When people think of a franchise business, the first thing that comes to mind usually is a popular fast-food chain such as McDonald's. But the actual range of franchise opportunities extends well beyond restaurants — including options as diverse as home health care, business consulting, bird-feed retailing and real estate.
That range is good news. It means that aspiring entrepreneurs can not only find a potential franchise business that matches their personal interests, but they also can find one that fits their budget, which may not be the case with a fast-food restaurant. (You'll need to invest at least $1 million in a McDonald's franchise.) That range is especially important for older entrepreneurs — America has 11 million small-business owners 55 and older, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration — who have to balance their dreams of running a successful business with their goals of being able to retire comfortably financially.
"There are a lot of different options out there for folks, and it just depends on what they're looking to achieve,” says Eric Stites, CEO and managing director of Franchise Business Review (FBR), a market research firm. “I see people all the time that are in their mid-50s or so, and they're thinking about their eventual retirement. Franchising can give them a good 10- to 15-year window, where they can work hard for five years to get the business up and running. Then, they can kind of scale back a little bit and still own the business but not have to work as hard and still have that residual income long term in retirement."
FBR performs independent surveys in which it asks franchisees to rate the companies based on their satisfaction with and performance of their own owner-operated businesses. AARP asked FBR to identify which affordable franchises were rated the highest among older entrepreneurs. FBR analyzed the data on more than 200 franchise brands to identify 2,260 franchise owners age 55 and older who started their business within the last five years. FBR then looked closer at the surveys to figure out which brands had the highest satisfaction ratings among its franchisees, based on 33 questions on topics such as training and support, operations, leadership, core values, financial opportunity and general satisfaction with their franchise company.
How much does it cost to start a franchise?
It takes money to make money, as the saying goes, and the old adage holds true for franchises. You'll need to save up to get your business off the ground. The two most important figures you'll need to understand are liquid capital and total investment range.
- Liquid capital essentially is the cash that you need to provide up front to purchase a franchise. In some ways, the liquid capital requirement is comparable to the down payment you need to get a home mortgage.
- Total investment range represents the total amount that you'll have to finance to cover the overall business. Using the mortgage analogy, if liquid capital is the down payment, total investment range is the whole mortgage loan. This investment includes the building, cars, equipment, etc., for your business.
Be advised that franchisees often also are required to pay some ongoing fees such as royalties and marketing, which often must be paid even if your business is not currently profitable. Be sure to factor these expenses into your decisions.
Two areas that fared especially well in FBR's analysis were home health care and real estate. The following 15 franchise businesses, listed in order of liquid capital requirements from least to most, are the ones that were rated highest by older entrepreneurs.
- Liquid capital: $15,000
- Total investment range: $44,250-$224,500
- Locations: 277
Real estate has been one of the busiest industries over the past 18 months, as families have looked to buy and sell homes to make life during the pandemic more comfortable and affordable. Realty One, which was founded in 2005, has benefited from that boom. This year, it landed on Inc. magazine's list of the fastest-growing private companies in the nation. So far in 2021, Realty One has added 63 franchises and hired 3,300 additional real estate professionals.
As the company has grown, so has its commitment to charitable work. This year, the company has planted at least 82,013 trees — one for each home its agents successfully buy or sell — as part of its One Tree, One World program.
- Liquid capital: $15,250
- Total investment range: $15,250-$214,095
- Locations: 485
Though it took second place in this list for older entrepreneurs, NextHome actually is the company that ranked No. 1 overall in Franchise Business Review's list of the best franchise businesses in the U.S.
Founded in 2014, NextHome is a real estate business that has expanded swiftly nationwide, and diversity among its franchise owners has been part of that growth. Women have an ownership role in 61 percent of its offices, and minorities have ownership roles in 34 percent.
- Liquid capital: $20,000
- Total investment range: $127,750-$151,550
- Locations: 1,320
If you're unfamiliar with Kona Ice, imagine an ice cream truck except with some tropical-themed flavors of shaved ice such as Pina Colada, Mai Tai and Island Rush, served from a vehicle recognizable by the penguin mascot on its sides rather than nursery-rhyme music.
Because Kona Ice is essentially a food truck business, it could be a palatable option for entrepreneurs who like to be out in the community. One respondent to FBR's survey did note that the company might do well to establish partnerships with national retail stores or other businesses so that franchisees could more easily operate from the stores’ parking lots.
- Liquid capital: $25,000
- Total investment range: $62,500-$326,200
- Locations: 485
Purchasing a real estate franchise enables agents who have personal knowledge of the trends and properties in their communities to grow their business using the marketing and other tools of a national brand.
With more than 50 years of business experience, Weichert has a wealth of history it can offer franchisees. But a Weichert franchise also provides access to its technology platforms, which provide lead generation, automated marketing and wireless connectivity that can be used whether you're in the office or showing a property.
- Liquid capital: $25,000
- Total investment range: $87,812-$99,452
- Locations: 196
Started in 1985, Fibrenew specializes in repairing leather, vinyl, plastic and other types of upholstery using its own proprietary products. While it might seem like a niche market, it's still growing quickly enough that the company expanded with more than 20 new franchises in 2021, including a location in Saudi Arabia.
"Because what we repair can be found within homes, restaurants, offices, furniture stores, auto dealerships, RV centers, marinas and aviation, the demand is coming from everywhere,” Jesse Johnstone, president of Fibrenew, said in a statement.
The business is almost entirely mobile, with franchisees operating out of customized vehicles such as minivans, SUVs and pickup trucks.
