What are franchisees supposed to do when a franchisor goes out of business?
Given the current state of the economy, a number of franchisors are either filing or contemplating petitions in bankruptcy or simply ceasing operations (see this Blog’s entry of July 30). There are many reasons why this is happening, but the common result is that this event can be devastating for future franchisees. Franchisees are left without any support, having paid thousands of dollars in franchise fees and royalties and getting nothing in return.
The lack of operational support may be most devastating. Franchisees who rely on the franchisor for menu choices, inventory, even scheduling of appointments, may find themselves out of business. When a franchisor simply disappears, the only choice may be to have the franchisees band together in a cooperative arrangement to fund support.
Among other questions, however, is whether or not the franchisees can continue to use the franchisor’s trademark. A more sophisticated approach is necessary when the franchisor is a larger company which liquidates in an orderly fashion and whose assets, including the extant franchise agreements and trademarks, are actually sold to a new owner. In that instance, franchisees may choose to look for a white knight with whom they can chart the course of their ongoing business.