Denise Lee Yohn: QSR's Marketing Guru | June 2011 | By Daniel P. Smith

The 10 Best Franchise Deals

Back by popular demand. QSR reveals the industry's best franchise deals.

For some, it’s an average sales-to-investment ratio nearing 2:1, dedicated corporate support that helps franchisees succeed, or a distinctive niche that carries marketplace allures.

For others, a good franchise deal boasts recent growth despite the nation’s economic woes, stable leadership that ensures consistent strategy, or consumer satisfaction ratings highlighting consumer interest.

Truth be told, however, a good franchise deal is often a mix of all these elements. Much like a tasty recipe claims a pinch of this and a dash of that, some of the nation’s most compelling quick-service franchise deals carry a variety of features that distinguish them and attract entrepreneurial interest. These 10 brands lead the charge.


U.S. Unit Count:

468 (444 franchised)

Franchise Fee:


Total Start-Up Costs:



5% gross sales

Renewal Fee:


Marketing Fee:

2% of gross sales

Since its 1994 debut, Wingstop has only elevated its stature, capturing seven consecutive years of same-store sales growth and AUV approaching $750,000.


“We’re a fun, unique concept featuring a product that people crave,” says Dave Vernon, Wingstop’s vice president of franchising.


Roark Capital Group purchased Wingstop in April 2010 and has committed to opening about 50 stores each year. Roark’s weighty presence affords Wingstop the capital to advance the brand via independent research and a comprehensive real estate market model.


“We’re no longer a start-up and our focus is on fully capitalizing on our strengths,” says Vernon, noting that limited-time incentives for new market franchisees include franchise- and royalty-fee reductions.


An Outside View: Wingstop holds appeal for two reasons, Fran-Systems CEO Karen Spencer says. “First, the chicken wing category no longer poses the threat of just being defined as an additional menu item,” she says. “Second, there are no longer questions regarding the future strength of capitalization.”

Papa Murphy’s

U.S. Unit Count:

1,250 (1,233 franchised)

Franchise Fee:


Total Start-Up Costs:



5% of net sales

Renewal Fee:


Marketing Fee:

1.5% of net sales

Papa Murphy’s Take ‘N’ Bake is one of the few pizza chains to report significant growth in the 21st century, doubling both its unit count and sales since 1999 with a concept many feel matches today’s lifestyles.


With no delivery, no commercial ovens, and no sit-down dining, Papa Murphy’s franchisees forgo the hassles and expenses that plague many pizzerias. The simple operations scheme, however, doesn’t dampen its product’s zeal. Zagat’s named Papa Murphy’s the nation’s top pizza chain in 2010.


“The consumer appeal, the ease of operation, the brand strength, and the low entry costs all combine to make Papa Murphy’s an appealing franchise opportunity,” says Steve Figliola, Papa Murphy’s vice president of development.


An Outside View: National Restaurant Consultants president David Kincheloe calls Papa Murphy’s “a great concept to get into with a lower total investment for start up. Plus, the franchise can go almost anywhere due to limited kitchen requirements.”

Stevi B’s Pizza Buffet

U.S. Unit Count:

42 (37 franchised)

Franchise Fee:


Total Start-Up Costs:



5% of weekly net sales

Renewal Fee:

50% of current franchise fee

Marketing Fee:

4.5% of net sales

With an eclectic array of pizza options (including hot-wing and mac-and-cheese options) as well as a buffet operation that captures the lunch crowd and value-conscious diners with its $5.79 average price, Stevi B’s hits on today’s trends. In addition, Stevi B’s outfits its stores with other profit centers, including a game room with redemption center and party room, which attracts families and community groups. As a result, AUV sits near $950,000.


With operations visits from Stevi B’s franchise advisory council every 90 days and ongoing Operations Boot Camps, the Atlanta-based company trains its franchisees to work on the restaurant and not solely in the restaurant.


“Our focus is on helping our operators be orderly and organized so they’re maximizing their investment,” says Melissa McFarlin, Stevi B’s director of franchise sales.


An Outside View: Spencer says that Stevi B’s implementation of support programs and additional services, particularly in operations, “will help them grow with the right partners into a mature brand.”



I have worked with several franchises and I think you missed one of the best. Jimmy John's has a low cost of entry and higher sales than most sandwich shops.It is a well run company whose standards are exceptional. That bodes well for the customers and the franchisees.

I own five Jimmy John's, and keys to our success are quality and consistency of product, fast delivery in addition to quick throughput in the store, and a culture that is fun, hip and genuine. We don't try to BS our customers about what it is we sell or do. Those core competencies are what make us great and what separates us from the 'sandwich pack".

I really feel that Genghis Grill should be on this list as it has a rather low start up cost and is expanding at an exceptional rate. It has a niche market where it is the leader in sales, service, and great tasting final product!

Family passion and controlled, successful expansion make Culver's the choice of discerning operators.

This basic information is helpful; however, it really is all about Unit Level Economics. What are food and labor costs running? Are sites available and if so at what kind of a rent factor? Finally, what are the numbers that make up the AUV? If you have 7 stores running $400K/yr and 3 stores running $1.2 mil/yr, the AUV is $640K. But guess what, 70% of the stores open are losing money. These are all extremely important factors when considering what makes a top franchise.

Paul,Not to say you're wrong, but.....The initial start-up cost is not the same as operational cost. As long as the operational cost is maintained below the gross profit, then your net will be positive. So if you make only 400k the first year, but your expenses were only $225k, then you have a net profit of $175k. This would mean that for an initial investment of $600k, your return on investment (ROI) would be 77%. That is a really good ROI.

That number would assume that you paid cash for the initial start up. If you actually only paid a down payment in order to secure a loan, then your ROI would be much, much, much higher!

No that would be return on assets your talking about. The correct number to use to calculate ROI includes borrowed and invested capital.

Not exactly. How do you get a 77% return on a 650,000 investment if you only made a profit of 175k. It's more like a 27% return.

planing to start a multi unit Indian QSR very shortly.

All of these companies are using QSR Magazine to make earnings claims that they don't make in their Franchise Disclosure Document. The companies are knowingly making this information avaiable by distributing links to these articles containing these claims on their websites and through Twitter and Facbook.

Give Me STEVI B'S Business Plan

What's AUV? How much would you have to come up with in cash and how much will the franchise finance?

I do personally believethat the best internet and IT industry franchise is offered by CenterServ.  As stated on CenterServis pioneering the internet franchise industry by offering an IT franchise and aWeb agency franchise.  They state to besocially responsible and use the franchise model for an expansionary incentiveto upgrade the quality level of cloud computing services.

I have seen the opportunity for real franchise growth in the ethnic food markets using a QSR model.  Great opportunities in franchising when a brand captures a specific, unique segment and builds a brand around good food from that culture in a QSR structure. 


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