Funding Advice

By Darryn McAuliffe, CEO, FRANdata Australia

You’ve done your research, found a franchise brand that meets your requirements and had the green light from your advisors to proceed. What next?

Unless you are one of the fortunate minority that has existing cash reserves from sale proceeds of a previous business, severance payments or even cash from personal assets, you will need to borrow.

Franchise funding generally comes from one of several sources:

Friends and family:

This relatively minor provider of finance tends to be more active with lower entry cost brands and is often aligned with younger franchisees yet to accumulate a sufficient amount of their own equity to complete the transaction.

It can be a fast, cheap and simple type of funding; backed by those that know, trust and have a very personal desire to see the franchisee succeed. This can be a terrific form of finance but should also be taken on with some clear ground rules around  when and how it will be repaid.

The franchisor:

This is a growing (and not necessarily positive) trend. A number of franchisors, frustrated with traditional lenders or desperate to convert less capitalised (but otherwise apparently strong potential business partners) into franchisees are effectively financing those new franchisees into their systems. This can be done through direct lending or by using other levers to support the purchase price. Stepped royalty payments and special rental arrangements are examples of how franchisors can help franchisees that would otherwise have difficulty financing their franchise acquisition. From a franchisee perspective the upside is they commence trading earlier in the system and often on favourable financial terms, however, significant downside risk can also be created through the additional powers now resting with the (lending) franchisor. A separate issue for franchisors is they could inadvertently position themselves as a NBFI (Non-Bank Financial Institution) which can create an enormous adverse impact on their risk profile with banks and create a possible breach in existing lending covenants.

Banks and other lenders:

For most prospective franchisees it will come as little surprise that the banks are still the most common and reliable source of franchise finance.

Less well known, and often hard to identify, is who the active lenders and strongest supporters of the franchise sector are. Franchisors, and the professional advisors of franchisees, have long lamented the inconsistent and dislocated approach of lenders in franchising. However, banks continue to be driven by a desire to lend money to borrowers with an acceptable risk profile and on the whole maintain a healthy appetite for franchise lending.

The risk profile for franchising can be enhanced by the historical information that can be provided or accessed. History can provide significant comfort (or anxiety) around how the future may look. Some of the key areas that lenders will look at include the existence of a proven business model, the trading performance of existing franchisees, the performance of their existing loan book, the capacity and willingness of franchisors to support ‘distressed’ franchisees and the depth of the secondary (resale market). Well managed and strong franchise brands can offer a strong and attractive risk profile for banks. For franchisees this should translate to quicker, easier and more competitive finance terms.

The major Australian banks remain the most active in the franchise lending space with the ANZ, CBA, NAB and Westpac all maintaining dedicated franchise bankers and franchise lending policies albeit there are significant differences in their models and current activity levels.

Franchise lending activity and appetite is also apparent in regional lenders such as Bankwest, Suncorp and the Bank of Queensland and in recent times we have seen the emergence of specialised lending providers such as Silver Chef, Cashflow It and the new franchise lending fund CAPFAC.

Regardless of the lender, there are three key things that new or refinancing franchisees can do to simplify their search and increase their chances of accessing franchise finance.

1. Find a ‘franchise friendly’ bank: Look deeper than a bank’s broader small business messaging. While franchising is a big part of this group it is best looked at independently. Most banks claim to be actively involved in franchising but in reality there is some variance in how active their appetite is for the broader franchise sector. There are a few tricks for identifying ‘franchise friendly’ lenders.

Firstly, identify individual bankers with direct contact numbers for franchising (rather than a central number). These bankers are responsible for servicing the sector, will have generally had specialist training, be actively involved in the sector and better equipped to service your needs.

Secondly, look for banks that are actively expanding their offering; employing more franchise lending staff, providing more franchise sponsorship and approving more franchise brand accreditations. These are all good signs of their support for the sector.

Thirdly, ask the franchisor to connect you with recent franchisees into the system and ask them to share their recent franchise lending experience.

If your first interaction with the bank does not leave you with confidence that the banker is familiar with your brand and has a clear understanding of required timelines then it is wise to immediately engage an alternate provider. Sometimes a reputable finance broker can be invaluable in this process. An added benefit, of course, is the potential to compare two or more offerings and select the most appropriate deal for you. A little competitive tension between lenders can be a good ingredient for securing the best deal.

2. Find a ‘lender friendly’ franchise brand: Ask your franchise brand who to talk to at each bank. (This will provide an immediate test of the strength of their banking relationships and an indication of the effort they have put into becoming ‘lender friendly’).

Banks lend more money and more easily to brands deemed to be ‘lender friendly’. Through a lender’s eyes ‘lender friendly brands’ have:

• a desire to be clearly identified as a genuine and quality franchise brand;

• a clear ability to provide lender information in a timely and transparent manner;

• a commitment to operating under and respecting the Franchise Code of Conduct;

• a sound financial position (franchisor);

• a proven track record and skill at recruiting, training and supporting franchisees;

• an ability to provide insights into unit performance (franchisees);

• an ability to provide insights into the secondary market (unit resale values); and

• an ability to work constructively with lenders in the event that expectations are not being met.

Many well managed and strong franchise brands are broadening the number of lenders they deal with to safeguard against any reduced lender appetite from their one or two key existing relationships and restrictions that may arise from any internal wholesale lending limits (sometimes referred to as caps) that lenders may introduce.

Finally, and most importantly:

3. Put your best foot forward: No matter which lender you turn to they will be looking for well organised applicants and solid future business operators. A fully completed application form with copies of supporting documentation and a simple business plan will go a long way to creating a good first impression.

Prepare yourself well with a good understanding of what information is required, how much you need to borrow, how you will pay it back and what your ‘fall back’ position will be if your business expectations are not met. In lender terms the ‘fall back’ position is what they think they can rely on if the repayments cannot be made. Whilst they will take on some risk they will always be looking to minimise this through either an acceptable cash contribution by the borrower, an acceptable level of equity in assets pledged as supporting security, comfort in the resale market for the franchise unit or the willingness of the franchisor to buy the unit back from a struggling franchisee.

Whilst not always straight forward, well researched franchisees and ‘lender friendly’ brands continue to find ways to access and simplify the funding of new franchise units.