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Trend: Franchisors Decrease Company Owned Units

dollarWhy do many franchisors tend to reduce their holdings of company owned stores?  To stabilize earnings from same store sales swings.

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For franchised concepts, sales are diffused throughout the entire system, with the franchisor, or parent company, taking a little off the top for themselves in the form of royalty payments. Costs are also shouldered by the franchisees.

The difference between franchisee and company-owned models is evident in the effect fluctuations in same-store-sales, a closely watched industry metric, have on earnings.

At Darden, for example, each percentage point in same-store sales accounts for a roughly 14-cent swing in earnings per share, or roughly 5.1% of annual earnings, according to Larry Miller, restaurant analyst at RBC Capital Markets Inc. Compare that with McDonald’s Corp. (MCD), the fast-food giant that owns a little over 21% of its more than 31,000 stores, which sees EPS move about six cents, or 1.7% of annual earnings, for each percentage point change in comparable sales.

The relative isolation of franchise concepts from same-store-sales swings is one reason why investors have flocked to place their money in companies like McDonald’s, whose stock is up about 29% over the last 12 months, and Burger King Holdings Inc. (BKC), which owns about 12% of its roughly 11,500 stores and whose shares are up almost 9%.

“Right now, people are crowded around the defensive investments,” Miller of RBC said. Comparatively, Darden has lost more than 27% over the previous 12 months, while its casual-dining competitor Brinker International Inc. (EAT), owner of Chili’s Grill & Bar and others, has lost nearly 31%.

To be sure, the mix between franchisee- and company-owned stores is far from the lone factor affecting stock performance. Also contributing to that is a penchant for consumers to “trade down” and eat at fast-food joints rather than sit-down chains.But several chains in recent years have taken measures to transfer some of their company-owned stores off their books. DineEquity Inc. (DIN), formed after the merger of Applebee’s International Inc. and IHOP Corp., is re-franchising its Applebee’s locations, selling them off to investors.

Brinker has also said that its near-term focus will be less on company-owned restaurants, which make up a little more than 55% of its 1,600-plus eateries.

About Ryan Knoll

Attorney and advisor with an interest in franchising. Feel free to email me comments and questions on the "Contact Us" page.
2 comments
FranchiseBaby
FranchiseBaby

Yes, indeed its a little more than "instead of gambling our own money, lets use theirs!" If or 'when' the economy does climb back, it will be interesting to see how some of these franchisor players maneuver. . . I just don't see them moving toward more company owned units in the near future (no matter how the financial crisis plays itself out).