The Oldest Franchises in the U.S. That Are Still Going Strong
Keeping a business alive and thriving for 50+ years is no small feat. Many of us get calls and LinkedIn messages asking, “Have you considered investing in franchises ?” It may be a valid question because the franchise industry is growing at a rate of 4.2% and is expected to hit a whopping $460B in output this year.
Franchises have a higher success rate than other types of MULO (multi-location) businesses. Studies show that 85 percent still exist after the first five years, compared to 50 percent for fully independent brands.
As with other MULO businesses, brand recognition and the ability to find stores and products nearby are critically crucial to location performance.
But the challenge often comes in when the operators of individual locations are not in sync with the brand operators, feel they do not have enough financial, marketing, or training support, or disagree with the direction their parent company wants them to follow.
Many franchises overcome this friction and withstand ever-changing consumer tastes and shopping patterns, and as a result, these branded franchises are alive and well today.
Among the franchised brands that have met the test of time are:
Ice cream, burgers, and pizza seem to be timeless treats. Despite the emphasis on healthy eating these days, drive-throughs and fast food options are alive and well. Many brands have updated their menus to reflect the tastes of today’s calorie- and fat-conscious consumers.
- A&W: Now, with about 1,000 global locations, the brand was founded in 1919 as a roadside root beer stand.
- Dairy Queen: Soft-serve frozen treats and burgers compel consumers to visit the brand’s 6,000 locations. Founded in 1940, DQ has been through many structural and management changes since then (as have other franchise brands).
- Baskin-Robbins: Founded in 1945, the brand now has 7,700 worldwide locations. Known for variety, it has served 1,400 flavors.
- Carvel: Although this brand has dwindled to only about 300 retail locations, its branded products can also be found in grocery stores today. The first retail ice cream shop, it dates back to 1934.
- KFC: Its founder was over 40 when he launched the brand in 1930. It now has more than 24,000 outlets and continues to innovate.
- Dunkin’: Another excellent example of brands that flex to keep up with consumer demands, Dunkin’ was founded in 1950 and now has close to 13,000 locations and branded products in retail stores.
- McDonald’s: Not typically considered a franchise, the founder launched this iconic brand with nine locations in 1948. It now has more than 36,000 locations.
- Sonic: Curbside speakers were high-tech in the 1950s, but the drive-through brand now has 36,000 locations and is updating its footprint.
- Pizza Hut: Borrowing money from their mom in 1958, two brothers founded this iconic brand, which now has 16,000 restaurants.
We often don’t consider hotels as franchise businesses, but this model has become common. Today, about 35,000 hotels, motels, and resorts operate under franchise agreements.
- Intercontinental Hotels and Resorts: IHG franchised hotels represent 6,000 properties and about 900,000 rooms worldwide. The brand was created in 1946 by the founder of Pan Am.
- Holiday Inn & Holiday Inn Express: With 4,000 units in operation, this hotel chain launched in 1948 and was re-branded and franchised in 1952.
- Howard Johnson by Wyndham: Starting as a restaurant in 1925, the Howard Johnson lodging business started in the 1950s. The company now only has 150 franchises, but the brand remains an iconic household name.
Home, Business & Personal Services
Although independent service providers abound, many franchised brands have discovered timeless consumer and business needs and offer help to millions of buyers, often for repeat services.
- Duraclean: As long as consumers have rugs and furniture, they’ll need cleaning services. Launched in 1930, the company now has about 300 franchisees.
- Martinizing: Dry cleaning appears timeless, as this company, founded in 1949, has 600 locations. Brands like Tide have recently gotten into the dry cleaning business.
- ServiceMaster: Some cleaning involves more than just removing a stain on a rug or a suit. The first franchise was sold in 1952, and today the company offers deep cleaning and remediation services through 4,500 franchisees.
- Spherion Staffing: From City Car Unloaders (in 1946) to Labor Pool to its current brand name, this talent-finding company predates Indeed and other digital job-hunting businesses by several decades. They now have 200 locally-owned offices and handle filling jobs across various industries.
- H&R Block: Death and taxes are truly timeless. Founded in 1955, the company now has close to 9,000 locations.
- Midas: Whether cars are gas-powered or EVs, they all need tires and tune-ups. Founded in 1956, the company has over 2,000 auto repair locations.
- Kumon Math & Reading Centers: More than 25,000 centers help kids after-school with various subjects and study skills. Its origin was in Japan in 1958.
Although these older franchises have survived and many are thriving, a whole new range of franchise businesses are emerging — from pet care to highly-specialized exercise programs to grooming services.
We’ll be covering many of these in the weeks to come.
Multi-location brands (franchises or others) all need to focus today on some core marketing approaches:
- Building a solid, consistent, and memorable brand at a national (or global) level; tracking consumer trends and remaining relevant
- Optimizing local search and responding promptly to consumer reviews
- Engaging with their locations, using their feedback to improve products and offers
- Build loyalty to ensure repeat business
- Stay on top of technology — in-store, in-app, and throughout their location operations, learning from other businesses within the outside their industries
As long as people want the freedom to run their own businesses without pressure to develop and launch a unique brand, the franchise model is here to stay!