Dream Dinners is an example of good idea but unprofitable business model. It’s just too expensive to attract and retain customers. A Forbes article looked through the Dream Dinners FDD from the state of Washington, and focused on the required audited financial statements.
As of Dec. 31, the company boasted $2.9 million in assets, against which it carried $3.4 million in liabilities. (Such negative book value implies that if Dream Dinners were unwound today, shareholders wouldn’t get much.) That’s a snapshot, but here’s a trend: Last year, the company lost $628,000 on $7.5 million in sales; compare that to 2005, when it earned $928,000 on sales of $4.5 million. …. Typically, new business concepts need up to five years to season before they can be franchised successfully. Dream Dinners–along with its next largest competitor Super Suppers, now with 165 stores–both began franchising in less than two years.
Many of my law firm’s clients are small franchisors, and frankly most do not have experienced managers or have enough invested capital. The new managers often spend way too much time on franchise sales and not enough resources on marketing programs for their franchisees and brand/product development. The franchise sales process is always longer and more expensive than anticipated, and that focus ends up monopolizing the franchisor’s time and money. These franchise programs have an extremely high management risk, meaning that not only is the franchisor’s management unproven in this specific strategy, but they are underfunded which keeps the focus on franchise unit sales.
I used to be extremely skeptical of consultants, and still am to large extent, but I have come to greatly appreciate the need and effectiveness of professional research and design teams to innovate and set the program up for success. The distinction is night and day between franchisors who utilize professional researchers and designers (McDonald’s is the most obvious example), and those who don’t. I have additional perspective on this in the financial industry because my wife is global director of user centered design for one of the world’s largest banks, and I see how many projects get screwed up when the bank’s business units try to short-cut improvements without leveraging the expert teams.
Meal Assembly Watch has an insightful post on how to fix Dream Dinners – 5 Ways to Save Dream Dinners. Executives of the franchisor with poor strategy and execution beyond selling franchise units seem to be the main problem.
Back to the Forbes article…Franchisees accused the franchisor of false promises and unsubstantiated financial projections.
A major point of contention has to do with rosy promises Dream Dinners seemed to have made to its franchisees. Under the Federal Trade Commission’s franchise law, franchisers are not permitted to make “predictions” about franchisees’ financial success–unless they do it in the Uniform Franchise Offering Document, which typically contains a host of disclaimers. Dream Dinners “totally disregarded these regulations,” says Garner. It not only posted financial projections on its company Web site, he says, it also put them in a Power Point presentation given to potential franchisees. Jennifer Hemann, a former Dream Dinners franchisee in Maryland and one of the plaintiffs in the suit, alleges that she was shown that Power Point presentation–which included estimated profit margins for a given volume of customers–when interviewing with the founders. “They told us, ‘Our lawyers said not to show this to you, but if you write fast, you can get it all down,'” she says… The slides, provided by Garner, present some tantalizing figures: Allen and Kuna projected that, at 187 customers per month, a franchisee could expect to earn $75,400 in profit annually, or 18.9% of total revenue. On the high end, at a quoted 328 customers per month, net profits jumped to $163,300, or 23.3% of sales. The estimated distance customers would be expected to drive: two to five miles. Allen and Kuna insist that “the figures were realistic and based on the actual performance of stores.”
The owners look innocent and reliable enough in the picture, eh? I would be tempted to believe Allen and Kuna. But, how could you have seen past their persuasive projections?
- Looking at the audited financial statements would have revealed a tightening financial situation.
- If the profits were as high as the owners said, they would be raising money to open company-owned stores.
- The inexperienced co-founders are still playing a leading role in the company…are they really the best people to be managing a fast-growing organization?
- …post your ideas on the waring signs in the comments below