Franchise Players

UntitledFranchise Players: The attorneys at Fisher Zucker LLC help franchisors around the world shape good brands into great ones
by Bill Donahue

A business franchise is like a work of art; it starts with an imaginative idea, which is then lovingly cultivated till its creator decides to share it with the world. When the people behind those ideas seek to protect and grow the brands they have built—through national expansion, for example, or even international growth—their first call is usually to the attorneys at Philadelphia-based law firm Fisher Zucker LLC.

Led by principals Lane Fisher, Jeffrey Zucker and F. Joseph Dunn, Fisher Zucker is dedicated exclusively to matters of franchising, distribution and licensing. Clients of all sizes, types and locations rely on the firm to overcome obstacles encountered in business transactions, as well as to provide strategic legal advice and representation in litigation. Fisher represents dozens of franchised brands in business transactions and complex litigation, while Zucker concentrates his practice on franchise and distribution-related transactions, litigation and pre-litigation counseling. Dunn’s practice focuses on business transactions and commercial litigation, with an emphasis on franchise matters.

“We have a team of 11 lawyers in a very narrow specialty,” says Fisher. “In fact, we’re one of the largest boutique outfits not just in Philadelphia but anywhere. Most franchise practices are part of larger firms. Our firm principally represents franchisors and franchise law is all we do. I can’t write a good will, but I can make sure your regulatory documents are in order and get your franchise off the ground.”

Fisher Zucker represents nearly 90 well-recognized brands, including locally based franchises such as Philadelphia Pretzel Factory, Griswold Special Care, Saladworks and Mister Softee as well as CertaPro Painters and its parent First Service Brands that has over 1,900 units. Of course, the firm also maintains a list of massive multinational clients whose identity the firm prefers to keep private.

In addition, the firm specializes in franchise creation. Its banner year was 2008, when it helped entrepreneurs bring nearly 28 new franchise programs to life. This year, so far, the firm has helped clients put 10 to 15 new franchises on the map, on top of guiding a number of international franchisors into business as U.S. brands.

Besides working directly with clients, the firm is heavily involved in the industry’s chief trade association, the International Franchise Association. In fact, Fisher recently concluded a six-year term as a member of the association’s board of directors—the only attorney to have been directly elected by the IFA committee—while his partners often speak at IFA events.

Fisher Zucker’s value to clients far exceeds the ability to overcome legal obstacles and aggressively represent clients in and out of the courtroom. What truly separates the firm from its peers is its proficiency in growing franchisors’ business and making them more profitable. The attorneys do this through a keen understanding of U.S. franchise law and how franchisors think, as well as exclusive networking opportunities.

“We help franchisors navigate the regulatory aspect by preparing their federally mandated disclosure agreements,” says Dunn, who joined the firm in 2001 after time as in-house counsel for AAMCO. “The thing about franchising is that you can’t tell a prospective franchisee how much they can expect to make, but a franchisor can share some financial information as a model. We figure out what the metrics are and highlight them so the franchisor can tell the story they want to tell.”

In addition to preparing contracts constructed to protect a franchisor while maximizing profitability, Fisher Zucker can effectively identify a client’s points of differentiation and then suggest strategies for distinguishing its brands from a competitor’s, even in an increasingly crowded landscape. This involves diving deep into data—the franchisors’ unit performance, for example—in order to understand what differentiates a good unit from a great one.

“Our clients are among the ones that sell the most franchised units and award the most franchises; they’re the ones who are identified as growing the fastest and leveraging the most new and unique technologies,” says Fisher. “Our goal is to keep a company competitive and retain its cutting edge by adding intelligence about where they’re doing well but can still do better.

“Clients tell us they think we’re good lawyers—that we’re very personable, that we do the job right—but they’re rarely relating this back to us about some event or milestone,” he continues. “Instead, they’ll say something like, ‘You introduced me to X person, and that helped me grow my business.’ Sometimes that introduction is to someone slightly ahead of them in the food chain and we’re putting them in a position to learn from folks who have more experience than them. And sometimes, to use a Dr. Phil term, they’re paying it forward by sharing their experiences with folks that they are ahead of.”

Franchisors’ thirst for such connections and information urged the firm to host an annual conference in Park City, Utah, attended by franchisor CEOs and other key decision makers. The most recent event hosted more than 200 people, including CEOs of exceptional caliber; nine attendees were featured on the CBS program “Undercover Boss.” Through such events, which are less about education and more about making connections, the partners discovered that CEOs crave opportunities to learn best practices from their peers in areas ranging from marketing and operations to financing.

As a result, the firm has become a sponsor of an education-based event a bit closer to home—“Springboard: A Special Event for Emerging Franchisors,” which is slated for September 25 and 26 at the Hotel Monaco on Chestnut Street. The event will cover all facets of franchising from the franchisor’s perspective: franchise development; building and sustaining a culture; business economics, etc.

“It’s our first time doing it and so far we have 190 people signed up,” says Fisher. “We’ve never had an easier time attracting folks to an event. Most of them are fly-ins and have to travel to get here, but we’ll have a number of locally based people, too. There are probably 160 companies coming that I have never heard of. We’re very excited for the opportunities ahead.”

Fisher Zucker’s clients, based on everything Fisher and his colleagues have done to shape good brands into great ones, would likely say the same.