Older franchisees finding a healthy niche

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Sue and Roger McGowan, over 50 and out of work, were hungry for opportunity.

“With both of us laid off, that fear of not landing another job was rough,” recalls Sue, 53, who was downsized from a $75,000-a-year management position at Sun National Bank. “After a year, we had to acknowledge that we might have to come up with our own jobs.”

The McGowans, of Sicklerville, borrowed $25,000 from their 401(k) retirement account to buy a Pure Health Bar franchise, where they hope to squeeze profits out of fruits, veggies and other healthy fare.

“We were too young to retire — and old enough that it is hard to get hired,” she says.

In fact, investors over 50 are the fastest growing segment in franchising, although overall franchise sales have been stalled in recent years. At the 2011 West Coast Franchise Expo in Anaheim, Calif., 27 percent of attendees were 51 or older, up from 22.5 percent in 2008, according to New York-based MFV Expositions, which produces events.

Caring Transitions, an estate sale and moving franchise, says about 35 percent of owners are between 55 and 60. Decorating Den, an interior design franchise, reported that 35 percent of owners are over 50. Great Clips, a hair salon concern, says owners over 50 increased more than 15 percent in 2010.

“I loved the idea of Sweet and Sassy, the salon and party place for little girls,” Sue McGowan says. “I could picture us opening next to Justice in the Shoppes at Cross Keys.”

But there weren’t any Sweet and Sassy franchises available. Inspired by a niece who operates a successful Saladworks, the couple started thinking about food.

“I have always loved entertaining and enjoyed cooking a full meal every day,” she says.

In 2012, quick service restaurants are expected to comprise the largest share of franchises, accounting for 21 percent of operations, according to the International Franchise Association, a trade group headquartered in Washington, D.C.

The McGowans settled on Pure Health, part of Canada-based Fresh and Healthy Brands, after researching dozens of options.

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