Peter Birkeland, author of ‘Franchising Dreams.’
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Ever wondered what it’s like to own a Burger King? Or a Jiffy Lube? Peter Birkeland can tell you. In the new book, “Franchising Dreams” (University of Chicago Press), Birkeland explores the world of franchising, giving both the insider and casual reader an eye-opening look at the myriad challenges and uncertainties faced by franchisers (the umbrella corporation) and franchisees (individual units) alike.
Think that owning a franchise guarantees you a successful business and healthy income? What Birkeland reveals will surprise you. By spending three years working in the franchise units of three different companies—identified in “Franchising Dreams” by the pseudonyms King Cleaners, Sign Masters and Star Muffler—Birkeland gained unique insight into the often confrontational relationships between franchisers and franchisees, and why it often takes a monumental effort to make a franchise successful. In the book, Birkeland also dispels some of the long-standing myths about franchising, relates his own “social profile” of franchisees, and exposes the one-sided nature of franchising contracts.
Birkeland recently took time out from his duties as president of the Birkeland Institute (“a company focused on increasing network and individual performance”) to speak with Failure about what really goes on inside franchised businesses, and what ultimately makes them succeed or fail.
Why did you decide to write a book about franchising?
I didn’t have anything against franchising and I didn’t know anything about the business model. But I was interested in studying one particular company—I ended up calling it King Cleaners—because it had some overarching corporate values that I thought were intriguing.
First, I hooked up with a franchisee who was a member of my church and started working in his franchise unit. Then I did an academic literature search, and found out that what I was experiencing wasn’t detailed or documented in anything academic. The academics were interested in ‘How many units were franchised and how many were company owned?’ or ‘Where were the franchise units located?’ I found that my experience was under the radar screen, and I thought it was a ripe area of study on its own merits.