2008 using Industry Canada’s own Annual Reports (franchised v. non-franchised loans):

  • Franchise Loan Claim Rate was 26.5% higher (than for Non-franchised loans).
  • Franchise Loan Default Rates resulted in over $22.9-million more Claims (Non-franchised rate).
  • The mean Franchised loan was 43.4% higher than Non-Franchised.
  • The mean Franchised claim was 11.9% higher than Non-Franchised.

Comparing the years 2008 to 1999:

  • The Claim Rate increased 858.2 times for Franchised (245.1  times for Non-franchised loans).
  • The Franchised Claim Rate accelerated 3.5 times more than Non-franchised loans.

I’d be happy to send anyone the spreadsheet.

The U.S. Small Business Administration’s 7a. loan program seems to be sticking their citizens with a $70-83-billion public debt, too.

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If we forget, We will continue to repeat our mistakes

August 4, 2009

WikidFranchise.orgWe created WikiFranchise.org to house the documents that I have collected and to start a dialogue.

A wiki‘s strength is in its volunteer editors.

Time will tell whether other people find this franchise industry-only indexed archive useful.

It has some merit for teaching and learning about the business risks that sometimes run counter to the overwhelming advertising message to say “yes” to every half-baked concept.

The latest, saddest example I added to WikidFranchise today is from the Washington Times’s Elise Anderson, entitled: Jobless seek future in franchising.

As Elizabeth Winterhalter and her husband, Monte, packed up their house in Glastonbury, Conn., for their move to McLean, they were eager and anxious about trading the pain of unemployment for the promise and peril of something they had never tried before — running a franchise.

Good grief.

I wish the Winterhalter, Dillen, and Prioleau families all the very best as a personal and financial outcome but I hope Ms. Anderson follows up with them in 6 or 12 months. As for the expert that Anderson solely relies on?: Alisa Harrison has been with the franchise industry for a total of 1 1/2 years.

Banks won’t do Franchise loans: It is true that there are no normal or even government-subsidized (SBA) loans to be had now.

The reason: an emerging crisis that implicates the 7(a) Loan program of the U.S. Small Business Administration which has a long and consistently scandalous history.

Predatory franchise loans are becoming visible to everyone: loan brokers, banks, re-packagers and politicians. The public bailout of the franchise industry’s greed is what is freezing everyone in their tracks: not a recession. Pending fraud indictments tend to chill even the shadiest franchising financing scam.

Estimates of a public bailout of $70 to 80-billion will seem quaint if an accurate, non-biased accounting were to ever take place.

Don’t expect to see any breaking news stories about this on Franchise-Chat.com or BlueMauMau.org either: these off-message stories are skimmed off before they hit any franchise RSS feed. Keep the kids busy talking about the evil empires (MBE, Quiznos) or arbitration reform or how franchisees are to blame.

What I do: I took the article, coded it and saved it in WikidFranchise. Here are the business risks I assigned to it:

  1. Cannon fodder,
  2. Desperation causes bad decision making,
  3. False hope,
  4. Financing with 401k money is totally reckless,
  5. International Franchise Association, IFA,
  6. Only one side presented,
  7. Loss Aversion: people dislike losing much more than winning (the same $),
  8. Professional journalistic standards,
  9. Retirement savings gone,
  10. Severance package financing dream,
  11. Sold during time of psychological vulnerability, especially unemployment,
  12. Sold only to people with no small business experience (very naïve),
  13. Success or failure is within the direct control of the individual franchisee,
  14. Unproven business model,
  15. Unskilled and unaware of risks, and
  16. Who pays for the research?

Many families are going through very desperate times and are searching for help.

  • This article is just plain cruel.

I collected the already-published documents to give a sense of history for new investors.

WikiFranchise.org is a revolutionary tool for those willing to use it.


Deer: Are We Trade Show Activists?

February 13, 2009

wolfdeer5A good question but a better one is:

Can we afford not to understand how we got roped into a losing deal?

I think you better Get Smart or you’ll find yourself on the wrong side of the next buffet.

  • In confidence games, it’s a fact that more than 50% of the chumps are good for at least a 2nd fleecing.

I took a look at a trade show advertisement this week and the posting was picked up on Michael Webster’s weblog.

Anyone who contacts me is invited to join me in interpreting how a trade show works. Live.

It is a very sophisticated and well-thought out selling environment that is used to qualify candidates; economically but mostly psychologically.

Your lack of awareness of the dangers [ignorance?] is really your admission ticket.

