Franchise Scouts Explore the Web
Printed in USA Today
by Nancy Rathbun Scott
Some people who locate a hot franchise on the internet are just nosing around. Others are researching a particular industry. Still others want the low down on a specific company. All three paths can lead to just the right franchise.
Looking to surf
Tod Wilcock from Pittsburgh got as far as and that was it. Here was the franchise he wanted and Wilcock knew it. "I love kids. I love hockey. I'm an extremely positive person. And the web site was awesome. I filled out the information sheet and downloaded it to them right on the spot."
Looking back, the connection seems almost serendipitous. A product manager for an instrument company, Wilcock certainly wasn't out to buy a franchise that day. He was in the process of moving from one job to another and was just doing some surfing. How did he land on Puckmasters, a franchise headquartered in Vancouver, Canada? "I had never done franchising, but the word had always come up in my mind. So I just did a keyword search in Infoseek and typed in 'franchise.' What came up were about 9 billion listings."
Wilcock quickly narrowed the field and the rest is about to become history. Awarded the master license for the mid-America region, this father of a 15-year old hockey player hopes to open the first USA Puckmasters around November 15-and he's wired. "This is the world's first one-on-one hockey training franchise. Yes, we turn hockey fantasies into playing realities, but it's really a whole life approach."
Looking for an industry
The story's similar for Jerome Hansen, except this former corporate exec for UPS knew he wanted to buy a franchise when he booted up. He just didn't know which one.
Part of the company's strategic planning group, Hansen had designed systems to improve UPS operations. He was computer savvy, but he knew nothing about PostNet, the franchise he ended up buying.
"I used Web Crawler, one of the popular search engines. Packing and shipping was my primary search, although I looked under 'franchise,' too. When I started, I typed in the name of [a competing company]. I had never heard of PostNet, but I found their web site and I liked the way it was laid out-the pictures, the comments from owners."
From the website, Hansen sent an email inquiry to PostNet headquarters. Hansen and his partner, Lisa Calcagni, met with representatives of the company and bought a franchise in San Antonio.
Looking for MAACO
When an acquaintance from Seattle encouraged Luanne Littleton-Stoltz to check out MAACO ownership, this math and science teacher from Portland, OR, was intrigued. Stoltz noticed that she had much in common with her friend. Both are women, outgoing, well-educated and fun loving. Add to the mix a genetic tendency to entrepreneurship (Stoltz's father, two brothers and sister all own a small business) and MAACO was looking better all the time. To discover more, Stoltz knew just what to do. "From the library at my school, I logged on, put in the keyword 'MAACO' and went to their home page. I found lots of little blips about various aspects of the company. I requested an info packet and within a week, the regional sales manager phoned me. After that, he flew up from San Francisco for a personal meeting."
For follow-up, she checked other franchise opportunities through Entrepreneur magazine's rated list and called MAACO franchise owners directly. "MAACO has been very responsive. We feel we can call even the vice president of franchising any time."
Stoltz, who will open shop in early January, says the internet is only the beginning of a franchise search, but the best place to start. "It's a great research tool. We use it all the time-our whole family does."
Searching just got easier
Back, two years ago, PostNet was one of the few franchise companies with a web site. "I thought they must be progressive," Hansen recalls.
Today things are different. Scores of franchise companies have web presence and more are coming online all the time. In fact, the entrepreneurial shopping phenomenon is so huge that USA Today recently partnered with Franchise Solutions, an east coast consulting firm, to create an expansive "one-stop-shopping " web site for prospective franchisees. Until now, says Calvin Haskell, president and CEO of Franchise Solutions, prospective owners like Jerome Hansen have had to crawl blindly around the web, hoping to bump into an offer that suits their interests and their pocketbook. The new site, linked to USA Today's home page, is expected to generate very heavy traffic. "People can drop by, fill out forms and receive information from just those franchise companies that match specific criteria."
Successful searches lead to other success
As it turns out, buying a franchise on the internet has other advantages. Jerome Hansen, the first PostNet franchise owner to locate his business on the web, has been an electronic leader in other ways, too. Using Netscape Gold, Hansen was one of the first PostNet franchise owners to create and upload his own web site. Because he's "heavy into updates," Hansen initially spent a couple of hours a day online, communicating with customers, answering questions, even taking a few orders. He expects the sales benefits to grow.
"We will see more and more business through the internet. People right now are a little hesitant about putting credit card information online. But the site has helped me reach people I didn't expect to connect with. For one thing, I didn't expect t get so many requests for information from around the world."
USA Today Finds Franchise Solutions
Last week you could shop for cars, real estate, travel, financial services, gifts, computers-even a job-at "" Now you can shop for a franchise or other business opportunity, too.
This latest button found at USA Today's Online Marketplace plugs into more entrepreneurial options than you can click a mouse at. Details on business offers in every price range and category pop up through the new site's easily searchable database.
Calvin B. Haskell, Jr., president of Franchise Solutions, co-developer of the proprietary site says, "It's a win/win/win/win, for USAToday, for Franchise Solutions, for the franchise/business opportunity community, and for people who want to be self-employed."
How the Site Works
Visitors go to and click on the Business Opportunities button. From there, you take off to the new site and a lot of options.
Information junkies can read all the articles on franchising and business opportunities that have appeared in USAToday for the previous six months. All are subject searchable
Click on "Franchise Biz Opps in the News" and Yahoo's targeted search feature quickly identifies all important information that has appeared on the internet in the last 5 days having to do with franchising or business opportunities. This information is updated daily.
Custom Tailored Lists of franchise opportunities can be built based on individual interest, financial capacity as to liquid capital net worth, availability, and geography. Custom lists are an exclusive, free service compiled from individualized information the user completes and submits by email, to which franchise companies respond in kind.
Links take the user straight to an alphabetical list of franchise and business opportunity companies. A short description of each guides the prospective investor, who can then jump directly to a franchisor's home page with one click. Once there, through a proprietary feature called "rapid request," more information can be obtained. The user is asked to provide name, address, city, state, zip, phone, fax, email, and amount of liquid capital available for investment. This information goes back to a database that crosschecks the specified liquid capital against a franchisor's stated requirement. Automatic information follows to qualified investors.
"We have it set up this way because some companies have such complicated home pages that it is difficult to find their questionnaire. Rapid request links to Franchise Solutions' database, which screens and faxes 24 hours a day, 7 days a week."
Exclusive interviews with CEOs and presidents of franchise companies present provocative, previously unpublished dialogue with top level executives, whose interviews rotate regularly.
Unique opportunities list current business opportunity offers and contact information.
Discount coupons from major franchise companies offer dollars-off downloads for a multitude of consumer products and services.
USA Today's Janet Lewis, who advises leading franchise companies about advertising, says the site will revolutionize franchise and business opportunity shopping. "Starting from a single site, browsers now can retrieve general information, contact leading companies and match their interests and capabilities to the opportunity."
Or, as Haskell puts it, "The internet is like real estate-and we're simply buying up every waterfront lot we can find."

® copyright 1999 Nancy Rathbun Scott
Do not reprint without permission