Most Popular Franchises

Number of SBA loans : 2,292
Total dispersed: $391.8 million
Average loan size: $170,928
Failure rate: 7%

Home of the $5 footlong sub, Subway is the biggest fast-food chain in the world, with almost 33,000 outposts in 91 countries.

The initial franchise fee startup is $15,000, a fairly low sum compared to other brands. With fewer than 8% of SBA-backed borrowers defaulting on their loans, Subway has a better track record than similar brands — rival sub shop Blimpie has a 46% loan failure rate, and Quiznos is also well into the double digits.

The combination of global branding, minimal upfront outlay of cash, and low loan default rates have made Subway the most popular brand in the last decade for entrepreneurs looking to open a franchise, according to the SBA’s lending data.

And Subway is hatching plans to extend its dominance outside the noontime hour: It recently launched into the breakfast arena, pitting itself against fast-food breakfast Goliath McDonald’s.


Number of SBA loans : 2,019
Total dispersed: $291.7 million
Average loan size: $144,458
Failure rate: 25%

The shop known for its toasted subs looks like a riskier investment than its formidable competition, Subway: One in four franchise owners was unable to make good on their SBA-backed loan. Quiznos recently settled four class-action suits brought by its franchisees, agreeing to pay as much as $100 million to end years of wrangling over its pricing, royalties and fees.

The typical startup fee for a new Quiznos franchise is $25,000, but in an effort to add stores to its 5,000-member army, Quiznos announced last week that it would slash that upfront cost to $5,000 for entrepreneurs who already have restaurant management experience.


The UPS Store
Number of SBA loans : 1,085
Total dispersed: $159.4 million
Average loan size: $146,943
Failure rate: 12%

UPS scooped up business services and shipping center Mail Boxes Etc. in 2001 and promptly rebranded almost all of the locations as The UPS Store.

But some Mail Boxes Etc. owners didn’t weather the takeover well. Seven years ago, they filed suit against UPS, and will finally take their case to trial later this month in Los Angeles. Meanwhile, UPS rolls on, adding new franchisees to its network for an initial fee just shy of $30,000.


Cold Stone Creamery
Number of SBA loans : 774
Total dispersed: $180.9 million
Average loan size: $233,687
Failure rate: 31%

Cold Stone Creamery’s “super-premium” ice cream brand got its start in Tempe, Ariz., more than two decades ago. Known for its made-to-order treats with toppings folded into the ice cream on a frozen granite slab, Cold Stone Creamery currently has more than 1,400 locations. Kahala Corp., the parent company of Blimpie and other fast-food franchises, acquired Cold Stone in 2007.

The product is sweet, but the financials can be bitter. In the last 10 years almost one in three SBA-backed franchisees defaulted on their loan. It’s an expensive shop to start, too: the initial franchise fee is $42,000. A 2008 Wall Street Journal article spotlighted the company’s franchise troubles, including high operating costs and overambitious expansion.


Dairy Queen
Number of SBA loans : 478
Total dispersed: $157 million
Average loan size: $328,383
Failure rate: 8%

Dairy Queen celebrates its 70th birthday this year, and its famous Blizzard treat — blended soft serve ice-cream with candies, cookies and fruits — turns 25.

Berkshire Hathaway, the company run by legendary investor Warren Buffet, acquired the iconic company in 1998. Today, it boasts 5,700 locations around the globe and a single-digit failure rate for its SBA-backed franchise loans, making it one of the safer investments in the food franchise market. A first-time owner will face a $35,000 initial license fee.


Dunkin Donuts
Number of SBA loans : 464
Total dispersed: $270.4 million
Average loan size: $582,726
Failure rate: 8%

America runs on Dunkin’ — and so do another 31 countries. There are 9,000 Dunkin’ Donuts stores across the globe, and the multi-billion dollar franchise serves up coffee and donuts to millions of customers each day. Dunkin’ Donuts’ modest default rate is matched by its corporate sibling, Baskin-Robbins, which had a 10% failure rate for its SBA-backed loans.

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