The first step in protecting your family is education.

I’ll be relying on the Six “Weapons of Influence”: social proof, authority,commitment and consistency, reciprocation, liking and scarcity. Bring your copies. You’ll get a tutorial on not only the Science of Persuasion but on relevant cognitive biases (especially confirmation), The Tipping Point, behavioral economics, Theories of Unusual Events and Risk Homeostatis, heuristics (eg. human thinking shortcuts that usually help us but sometimes result in catastrophic errors) and 10 years of intense industry analysis.

Agenda

  1. We’ll go over the basic confidence game role structure and process: house, roper, inside man, shill, chump, fixer, etc.
  2. Why it is so critical to have independent legal advice before you sign (goes double for deals less than $20,000).
  3. The selling value of comparing (anchoring) a new system with the best, most successful franchisor: McDonald’s.
  4. What something called “Prospect Theory” has to say why you will stay in a losing business much, much longer than you could ever imagine.
  5. Why you should only sign when there is an Independent Franchisee Association, IndFA present (versus the lapdog Franchisor Advisory Council).
  6. We’ll decode the hidden messages within the marketing material (worked for an advertising design studio + Ivey MBA + McLuhan disciple).
  7. I’ll explain the role of the current SME loan guarantee program.
  8. Why Canada is a safe harbour for white-collar crime.
  9. How this recession is shattering the conventional wisdom that franchises sell better, the worse the economy gets [HINT: new sales, now, are the worst on record].
  10. Why the hook has to be planted in the male first.
  11. How shame is invoked to silence particularly new Canadians.
  12. Why exceptionally thorough pre-sale due diligence is much more limited than you think and could in fact increase your chance of business failure.
  13. The role of the expert seminar.
  14. Why the most rational and dodgiest should absolutely force a copy of Ontario’s franchise law into your hands.

All of these fraudproofing skills are entirely understandable, applicable to many situations and will last a lifetime. I was taught by the best.

In these days of Bernie Madoff, BIM, CitiGroup, etc., I don’t think you (or anyone you know in the traditional or new media) can afford to turn not to learn more about the Science of Persuasion and applied psychology.

Offer to Sellers: You can join us as well. I will gladly discuss my views in front of anyone, at anytime. These persuasion techniques have been proven scientifically and it’s time that more people understood how skillfully they are applied in franchising.

If I were in your shoes, I’d much rather guarantee us free rein rather than be seen to be resisting evaluation. That old hand-in-the-lens shot sells television shows but is, by its airing, basic proof of guilt.

Consumer education is good and only the fraudsters have anything to hide.

Cost?: Nothing

Just call me at 705-737-4635. Bring the whole family. les.j.stewart@gmail.com

PS: Do me a favour: Sign up to receive each new post (see top right, RSS feed). FranchiseFool is now read in 44 countries. Not bad for a single Canuck in one year, I think.

— UPDATED for Fall 2009


Time trumps all franchise Fraud

January 28, 2009

michaelwebster

Con men understand very well when their targets are the most vulnerable.

It’s a game for them: Their comparative strength (trump) is knowing how to manipulate your human weaknesses for their profit.

With hundreds of billions of dollars being thrown into the world’s financial institutions with zero accountability, the risk of funding a franchise fraud  (in my mind) is be greater now than before the www recession.

Michael Webster at Misleading Advertising Law makes a very good point at his post, Selling Franchises to the recently Laid Off:

One of my concerns in this economic environment was with how the newly laid off would react, what they would do, and how they would make decisions.

With nearly 60,000 reported layoffs in the United States alone, it is of pressing concern that these individuals understand the how to avoid failing for the franchise fraud.

Michael provided some extremely useful advice in a recent Blue MauMau interview named, Fraud Expert Says Those Wanting to Be Own Boss Easily Scammed.

First, with high unemployment the blood is in the water for unscrupulous sellers:

With the economy seeing the highest unemployment figures in nearly four decades, Webster thinks once those unemployed have access to credit, there is the potential for record numbers to be ripped off. In order to avoid being swindled, his first piece of advice is to think of buying a business as one option among many investment opportunities.

Michael warns against getting out of the pan and jumping into the fire and relying solely on your own research, which can become distorted (confirmation bias):

WEBSTER: There are times in our lives when for whatever reason we want our aspirations to be achieved immediately. For many, the most compelling overriding value is the need to be in complete control of their economic lives. Simply put, they never want to be fired again.

Those people are sitting ducks.

