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Is Atlanta the U.S.’s new franchising Mecca?

Is Atlanta the U.S.’s new franchising Mecca?

The capital of Georgia has proven itself as a regional frontrunner, and a key location for budding franchisors.

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Words by Kieran McLoone, deputy editor for Global Franchise

When Ray Charles recorded his cover of the popular song ‘Georgia on My Mind’ back in 1960 – which went on to become the state’s official song – it’s unlikely that he was singing about his hopeful prospects to become an Atlantan franchisee.

You’d be mistaken for thinking this was the case, however, as not only is Atlanta now rife with franchise success stories and motivated entrepreneurs, but the capital city is home to some of the restaurant industry’s biggest brands’ headquarters and is frequently the location of choice for domestic expansion amidst all facets of U.S. franchising.

Just this year, for example, Papa John’s announced that it was planning to build a brand-new headquarters in Atlanta by summer 2021, citing the city’s franchise-savvy population and its travel links as key motivators behind the change.

“Atlanta has welcomed us with open arms and traditional southern hospitality, which sometimes makes us think that we’ve been here for decades”

“Metro Atlanta’s deep talent pool and its world-class airport connecting us to the domestic and international markets that are key to our brand’s future will accelerate our long-term growth,” said CEO Rob Lynch, when speaking to Restaurant Business. In fact, Atlanta is home to more restaurant franchise headquarters than any other U.S. state, and also houses several Fortune 500 companies that distribute their products through franchising – including the likes of The Coca-Cola Company, UPS, and Mercedes-Benz.

Deep talent pool

With a population close to six million, the Atlanta Metro Area has no shortage of franchising talent. Atlanta as a city is also brimming with entrepreneurs, and at just over 500,000 inhabitants, it’s also the 37th most populous city in the United States.

This goes part way to explaining the “deep talent pool” that drew Papa John’s to the area and also shows why so many brands have been able to find and attract franchising excellence in what first appears to be a relatively modest location. These are people familiar with and interested in franchising, who have seen the consistent success that brands like Arby’s, Holiday Inn, Cinnabon, Church’s Chicken and Tropical Smoothie Cafe have garnered from being situated directly in the market.

“Atlanta’s proximity to most domestic markets and its vibrant, large university system provides both robust access to domestic markets and an educated diverse workforce,” says Ben Lawrence, Ph.D., Aziz Hashim professor of franchise entrepreneurship. “As a logistics hub, Atlanta provides franchisors an ideal location to grow and monitor their franchise outlet’s performance. No doubt, the pandemic will cause more independent outlets to close, moving more market share to large franchised chains.”

Moving toward success

Many of the biggest franchises operating in or situated in Atlanta don’t necessarily start their business within the state of Georgia, but instead, recognize the exceptional opportunity on offer and cross multiple states to reap the benefits of its booming business market. One such brand is Edible, the retail franchise specializing in sweet- dripped fruit bouquets, which relocated its headquarters from Connecticut to Atlanta back in August 2018. Edible had identified the area of Sandy Springs within Georgia as a more centralized spot for it to conduct its franchisor duties, and the city’s major transport hubs were a no-brainer for both domestic and international franchisee relations.

“We still have an office in Connecticut, but after almost two decades there, it was time to expand and set up the brand for the next two decades,” explains Cheikh Mboup, president of Edible. “Not only is Atlanta a more centralized location with better access to major transportation hubs, but it is also a city that has a rich franchise environment to help support Edible’s future growth.

“Atlanta has welcomed us with open arms and traditional southern hospitality, which sometimes makes us think that we’ve been here for decades. Also, the city offers the technological background that is necessary for a strong e-commerce platform as well as the operational excellence that is needed for a brick-and-mortar business model, making it a natural fit for our business.”

The technological infrastructure and know-how that has facilitated Edible’s digital avenues is certainly a sign of the times, where consumers are looking to explore other purchasing pathways in a post-pandemic world.

Franchising employs around 11.6% of Georgia’s entire workforce and generates over $39bn of gross state product

Similarly, the need for robust remote working solutions, particularly in a typically commuter-centric region like Atlanta, has allowed for the growth and development of brands like Office Evolution, which recently targeted Atlanta as a key market for its SME-friendly concept.

“Atlanta is a perfect market for Office Evolution because it is home to more than two dozen Fortune 500 and Fortune 1000 companies, as well as thousands of small businesses,” says Andrea Pirrotti-Dranchak, chief marketing and development officer for Office Evolution. “With the shift in the workplace due to the pandemic, the demand for close-to-home workspace is at an all-time high, which is contributing to our growth. Office Evolution’s model focuses not only on small business owners looking for a flexible space to run their business but also on remote workers at larger corporations.

“As offices across Atlanta remain closed during the pandemic, Office Evolution is providing professionals with a safe and productive environment conveniently located in suburbs where many of our members live.”

As one of the leading coworking franchisors in the U.S., Office Evolution currently operates 72 locations across 25 states. The brand’s Atlantan growth is partially due to the general fact that 30 per cent of all office space will become shared office space by 2030, but also because Georgia was named the number one state in America for small business climate by the National Federation of Independent Businesses – the exact kind of operations the franchise serves – with over 800,000 SMEs registered across the state.

“By the end of the year, Office Evolution will have four locations open in the North Central suburbs of Atlanta, and the brand hopes to open an additional 10-15 locations in the area in the coming years to continue serving professionals from businesses of all sizes,” continues Pirrotti- Dranchak. “As the Atlanta market continues to prosper, Office Evolution looks forward to expanding and providing these businesses with workspace close to home.”

A rich history, and an exciting future

Many of the biggest franchise brands established in Atlanta did so almost three decades ago, with the 1990s being a bustling hive of activity for the area. International travel brand Holiday Inn Express, for example, set up its Atlanta HQ back in 1991, while restaurant franchise Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen planted its roots in 1992.

Evidently, Atlanta’s population has always been filled with franchising talent, which has exponentially grown as the years have gone by.

“Hartsfield Airport being one of the best airports in the world helps to facilitate commerce and business, because it’s so easy to get into the market”

Case in point: Geoff Henry, a long-time Atlanta businessman who has worked with the likes of The Coca-Cola Company and is now the president of Atlanta- based smoothie brand Jamba Juice, believes that the city has a natural draw that makes it perfect for franchising.

“I’ve lived here for the better part of 15 years,” explains Henry. “I think Atlanta is a very attractive market, both for business headquarters but also franchise development. Ever since the Olympics, this city has been growing exponentially; both in terms of population but also in terms of its draw.

“You’re pulling in people from all over the U.S. and the world. Certainly, Hartsfield Airport being one of the best airports in the world helps to facilitate commerce and business, because it’s so easy to get into the market. From a franchise development standpoint, it’s an attractive market because you’ve got so much growth going on both within the city, but also in the suburbs that surround the city on all sides. There’s really no major geographic blockade or barrier that prevents growth around the city.

“I think you’ve also got a broad and diverse population, so you can have a variety of concepts that appeal to the variety of tastes that exist within the market.” So while Ray Charles’ soulful singing about “the moonlight through the pines” may not have been related to Georgia’s rich history of franchising, he certainly hit on a lasting note: the state’s capital is where you want to be.

Global Franchise Meets.

An inspirational new web video series where we meet the business leaders and influencers in International Franchising.

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