sell your franchised business

...now browsing by tag

 
 

Isolated Sales Exemption in the New York Franchise Act

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

N.Y. CLS Gen. Bus. Law § 684(3)(c) of the New York Franchise Act provides an exemption to franchisors from the general registration requirements of the Act for what is deemed an “isolated franchise sale.”  Under this exemption, no franchisor is required to register its FDD/UFOC in New York where:

(1)   “The transaction is pursuant to an offer directed by the franchisor to not more than two persons . . .

 (2)   if the franchisor does not grant the franchisee the right to offer franchises to others,

 (3)   a commission or other remuneration is not paid directly or indirectly for soliciting a prospective franchisee in this state, and

 (4)   the franchisor is domiciled in this state or has filed with the department of law its consent to service of process on the form prescribed by the department.”  N.Y. CLS Gen. Bus. Law § 684(3)(c).

 New York courts have interpreted § 684(3)(c) to mean in essence that  the sale of the first franchise unit is exempt from registration if the unit was only offered to a maximum of two people (See BMW Co., Inc. et al. v Workbench Inc. et al. (No. 86 CIV 4200 1988 WL 45594 (S.D.N.Y. April 29, 1988); CCH Business Franchise Guide ¶ 9104, at 18,850). 

This exemption is well settled law in New York:  “This isolated franchise sale exemption is potentially useful for new U.S. franchisors or foreign franchisors that are new to the United States. It permits them to sell one franchise in New York without having to register a disclosure document with the state.”  LJN, Law Journal Newsletters, Franchising Business & Law Alert, Volume 18, Number 4, January 2012, by George J. Eydt. 

Further, in a recent New York case, Burgers Bar Five Towns, LLC v. Burger Holdings Corp., 897 N.Y.S. 2d 502 (2d Dep’t 2010), again upheld the existence of the isolated franchise sale exemption under § 684(3)(c) provided the franchisor is able to meet the four prongs of the statute.  In reversing a summary judgment that had been entered by the trial court against a franchisor that had failed to register its UFOC/FDD, the appeals court stated that the matter be remanded back to the trial court to determine whether the franchisor indeed met the exemption factors.  Further, the appeals court held that even if the exemption was not available, the franchisee had to prove that it sustained damages as a result of the failure to register and that the failure to register was willful.

There is some support for the proposition that not only does § 684(3)(c) exempt a franchisor from the registration requirement of the New York Franchise Act for the isolated franchise sale, the franchisor is also exempted from the disclosure requirements of the Act.

§ 683(8) of the New York Franchise Law provides that:  “A franchise which is subject to registration under this article shall not be sold without first providing to the prospective franchisee, a copy of the offering prospectus, together with a copy of all proposed agreements relating to the sale of the franchise.” 

No New York Court has yet delved this deeply into the disclosure exemption question.  The few Courts that have addressed the issue, BMW Co., supra, The National Survival Game of New York, Inc., supra, and Burgers Bar Five Towns, LLC, supra., have either failed to examine the relationship between the two statutes, or resolved the merits of their cases on other grounds.

Nevertheless, a franchisor faced with a registration and disclosure violation in New York for an isolated franchise sale would be smart to argue that both registration and disclosure are exempted.

Legal Requirements of an Existing Franchisee Sale of His or Her Outlet; Purchase of Additional Outlets; Extending the Term of an Existing Franchise?

Thursday, April 28th, 2011

An existing franchisee that sells his or her franchised business directly to a third party, without any significant contact with the franchisor does not need to abide by the federal franchise disclosure law, or any state franchise registration or disclosure law.

 The FTC Franchise Rule states, directly from the FTC website found at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/business/franchise/bus70.pdf

“Even if the franchisor has, and exercises, the right to approve or disapprove a subsequent sale (transfer) of a franchised unit, the transferee will not be entitled to receive disclosures unless the franchisor plays some more significant role in the sale. For example, if the franchisor provides financial performance information to the prospective transferee, the franchisor would be required to provide the transferee with its disclosure document.”

 Likewise, in the case of an existing franchisee that purchases one or more additional outlets from the same franchisor for the same brand, the franchisor is not required to provide a disclosure document to such a franchisee exercising a right under the franchise agreement to establish any new outlets.

Finally, the franchisor is not required to provide a disclosure document to a franchisee who chooses to keep its existing outlet post-term either by extending its present franchise agreement or by entering into a new agreement, unless the new relationship is under terms and conditions materially different from the present agreement.  In the case of a materially different franchise agreement, the franchisor must abide by state and federal franchise registration and disclosure laws.

Types of Relationships Covered by Federal and State Franchise Laws. [Part 3]

Thursday, April 28th, 2011

The Payment Requirement.

 The last of the three definitional elements of a franchise covered by the FTC Franchise Rule is that purchasers of the business arrangement must be required to pay to the franchisor as a condition of obtaining a franchise or starting operations, a sum of at least $500 at any time prior to or within the first six months of the commencement of operations of the franchised business.