The con criminals know this and wave phrases like “be your own boss” and “in business for yourself but not by yourself.” Prospects pick up on such words of puffery. Buyers blow it up into full-scale fantasies of business ownership. And then to compound the problem, they perform bad due diligence by sloppily selecting evidence that only confirms they are making a good decision.

You need a professional 3rd party to help you and you need to take your time.

A buyer should take their time – some six to eight months. Read the franchise disclosure document. Get the best professional help to explore the opportunity and its accompanying documentation. Ask questions. Do not jump! Get a part-time job doing anything if you need to so that you don’t feel like you have to buy this franchise. If the opportunity is any good, you’ll figure it out.

Time will trump all frauds.

Excellent advice from someone with great insight.  Michael had also suggested in previous posts to actually work for a franchisee within the proposed system for several to six months and that you should budget up to $5,000 for professional advice (on not only the contract but also the business deal).

Michael’s caution against being sucked into a phantom dream is very important. Follow his advice and this will greatly reduce your chance of experiencing a financial nightmare.


Risk Compensation: Why franchise laws & regulations cause more risky investing

January 27, 2009

noparachute1All franchise laws should be immediately repealed.

Everyone would be better off knowing that they’re in an airplane with an empty parachute.

Specific franchise laws give a false sense of security that, paradoxically, causes investors to behave in a more risky way than if there were no laws.

BTW: The push for franchise laws (with very rare exceptions) has always been by the franchisor and the franchise bar, not by franchisee investors or their advocates.

  1. The U.S. has had state and federal franchise laws for +40 years.  Alberta, Canada since 1971, Ontario since 2000. The outcome is the same: still very high investor risks.
  2. Relationship laws have existed since 1956 in the U.S. The toughest state law (Illinois) doesn’t seem to have had much positive effect, one way or the other.
  3. Direct regulatory federal laws in the U.S. and Australia, although they have the statutory power, are not used, except on the occasional token, hapless, no-name franchisor.

The primary mechanism that causes this INCREASE in risky investment behaviour is found in a theory called risk compensation:

Risk Compensation is an effect whereby individual people may tend to adjust their behaviour in response to perceived changes in risk…Another way of stating this is that individuals will behave less cautiously in situations where they feel “safer” or more protected.

The more we feel safe, the more risk we feel we can take on without additional costs. [Wikipedia]

Risk compensation is most clearly shown in studies of cars equipped with ABS brakes. The stated intent of mandatory ABS brakes was to reduce injuries and death due to collisions.

  • The irrefutable evidence, however, is that drivers (unintentionally, for sure) compensate for having ABS brakes systems by driving faster, following closer and taking corners more sharply (ie. they increase their risky behaviour).
  • The collision rates stays constant because of the human tendency to compensate for improvements not only in brakes but seatbelts, bicycle helmets and even parachute design safety improvements.

Note: Booth’s rule #2:

  • The safer skydiving gear becomes, the more chances skydivers will take, in order to keep the fatality rate constant.

Everyone’s first instinct is to cry for a law or an improved law against human behaviour. Risk compensation theory indicates that this is a fool’s errand and it is consistent with my study of franchise law over the last 10 years.

Opportunistic franchisors and their advisors know this human, perfectly non-rational characteristic to compensate for perceived “safer” situations.

Predators rely much more on their abilities to read human nature accurately, than do their prey. (It is wise to remember that there are only 2 principle ways to succeed: doing good work or cheating.)

Additionally, the Authority of the State is most clearly manifested in a law or regulation. Since the state holds a monopoly on coercive action (exercised by the police, military, courts, etc.), any franchise law signals a state “sanction” of sorts.

In this way, the state’s ultimate secular authority and legitimacy is attributed to the most poo-filled franchise system. It gives credence and camouflage to an industry without control or standards.

The Science of Persuasion: In the very important book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Bob Cialdini calls authority his 5th of 6 “Weapons of Persuasion”:

  1. The logo of the FTC, the ACCC or the Ontario Legislative Assembly confers a legitimacy that can be exploited by some (badge of authority).
  2. Government guaranteed loans confer an aura that “This must be okay because the government and a Big Bank is risking their money, too” to even the most wicked scam (authority).
  3. The threat of  a lawsuit triggers (1) the fear of poverty and shame (bankruptcy) but also (2) of being perceived by other as behaving in an anti-social or near “criminal” way (social proof).
  4. Oh how charming everyone is, before you sign and how much you’ve become a shithead when you start to question the status quo (liking).
  5. How franchises that you should be paid to run, can instead be sold for 100,000s of  $ because of some “secret sauce” spiel (scarcity)

There is much hard science behind being persuasive that can be used for good or ill.

