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Industry • Best Practice

Franchise vs. Chain: Which is Right for Your Salon Business?

How will your salon enterprise settle the “franchise vs. chain” question?

After proving that you can launch and manage a successful salon, you might be wondering if it’s time to expand. What first-time salon owners sometimes don’t realize is that not all enterprise expansions are equal. At a minimum, you must settle the “franchise vs. chain” question. Do you want direct control of your brand, or can you delegate it to other owners?

This article will explore the benefits and drawbacks of franchises and chains so that salon owners can make an informed decision.

Franchise vs. chain

From a client perspective, salon chains and franchises look almost identical. But a glance behind the scenes reveals that each model uses remarkably different business structures. An owner considering expansion will need to consider each approach’s benefits and drawbacks before making a decision for their brand.

What is a franchise?

A franchise is a store that operates under a brand name while being owned and managed by a second party. Franchises occur when the original store owner licenses the right to use their brand in a franchise agreement. These agreements typically include:

  • Royalty fees: A franchisee pays regular royalty fees to the brand owner, usually monthly or annually

  • Product line-up: Agreements highlight product categories that a franchise can carry, generally aligning with the brand

  • Prices: Franchises are given pre-determined pricing on products to ensure they align with the brand owner’s storefront location

  • Operating policies: Brand owners specify operating procedures, such as return policies, in the agreement.

Beyond these conditions, franchise owners have full control of the new location. They are responsible for associated operating costs and collecting all revenue earned on-site.

Benefits of a salon franchise

Compared to chains, franchises tend to be low-risk opportunities for salon brands to expand. Owners do not have to worry about managing stores directly, as most startup costs belong to the franchisee. Salons typically give their franchises existing business and marketing plans to adapt the salon to a new location, but the responsibility of executing them is left to the franchisee.

The drawback is that low-risk also means low-reward. While the franchisee has a higher cost burden, they are also entitled to far more revenue. Instead, owners collect revenue in the form of recurring royalty payments while the franchise agreement is active.

Also, franchises are not completely hands-off for salon owners. You’ll want to maintain enough of a relationship with franchisees to establish standards and a tone for your brand. Franchisees are not employees, but you will require the right communication skills to work with them effectively.

What is a chain?

A chain is a group of stores that share the same name, branding, products, and operating policies. While the term can colloquially refer to any retail grouping, it more commonly applies to stores owned by a single company. Chains expand when the parent company builds additional locations or acquires existing stores and converts them to their branding.

Each storefront within a chain will have managers and employees who handle day-to-day operations. In most cases, the owner will not work with each team directly, as they manage their responsibilities from a primary storefront or central office.

Benefits of a salon chain

Salon chains often require a significant investment of time and resources before finding their footing, but they tend to be lucrative for brand owners. Each store location earns revenue for the parent company, which owners can reinvest in improving units or opening new locations.

Each salon in a chain relies on the brand owner for leadership and support. This might take the form of establishing hiring practices, creating branded messaging, and setting prices. In some cases, parent companies will also be responsible for fulfilling supply orders and stocking equipment across the entire chain. If your original salon has enough staff, owners might share them with new locations while hiring a local team — a common technique to ensure a smooth launch. Even with individual managers at each unit, brand owners will find their responsibilities increase with each new expansion.

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Franchises vs. chains: The investor’s perspective

While this discussion mostly focuses on salon owners, investors have a role to play as well. Investing in any business that is about to expand can generate a profitable return, but distinguishing between franchises and chains is essential — helping a chain grow means investing in new locations that will contribute to a larger brand and company. Investing in a franchise, meanwhile, requires investments in an organizational structure that can support multiple independent businesses.

Both approaches are valid and profitable, but they have different expectations of risk and return. Chain investments contribute to a single growing company that may thrive, but investors risk losing all returns if the business goes under. Franchise investments have lower returns on average but diversify risk among several small salons.

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Should I turn my business into a franchise or chain?

There is no correct answer for whether your salon is better off becoming a franchise or a chain — it all depends on the kind of enterprise you’d prefer to run.

  • Chains demand a higher degree of direct involvement to handle the exponentially increasing needs of each new location. Salon owners will need managers at each storefront but must still supply their leadership across the entire chain. If successful, these higher costs will ultimately drive more revenue for the whole brand.

  • Franchises are more hands-off by comparison. Once your agreement is signed, the new location is solely the franchisee’s responsibility. Your revenue will come from royalty fees instead of directly-owned stores, but there are significant non-monetary rewards. Signing agreements with the right partners can expand your brand presence without needing to manage each location directly.

Whatever direction you choose, it’s clear that salon enterprises have many avenues for growth. By pursuing the opportunity that is the best fit for your goals and leadership style, you’ll ensure that your brand is one that clients will recognize.