 Here is what the FTC Franchise Rule states on the “Required Payment” element, directly from the FTC website at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/business/franchise/bus70.pdf

As to what constitutes a payment, the term “payment” is intended to be read broadly, “capturing all sources of revenue that a franchisee must pay to a franchisor or its affiliate for the right to associate with the franchisor, market its goods or services, and begin operation of the business. Often, required payments go beyond a simple franchisee fee, entailing other payments that the franchisee must pay to the franchisor or an affiliate by contract – including the franchise agreement or any companion contract. Required payments may include: initial franchise fee, rent, advertising assistance, equipment and supplies (including such purchases from third parties if the franchisor or its affiliate receives payment as a result of the purchase), training, security deposits, escrow deposits, non-refundable bookkeeping charges, promotional literature, equipment rental and continuing royalties on sales.  Payments which, by practical necessity, a franchisee must make to the franchisor or affiliate also count toward the required payment. A common example of a payment made by practical necessity is a charge for equipment that can only be obtained from the franchisor or its affiliate and no other source.”

Types of Relationships Covered by Federal and State Franchise Laws. [Part 2]

Thursday, April 28th, 2011

Here is what the FTC Franchise Rule states on the “Significant Control or Assistance” element, directly from the FTC website at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/business/franchise/bus70.pdf

“The FTC Franchise Rule covers business arrangements where the franchisor will exert or has the authority to exert a significant degree of control over the franchisee’s method of operation, or provide significant assistance in the franchisee’s method of operation.”

 The relevant question is when does such control become significant.  “The more franchisees reasonably rely upon the franchisor’s control or assistance, the more likely the control or assistance will be considered “significant.” Franchisees’ reliance is likely to be great when they are relatively inexperienced in the business being offered for sale or when they undertake a large financial risk. Similarly, franchisees are likely to reasonably rely on the franchisor’s control or assistance if the control or assistance is unique to that specific franchisor, as opposed to a typical practice employed by all businesses in the same industry.

 Further, to be deemed “significant,” the control or assistance must relate to the franchisee’s overall method of operation – not a small part of the franchisee’s business. Control or assistance involving the sale of a specific product that has, at most, a marginal effect on a franchisee’s method of operating the overall business will not be considered in determining whether control or assistance is “significant.”

 For the sake of the Rule, significant types of control include: site approval for unestablished businesses, site design or appearance requirements, hours of operation, production techniques, accounting practices, personnel policies, promotional campaigns requiring franchisee participation or financial contribution, restrictions on customers, and locale or area of operation.

 Significant types of assistance include: formal sales, repair, or business training programs, establishing accounting systems, furnishing management, marketing, or personnel advice, selecting site locations, furnishing systemwide networks and website, and furnishing a detailed operating manual.

 The following activities will not constitute significant control or assistance:  promotional activities, in the absence of additional forms of assistance, (this includes furnishing a distributor with point-of sale advertising displays, sales kits, product samples, and other promotional materials intended to help the distributor in making sales. It also includes providing advertising in such media as radio and television, whether provided solely by the franchisor or on a cooperative basis with franchisees;), trademark controls designed solely to protect the trademark owner’s legal ownership rights in the mark under state or federal trademark laws (such as display of the mark or right of inspection), health or safety restrictions required by federal or state law or regulations, agreements between a bank credit interchange organization and retailers or member banks for the provision of credit cards or credit services, and assisting distributors in obtaining financing to be able to transact business.”

Types of Relationships Covered by Federal and State Franchise Laws. [Part 1]

Thursday, April 28th, 2011

Often times I have prospective franchisor clients, that is, clients who believe they have a business concept that can be expanded possibly through licensing or franchising, ask me to explain the differences between licensing and franchising from a legal perspective.  Inevitably, the conversation turns to an explanation from the client as to why the concept is not truly a franchise after all.  As I have explained on this blog previously, while there certainly are relationships that are true licenses, more often than not, many licensing relationships are indeed nothing more than disguised franchises.

 Here is what the FTC Franchise Rule states on the issue, directly from the FTC website found at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/business/franchise/bus70.pdf.  The FTC Franchise Rule covers the offer and sale of franchises. As under the original Rule, a commercial business arrangement is a “franchise” if it satisfies three definitional elements.

 “Specifically, the franchisor must: (1) promise to provide a trademark or other commercial symbol; (2) promise to exercise significant control or provide significant assistance in the operation of the business; and (3) require a minimum payment of at least $500 during the first six months of operations.”

 Be aware that the name given to the business arrangement is irrelevant in determining whether it is covered by the amended Rule.

 “With regard to the trademark element, a franchise entails the right to operate a business that is “identified or associated with the franchisor’s trademark, or to offer, sell, or distribute goods, services, or commodities that are identified or associated with the franchisor’s trademark.” The term “trademark” is intended to be read broadly to cover not only trademarks, but any service mark, trade name, or other advertising or commercial symbol. This is generally referred to as the “trademark” or “mark” element.

 The franchisor need not own the mark itself, but at the very least must have the right to license the use of the mark to others. Indeed, the right to use the franchisor’s mark in the operation of the business – either by selling goods or performing services identified with the mark or by using the mark, in whole or in part, in the business’ name – is an integral part of franchising.

