Why Quiznos is Going Bankrupt and What You Can Learn From It

Franchising is set on a pedestal in the minds of business minded people and customers alike as a dream model – a goal to reach as it were.  For some people, to franchise your business means you are validated by the business world.  To open hundreds of stores means you are awesome.  To open thousands?  Now you’re a rock star, baby.  But wait!  While your business groupies marvelled at your copying-and-pasting skills, your lovely, innocent, country bumpkin girlfriend who was always there for you got neglected on the way to your stardom.  That’s quite sad.

Some people believe that franchises are started by directors with abusive and even predatory business goals but most believe they start out innocently but are then corrupted by the sudden infusion of cash in their banks created by their army of burger flipping, latte steaming, foot-long wrapping worker bees.

You choose what you believe.

The Franchisees of Quiznos in the USA may now have to figure out how to walk on their own two feet while proceedings for the funeral of their corporate franchise mother ship get underway.  Will their Landlords extend expiring lease renewals now that their never-failing rent guarantor has failed?  Will the owners be able to sell their stores and recuperate the hundreds of thousands they spent to buy the business name and systems?  Will this bankruptcy ultimately mean the doom of Quiznos in Canada?  What buyer would purchase a franchise that may no longer be a franchise?  How much goodwill value is left in the brand?

This article in the Business in Vancouver publication summarizes the situation at Quiznos best as ‘…struggling with high debt, angry Franchisees, and increasing competition.”  Many of the angry Franchisees apparently sued the head office for failing to support them and for overcharging them for supplies.  Quiznos settled out of court for $95 million.  And just a few years later – good bye, sugar pie.

But it makes sense.  When a lawsuit is filed against a Franchisor, its roots didn’t magically grow like Jack’s beanstalk, especially if the lawsuit involves more than one Franchisee as it did in this case.  The Franchisees had to have been angry enough to fight against their own ‘fear of the Franchisor’ and start meeting privately to come up with a plan – a sort of revolution.  Money was taken from them unfairly so they went to get it back.  They paid for support that they didn’t get so they went for a court imposed refund – and they got it.  It would be interesting to ask the Franchisees who chose not to fight how they feel about their decision now.

One of the most interesting quotes from the BIV article on the topic is the following:

All except seven of its nearly 2,100 restaurants are independently owned and operated by franchisees and will not be affected by the bankruptcy, the company said in a statement.

How they will not be affected by the bankruptcy is nothing short of a very large mystery.  To remove a stigma of this size from a brand is a formidable task – regardless of where the bankruptcy is filed.  Think about Jack in the Box.  Stigmas are sticky.

So what can we learn from the woes that are sweeping over Quiznos?  Here are a few points to consider:

  • If Quiznos was focused on helping the Franchisees make money instead of finding ways to take it from them, none of this would have happened.  They would have had Ambassadors of the Brand instead of Assassins of the Brand.  Win + win = win  (Note: this formula still works in 2014)
  • If there are a bunch of Franchisees going after the Franchisor, you should probably be concerned.  Deeply concerned.
  •  ‘Too big to fall’ Franchises don’t exist (although McDonald’s might admittedly be trickier to topple).  The bigger they are the harder they fall – eventually.

Business in Vancouver’s Biggest BC Franchise List – A Coffee Perspective

This list was published by Business in Vancouver not that long ago and deserves some attention.  First of all, we commend Business in Vancouver for putting together lists like these and for gathering data as it’s very useful for the public, especially the potential buyer of a coffee shop franchise.

Here are some pieces of information that we pulled out of this related to coffee, but first, please familiarize yourself with the VCSFA’s exhaustive Francouver. (Franchises in Vancouver) page.

1. Out of 80 franchises, only 6 are coffee.  That’s only 7.5% of all franchises in the list – pretty low numbers, I thought, actually.  And is Tim Horton’s really a ‘coffee franchise’ or is it a ‘food franchise’?  That discussion is up for debate.  We will give them the benefit of the doubt as well as add McDonalds to our Francouver list since it’s not there at the time of writing this article.

Here is the list with our running commentary:

#2 Tim Horton’s: Not much to say here except I’d be carefully watching the golden arches if I were them

#3 McDonalds: They are definitely into coffee now and much better in fact, than many of their competitors – they are in a new game now and I would not be surprised to see them start to seriously eat away at #2’s coffee share.

#13 Blenz: Sheer numbers.  They were cranking out new locations until about two years ago when everything seemed to come to a grinding halt.  Economy?  Other?

#39 Waves Coffee: Very similar situation to Blenz the way they were cranking out new stores. In fact, they may have out-cranked Blenz this year… I’d like to see those stats. Waves may be heading into other provinces to crank further whereas Blenz doesn’t seem to be doing much with North America.  Let’s see where these numbers sit between Blenz and Waves next year.  They are, if you didn’t know, rivals to say the least.  We will hopefully publish that story one day but feel free to dig in yourself. It’s very interesting!  We’ll leave that for a rainy day which will likely be soon. And, apparently another Vancouver coffee franchise will be joining this story in based on some new announcements from one of these chains.

#62 Esquires: They are huge elsewhere but I was actually impressed with their footprint here (respectable numbers!)

#65 Second Cup: Still hanging in there with their Ontario fanclub.  Not much expansion in BC but apparently heading quickly into the states.

Notes for Potential Buyers

From our experience in the coffee shop franchise arena, there is a small guage that is worth looking at on this list that would likely go unnoticed. You’ll note that there is a column for ‘number of locations’ and then ‘number of franchises’.  Typically speaking you would be looking for the number to be the same and that would indicate a better health.  You should not see the gap between the number growing and if you do, you would want to ask why.  Typcially what is happening is the owner of the store is going bankrupt, or, they have been forced out by the head office and they are running it.  We would very much welcome our readers to email us your comments as I think this would make a good discussion.  For now, however, we would recommend considering a fluctuating number here to be an indication that you should ask more questions about the health of the chain. Here is how those numbers look:

#2 Tim Horton’s: 289/289

#3 McDonalds: 166/207

#13 Blenz: 62/64

#39 Waves Coffee: 24/24

#62 Esquires: NP (Not Provided!)/12

#65 Second Cup: NP (Not Provided!) / 9

We would be concerned about a ‘not provided’ answer.

We would recommend monitoring the number of locations from one year the next and especially keep an eye on that gap mentioned above from one year to the next.  If you see an increase in the gap you know that head office has taken over another store and you would want to investigate why from both sides.

We hope this coffee shop franchise perspective on this famous list was useful and don’t forget that we always welcome you to email us with your feedback.