Take a look at this 3:11 video book review and imagine how Cialdini’s 6 Laws (reciprocity, commitment & consistency, authority, social proof, liking, scarcity) are used to snare franchisees.


U.K. franchisor leaders record a new ethical Low: Hard-selling to the recently Unemployed

January 26, 2009

the_bfaTalk about stealing a guy’s life savings when he’s down.

And when I thought I had heard it all and that franchise hustlers would do anything for a sale.

Now word out of Liverpool that their franchisor-only trade association, British Franchise Association, BFA is hard-selling directly to recently laid off UK workers, via their former employers.

It’s like a scene out of the movie, GlenGarry Glen Ross, totally hardcore, old-school boiler room ABCs (always be closing):

We’re adding a little something to this month’s sales contest. As you all know, first prize is a Cadillac Eldorado. Anybody want to see second prize? [Holds up prize] Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize is you’re fired.

Lie. Cheat. Steal. All In A Day’s Work. Source

It reminds me of the ambulance-chasing personal injury lawyers forcing their business cards into the hands of people lying in the street from a car accident.

Obviously, what I (or the British public) consider to be ethical business behaviour may not be what the BFA brain trust considers to be fair game. The 2 characteristics of an ideal franchisee are: Did their cheque clear and Can they fog a mirror (alive)?

The story (Franchising could be your next career move) is a little awkwardly worded but these are the most flagrant lies that support this propaganda piece:

  1. franchising is a lower risk than non-franchised businesses (proven to be false),
  2. a BFA franchisor is less risk than someone who is not a member (not proven),
  3. the BFA is a benevolent society doing a public service (they serve their members’ interests),
  4. franchisees fail only because of their sloth or stupidity (fraudulent systems?) and
  5. the BFA represents both franchisors and franchisees (only franchisors).

All of these assumptions are false and dangerous. The BFA executives are either incompetent or knowingly perpetuating a cruel fraud, this time on the newly laid-off Brits.

  • You will be preyed upon when you are at your weakest time in your life.
  • Unemployment is an excellent time to buy into a phantom dream (In business for yourself, not by yourself; Be your own Boss) because you want so much to believe it (mortgage, kids, debt, etc.) you are temporarily a very shitty decision maker.

I know. I signed my franchise agreement two weeks before my unemployment benefits were to run out in 1992. BTW: an Ontario Justice said in 2000 that I had done the best due diligence she had ever seen but still lost $140,000 in 4 years, being sued, bankruptcy.

Another veteran but anonymous observer, Lionel Hutz PA, picked up the story and wrote about it on Blue MauMau under the following banner, BFA Wants Unemployed to Buy a Franchise. Lionel leads in with:

The British Franchise Association, the counterpart to America’s International Franchise Association, is directly approaching companies that are laying off employees, to persuade those newly unemployed to buy a franchise from one of their franchisor members.

Lionel goes onto say and pose a most relevant question:

Note the false claims that franchised businesses have higher success rates, and the assertion that British Franchise Association members must “meet the strict ethical and business criteria.” I wonder if the BFA has ever expelled a franchisor for bad franchising conduct?

Ray Borradale, a very effective Australian franchisee advocate and mouthpiece chips in with:

AFA, BFA, IFA and FCA read from the same book.  This is symptomatic of franchisors; good and bad – and it is dangerous.  I note the reference; “educate people about the many benefits of buying into a franchise” with contempt.  Where is the education about risk and due diligence?  This unbalanced marketing of franchising is not new and BMM has covered many similar stories. It is misleading and deceptive but it appears to be accepted by authorities in every country. [I would add the CFA to Ray’s list of talking heads.]

Remember: Franchising is practiced identically around the world. Some countries know about the dark side of franchising and have developed national spokespeople to combat the propaganda. Some countries (like the U.K.) do not know.

IN CONTRAST, note the level of discernment found in this Australian headline of January 26th (care of Franchise-Chat.com), The Franchising Trap:

The Australian dream of becoming self-employed can be the path to financial security, but it can also go disastrously wrong.

For years franchising has been viewed as a reliable, somewhat less-risky option for small investors looking to start their own business. But the 500-plus complaints received by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission every year arising from disputed between franchisees and franchisors show that franchising is often not the easy entry to business that some people think.