 In fact, a supplier can avoid Rule coverage of a particular distribution arrangement by expressly prohibiting the distributor from using its mark.”

New York Franchise Act Inapplicable Where Franchisee Resides Outside New York

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011

In the recent case of JM Vidal, Inc. v. Texdis USA, Inc., 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 93564 (S.D.N.Y. 2010), the New York District Court held that the New York Franchise Sales Act is inapplicable to the sale of franchises by a franchisor based in New York where the franchisee resides outside of New York and the franchised business is based outside of New York. In Vidal, a franchisee located in Washington State brought an action against a franchisor that was incorporated in Delaware and maintained its principal place of business in New York.

The franchisee alleged that the franchisor violated the New York Act by: (i) selling a franchise before it registered the UFOC; (ii) failing to timely deliver the UFOC at or before the initial meeting; and (iii) misrepresenting the estimated future earnings of the franchised unit, among other claims.

The Court dismissed the franchisee’s New York Act claim by holding that the New York Act is inapplicable and unavailable in an action by an out of state franchisee in a claim against a New York-based franchisor. The Court determined that the principal place of business of the franchisee is the essential element in the analysis – so that if the franchisee is not based in New York, then the New York Act is not applicable.

In making this determination, the Court relied on previous New York decisions, including Century Pac, Inc. v. Hilton Hotels Corp., 2004 U.S. Dist. Lexis 6904 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 21, 2004) and Mon-Shore Mgmt., Inc. v. Family Media, Inc., 584 F. Supp. 186 (S.D.N.Y. 1984). Vidal stated that “only the franchisee’s domicile matters for the purposes of determining whether the statute applies.”

This case should be reviewed carefully by Maryland franchisors and franchisees, and their lawyers, since the specific jurisdictional language of the New York Franchise Act that was at issue in this case is nearly identical to that contained in the Maryland Franchise Act.

Excellent Franchise Article from the Gazette

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

For those of you interested in franchising, see the below link from the Gazette newspaper. It is a recent article on the state of franchising in Maryland, specifically, how local restaurant franchise chains like California Tortilla, Buffalo Wings & Beer, and Wings to Go are contemplating expansion due to a rebounding economy.

http://www.gazette.net/stories/11252010/businew172254_32545.php

Must Read: The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Franchise Consumer Guide

Monday, June 21st, 2010

Below please find a link to the FTC “Buying a Franchise: A Consumer Guide,” which is a must read for all prospective franchisees. Here is the link: http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/invest/inv05.shtm.

While the information contained in the FTC Franchise Guide is no doubt basic to a franchise professional or franchisor representative, the Franchise Guide unquestionably provides useful information to prospective franchisees who often times know very little about the franchise sales process, federal and state franchise registration and disclosure laws, or the franchisor/franchisee relationship. Without a doubt it is an excellent foundation for a prospective franchisee’s due diligence.

Some topics addressed in the FTC Guide are: where to look for franchise opportunities, what makes up the Franchise Disclosure Document (FDD), to be aware of unauthorized financial performance representations/earnings claims from a franchisor if not found in the FDD, and where to obtain additional sources of information during the due diligence phase, including obtaining the assistance of experienced franchise counsel.

I strongly encourage any prospective franchisee reading this blog to click on the above link and download a copy of the FTC Guide.

Franchise Law and Future Royalties

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

Case law on the subject of a franchisor’s ability to collect future royalties, that is, royalties for the remainder of the term of the franchise agreement, is conflicting. Courts across the country have been unable to agree on when a franchisor may collect future royalties.

While guaranteeing the collection of future royalties from a terminated franchisee is impossible, there is one obvious but often overlooked way to increase the likelihood that a court or arbitrator will find in the franchisor’s favor when faced with the issue. That is, to disclose to the franchisee in the FDD, and include language in the franchise agreement, stating with specificity the franchisor’s policy on collecting future royalties. State for what period of time the franchisee willl be responsible for such royalties, ie for a certain number of months, or until the end of what would have been the franchise term. Also include what amount the franchisee will be expected to pay, for instance the average royalties paid by the franchisee over the past 6 or 12 months, or whatever time period the franchisor seeks to use.

Including specific and detailed language in the FDD and franchise agreement will not guarantee that a franchisor prevails with regard to a future royalties claim. However, NOT including such language will in my view guarantee that the franchisor loses such a claim.

FTC Franchise Rule Requires Audited Financials Except for Start-Up Franchisors

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

A franchisor client recently asked me for clarification on the revised FTC Franchise Rule, specifically, whether audited financials are mandated by the FTC Rule in non-registration states, or whether less restrictive and less costly “reviewed” or “compiled” financials will suffice. The answer is clear that the revised FTC Rule does indeed require audited financials, with an exception for start-up franchisors:

Item 21: Financial Statements.

(1) Include the following financial statements prepared according to United States generally accepted accounting principles, as revised by any future United States government mandated accounting principles, or as permitted by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Except as provided in paragraph (u)(2) of this section, these financial statements must be audited by an independent certified public accountant using generally accepted United States auditing standards. Present the required financial statements in a tabular form that compares at least two fiscal years.