Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Franchise v. Locally Owned.

Pottbelly Sandwichworks often finds hip downtown locations for their franchises, such as this store in Ann Arbor.

According to the Flint Journal ( http://www.mlive.com/business/mid-michigan/index.ssf/2010/01/potbelly_sandwich_works_seeks.html ) Potbelly Sandwich works is looking to open a location or two in the Flint area. Which brings up an interesting question: Should we encourage popular franchises to open locations downtown?

Founded in Chicago in the late seventies, Potbelly has become a staple in both large cities, and college towns throughout the Midwest. Aside from Potbelly's popularity, they also have a reputation for moving their franchises right into the middle of downtowns, and adding to an attractive and lively streetscape. Potbelly locations have found success in Ann Arbor, Lansing, and many other college towns around the nation, and perhaps the addition of one here would add a little more legitimacy to Flint's claim as a center for higher education.

However, some may argue that encouraging a franchise downtown may do more harm than good. Right now, downtown's businesses are almost entirely local. A few years back, a "Bigby Coffee" location announced plans to move downtown, and there was a small but loud outcry from the downtown community to "Keep Flint Local!" Also, we have several sandwich shops already operating downtown. Of course The Lunch Studio, Mike's Triple Grill, and Hoffman's come to mind, but Blackstone's, Wizeguys, 501, Halo Burger, Tom Z's and others all have sandwiches on their menus as well. How would the addition a new, high profile competitor affect their business?

On that note, do we even need any more restaurants downtown?

Franchises are a tough sell, because they are often seen as heartless, corporate outposts that funnel a communities money to headquarters. However, when we find a responsible, and successful franchise, should we simply shun it as simply that? While a Franchisee is required to pay fees to the national chain in order to use the trademarked name, much of the money does stay local, and of course, it creates jobs.

With the company looking to find a location in the area, should we take the chance of hurting our current businesses and encourage them to locate downtown? Or should we take the chance of having them locate in the suburbs, and miss out on the customers that it could have drew
to downtown?

Let me know what you think!

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