Open For Business: FranchisingSteve Adams of the Brockton Enterprise reports that giving up the relative security of the corporate world for the uncertainties of entrepreneurship, Gina Guglielmi was looking for structure and guidance. Instead of starting her own business from scratch, Guglielmi bought a franchise from Wallingford, Conn.-based Edible Arrangements.

“With my marketing background, I saw how expensive it is to open a business and come up with a concept, a logo and a theme for the Web site,” said Guglielmi, a former marketing manager for private jet-service broker Jets.com in Quincy. “With a franchise, you’ve got a lot of that already established for you and you’re buying into that.”

Interest from investors such as Guglielmi has translated into explosive growth for Edible Arrangements and other New England-based franchise companies last year. The fruit bouquet company led the region’s franchisors in growth, with a 211-percent increase in store units, according to data compiled by Entrepreneur magazine and the New England Franchise Association.

Jim Coen, executive director of the Pembroke-based franchise association, said interest in franchise opportunities has intensified in the current fragmented media environment. “Today, because of the clutter of media, it’s more important than ever to have that brand name, which is very difficult to create on its own,” Coen said.

Edible Arrangements currently has 702 stores in operation, and has agreements for an additional 109 stores that will open soon, spokesman Jeff Alexander said. Guglielmi, whose store in downtown Plymouth opened in late 2006, said her 2007 sales approached $400,000. Commercials on shows such as “Phantom Gourmet” and a new first-ever national cable TV campaign that launched this month have boosted public awareness about the stores’ colorful fruit gift arrangements, Guglielmi said.

Under a typical franchise agreement, the parent corporation agrees to let the franchisee use its brand name and logos in exchange for an upfront fee. The franchisee bears start-up costs such as buying equipment and real estate, and pays a percentage of overall sales as a royalty to the parent company. They also typically pay a marketing fee which is pooled with other franchisees for advertising.

Ideally, the arrangement benefits both sides. The parent company can expand rapidly with minimal costs compared with opening company-owned stores, and the franchisees benefit from the name recognition and marketing clout of a retail chain.

For many first-time entrepreneurs, the benefits of the franchise arrangement outweigh the potential pitfalls.

After taking early retirement from Verizon, Jane Labossier of Plymouth started researching franchises to fulfill her lifelong goal of owning her own business. “I’ve never done if before, and I’m not foolish,” said Labossier, 49. “I know the statistics on opening a small business and how risky it is. With a franchise, you have the support and training and they put you through everything.”

Labossier settled on Hanover-based Lapels Dry Cleaning, which has introduced standardized business practices and sophisticated marketing techniques to the dry cleaning industry. She opened her store on Route 139 in Marshfield in November.

Since its founding in 2001, Lapels has expanded to 34 locations in 11 states and the District of Columbia. Four more franchise agreements are in place for future stores, CEO Larry Friedman said. “Providing marketing support for franchisees is a key strategy,” Friedman said.

When a new store opens, Lapels takes out newspaper ads and sends 5,000 postcards to households in the surrounding area that are considered dry cleaning customers. It also sends out a broader postcard mailing to 10,000 households in the area four times a year. “We take all the marketing efforts that you need to do in this day and age,” Friedman said. “(Franchisees) simply have to concentrate on minding their business and minding their customers.”

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