Today let's start with FDD Item 5:
- Initial Fees - this item covers the amount of money or fees paid directly to the franchise company at the beginning of the process. Typically referred to as the "initial franchise fee," this amount should be clearly indicated in Item 5 and match the corresponding amount or amounts disclosed on the Cover Page. On the Cover Page, the franchise company should have at least two amounts disclosed: the total estimated investment required that corresponds to the Item 7 chart (Estimated Initial Investment) and the amounts that must be paid to the franchisor to get started (Initial Fees), again matching the Item 5 amounts. If there is a development agreement fee or other initial charges due to the franchisor, those amounts must be disclosed and accurately reflected on the Cover Page. If the amounts don't match something is wrong.
- Estimated Initial Investment - Item 7 is arguably the most important item in the FDD. It is supposed to inform readers of the total expenditure to get started (so it should repeat the Item 5 amounts plus a variety of other expenses) and identify the working capital needed for at least the first three months. Franchisors are wise to draft this section carefully and review it on an annual basis to ensure accuracy. Although it is an "estimate," grossly understated amounts could lead to disputes when a franchisee's experience is negative and the start-up estimate was below par. Franchise buyers should not stop at the Item 7 estimate. Asking other franchisees about their actual start-up cost and how it compared to estimate, is highly recommended. As an example, sometimes smaller items such as professional fees (attorneys and accountants) are under-estimated. Franchisees need to conduct due diligence on this important item. Finally, if there is a development program, a separate estimate should be provided for that.
- Financing - If the franchise company offers financing for start-up costs (including inventory and equipment) or assists with securing a loan, it should be explained in Item 10. Here is something I have encountered, especially with new franchise systems: no disclosure or indication of financing is provided in Item 10 but "to make a deal" a franchisor enters into an installment payment arrangement with a franchise purchaser for some of the initial fees or costs. This is financing! And the terms of any financing MUST be explained in Item 10.