In the U.K. there is a greater danger than is faced by franchise investors in Australia.  Aus does not have a small business government guaranteed program, but the U.K. does.

  • A guaranteed loan program can be misused to fuel franchise fraud. I wrote about it in Canada, I know that that it is happening in the U.S. and also in the U.K.’s aptly named Small Firms Loan Guarantee Scheme.

Heads up to these other countries that have a similar loan guarantee program for small business (Canada CSBFA, U.S. SBA 7(a), and U.K. SFLG):

  1. Korea,
  2. Japan,
  3. European Union (Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium, France & Germany),
  4. Indonesia,
  5. Malaysia,
  6. Nepal,
  7. Philippines and
  8. Taiwan.

Every country gets the type of journalism that it is willing to accept from it’s traditional media outlets. This type of breathless and mindless regurgitating of franchising propaganda is almost never seen in the U.S., Australia or Canada anymore. It was pushed out by volunteer franchisees getting on the back of its nation’s business editors.

  • These blatant lies will continue as long as they are not shot down by a small group of knowledgeable, experienced and vigorous group of Web 2.0 U.K. warriors.

Their basic training can begin once they choose to speak out.


Abolish the SBA: $70-83B reasons why it should happen

January 12, 2009

veroniquedereymercatuscentre1Private gain, Public loss.

Banks, like all buisnesses, just love it when governments underwrite their risks.

It’s only a bonus when Joe Q. Public gets to pay for the drunkard’s binge of “aggressive” to predatory to outright fraudulent loan practices.

Canada, the United Kingdom and the U.S. all have small business loan programs which guarantees defaults.

The North American franchise industry relies very heavily on this debt program to fuel franchise sales. In Canada, the Canada Small Business Financing program is almost the only debt that Schedule 1 banks will offer for franchises (last time I checked).

The U.K. industry discernment is still embryonic. Their Small Firm Loan Guarantee scheme, SFLG is run by the Department of Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform, BERR. By the looks of  The Royal Bank of Scotland site, SFLG loans are a big part of the U.K. franchise industry also.

  • Blue MauMau is the most active centre for franchise investor concerns in the world. Tellingly, SBA Loans Free Fall is a current headline.

Dr. Veronique de Rugy, adjunct scholar at the CATO Institute in 2007 (and now senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University) presents some very important facts from a CATO Daily Podcast [see below].

Specifically the U.S. Small Business Act, SBA loan program:

  1. may end up costing citizens $70-billion (maybe $83-B?, if defaults climb faster than projected; unfunded debt that will be added to future taxpayers),
  2. with less than only 1% of small businesses taking out a SBA loan per year, it’s irrelevant economically,
  3. was created 53 years ago when credit information was much harder to determine (program has not evolved as information sharing has improved),
  4. of the loans that are currently on the books, they are “defaulting massively” (SBA loans disproportionally finance doomed business ventures), and
  5. only has 3% of women or minority-controlled firms take take out a SBA loan per year (as a social program it is a bust: 97% of these “discriminated against” groups get their debt elsewhere).

All of this begs the question: If the 7a Loans are defaulting like mad who exactly are benefiting from this program?

To her credit, Dr. de Rugy points directly to the banks and their capacity to sell off the 75% government guaranteed portion on the secondary market and stick the massive debt to the taxpayers if their own default projections are understated (ie. d/recession).

The banks love SBA loans (in a technical sense) because:

  1. 60% of all loans are underwritten by the 10 largest banks can exert market influence even within a very decentalized banking system, comparatively, (in Canada it’s worse: 82.5% all guaranteed loans with Top 5 bankers, 2000-05: FOI author) and
  2. the return on equity for is a minimum of over 3.8 times higher than for regular loans (SBA: 70% v. Regular loans 15-18%).

Listen to the 9:06 podcast and see how $70-billion could be added on top of the current +$700-billion banking bailout. I can’t help but note how fuzzy the banks are so far on accounting for the first bailout installment. [click here]

According to Dr. de Rugy, the SBA loan program serves two very powerful masters:

  1. “lawmakers who have successfully sold the SBA as a program to help the so popular small businesses and
  2. the banking industry, which profits by issuing and selling the low-risk, government-guaranteed small-business loans.”

As of the end of 2006, the SBA had nearly $83 billion in outstanding guaranteed loans that the taxpayers – not the banks – would have to pay if the economy experienced a serious downturn.

BANKING ON THE SBA: Big Banks, not small businesses, benefit the most from SBA loans programs, Veronique de Rugy, August 2007, 4 pages


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