- Liquid capital: $31,500
- Total investment range: $38,875-$64,269
- Locations: 66
This company might be a natural fit if you have experience working in human resources or accounting. Payroll Vault helps small businesses manage payroll, background checks of potential hires, workers’ compensation and other vital services that can become time-consuming practices.
- Liquid capital: $40,000
- Total investment range: $185,179-$311,043
- Locations: 330
Birdwatching became a more popular hobby during the pandemic as lockdowns led more people to appreciate what's happening right outside their windows. Wild Birds Unlimited could be positioned to get a boost from that new audience.
The company's stores specialize in bird-feeding supplies and other equipment for amateur ornithologists. With more than 300 locations in the United States and Canada, Wild Birds has found a promising niche.
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- Liquid capital: $50,000
- Total investment range: $64,130-$160,057
- Locations: 380
As the nation's population grows older, the demand for home health care is expected to rise. That's been the case in recent years for SYNERGY, which added 38 locations in 2020 and another 13 in the first quarter of this year.
Starting a home health care business could pose interesting opportunities for aspiring entrepreneurs age 50 and older, some of whom are navigating caring for their aging parents while also raising their own children. SYNERGY, which has been in business for more than 15 years, recently commissioned research about the needs of this “sandwich generation” as a way to better understand the needs of its clients and franchisees.
"Along with providing care, we often work to facilitate constructive conversations about current and long-term care options,” said SYNERGY CEO Charlie Young. “Our goal is to allow our aging loved ones to have the confidence to live a fuller and happier life.”
- Liquid capital: $50,000
- Total investment range: $54,984-$160,900
- Locations: 114
While you may not have heard of Aire-Master by name, you certainly have heard of some of its clients. Businesses such as Applebee's, FedEx and Walgreens hire Aire-Master to help them keep their commercial bathrooms clean and also make sure that the entire offices smell fresh. Some businesses even hire Aire-Master franchises to develop a custom fragrance for their offices, a unique way of creating a brand identity that customers remember.
Aire-Master franchises also help business eliminate unwanted odors, such as smoke or smelly trash chutes. Deodorizing has been the company's area of expertise since it opened in 1958.
- Liquid capital: $50,000
- Total investment range: $117,500-$149,100
- Locations: 274
Handyman services always come in, well, handy. That steady demand is part of the appeal of this franchise opportunity. Mr. Handyman gives clients access to affordable, convenient, professional service from workers who have an average of at least 10 years of experience in their respective trades.
While some Mr. Handyman franchise owners could do the work requests if they chose to, many of these owners instead work with teams of technicians who then complete the service requests that come in to the franchise.
- Liquid capital: $50,000
- Total investment range: $71,095-$90,395
- Locations: 74
Figuring which assisted living facility, nursing home or other long-term care option might be the best fit for your loved one can be overwhelming for families that are making these decisions for the first time. That's where Senior Care Authority can help. The company specializes in providing consulting services so families can make their choice based on guidance from an expert who is knowledgeable about the options available.
Because Senior Care Authority's primary business is consulting, aspiring franchisees typically do not have to spend as much up front as they might for restaurant franchises or other business that are more dependent on the maintenance of hardware. Senior Care Authority provides extensive training on how to assess the long-term care options in your region, including sending a member of the corporate team to accompany new franchisees during their initial visits to health care facilities.
- Liquid capital: $59,000
- Total investment range: $125,000-$135,000
- Locations: 665
In August, Home Instead, which provides caregiving services for older adults, was acquired by Honor Technology, a company that provides software and other tools to support caregiving businesses. The two companies have said that the acquisition will better enable them to use technology to strengthen the relationships between caregivers and clients while also further professionalizing caregiving as a career.
Home Instead will continue to operate as a separate subsidiary and continues to accept applications for new franchises.
- Liquid capital: $59,950
- Total investment range: $84,085-$125,885
- Locations: 630
Visiting Angels provides paid caregiving for elderly adults. Franchisees told FBR that the quality of the services that Visiting Angels provides is what differentiates it from other caregiving businesses.
"At any time that I mention that the client gets to interview and choose their caregivers, they react very surprised because they have not experienced that with any other company,” said one respondent. “Also, we have an excellent ongoing dementia training, which also makes the difference in the quality of service."
- Liquid capital: $74,500
- Total investment range: $87,494-$197,790
- Locations: 197
if you already have some experience as a successful entrepreneur or corporate executive, ActionCoach might be an appealing franchise option for you. The company specializes in providing consulting services that help other businesses grow. ActionCoach franchisees can opt to work either as independent business coaches or establish their own coaching firms.
Respondents to the Franchise Business Review survey praised ActionCoach for its supportive culture, innovation and creativity.
- Liquid capital: $75,000
- Total investment range: $77,560-$171,160
- Locations: 277
This Boston-based company, which started franchising in 1997, offers housecleaning services. In addition to its high ranking from Franchise Business Review, MaidPro also was named one of the best franchises to start for under $150,000 by Forbes.
The COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on housecleaning businesses. Some clients, fearful of letting strangers into their homes, opted to discontinue services. Other people, recognizing the role of disinfecting in slowing the spread of the virus, chose to hire professional cleaners. MaidPro, which already required its 5,000 cleaners to attend an intensive training program before the pandemic, responded by increasing its sanitizing practices. For example, workers began to clean rooms in an order that started in the back of the home (or business) and ended in the front, so workers wouldn't need to reenter areas that had already been sanitized.
Kenneth Terrell covers employment, age discrimination, work and jobs, careers, and the federal government for AARP. He previously worked for the Education Writers Association and U.S. News & World Report, where he reported on government and politics, business, education, science and technology, and lifestyle news.