Franchise Expo West puts Denver front and center in thriving franchising industry

Big trade show moves to the hometown of Re/Max, Qdoba, Grease Monkey, Camp Bow Wow

RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post

This 2013 file photo shows Julio Vergara doing an oil change at a Grease Monkey in east Denver. In Colorado, birthplace of Grease Monkey, Re/Max, Qdoba,Camp Bow Wow and more, franchises account for more than 10 percent of all jobs in the state.


Franchised businesses are expected to provide nearly 9 million jobs and $351 billion in payroll nationwide in 2016, according to a new economic impact study from PwC.

That’s more jobs than all manufacturers of durable goods — things like computers, cars, planes, communications equipment, primary metals and wood products — the professional services firm said.

In Colorado, birthplace of Re/Max, QdobaGrease Monkey, Camp Bow Wow and more, franchises account for more than 171,000 jobs across the state, PwC said.

Denver’s strong economy and population growth has made the area all the more attractive to franchisors and franchisees in recent years — so much so that the Mile High City this week will host the largest franchising convention in the western U.S.

Representatives of more than 200 franchises will be in Denver for Franchise Expo West Thursday, Friday and Saturday,  meeting face-to-face with prospective franchisees for businesses ranging from quick-service restaurants to in-home care providers to cell-phone repair companies.

Even cannabis franchise companies are presenting at the show — the first time in Franchise Expo history.

Investment levels run the gamut — some are under $10,000 while others can top $1 million — but there’s one thing all of the franchises exhibiting at the expo have in common, said Tom Portesy, CEO of MFV Expositions, which produces Franchise Expo West.

“Every single company that’s at the show is interested in Denver,” Portesy said. “Every company has an interest in opening in Colorado and sees it as a great opportunity.”

After more than a decade in California, Franchise Expo West moved to Denver for many of the same reasons why the city’s attractive to franchise businesses, he said — rising home values, population and job growth, good business climate and more.

“When businesses start to expand and population grows, you need more things. You need more sandwich shops, you need more sign makers, you need more childcare,” Portesy said. “We looked at a lot of different factors in deciding, but Denver was in the top three of every factor we could look at.”

Denver also continues to be an attractive place for franchise headquarters. In addition to the many homegrown brands, a number of franchises founded elsewhere have moved to the Denver metro area over the years.

Growler USA, a brewpub concept that began franchising 20 months ago, opened its first restaurant in Eugene, Ore., but CEO Dan White chose Centennial for the company’s national headquarters, attracted by the talent pool in the Denver metro area — including a few veterans of an ink and toner refill franchise White founded in the early 2000s.

“There’s a tremendous number of franchisors in the Denver metroplex,” said White, who splits time between Colorado and Hawaii. “That’s a lot of business horsepower. I can’t imagine how many tens of thousands of locations those franchisors have.”

Colorado’s first Growler USA is scheduled to open this winter in Centennial, near Family Sports Center.

Since the first franchised location opened in Charlotte, N.C., in January, another five have opened in Texas, Hawaii, Washington and Arizona. Dozens more are in development nationwide, including additional Colorado locations in Louisville, Colorado Springs, Castle Rock, Greenwood Village and Littleton.

The goal is to have 200 franchisees signed on by the end of 2017, White said. The total investment to open a Growler USA ranges from $396,000 to $591,000, according to the company.

“I believe a Growler USA fits in just about every community in the United States and possibly beyond,” he said. “Drinking beer is nothing new. We’ve been doing it for a couple thousand of years now. We’re just now getting good at it because now we know how to make really good beer. Beer consumption is moving to a new level.”

White and his team spent about two years figuring out everything from the right point-of-sale system to the right beer dispensing system for its franchisees. Each Growler USA has 100 craft beers, hard ciders, kombucha and other beverages on tap, the lineup unique to each location and focused on that specific area’s local breweries.

“We’ve ironed out the bugs. We’ve made it easy for people,” White said. “We have a sophisticated business model that’s learnable by those who have not been in the industry.”

The franchise model is what gave Qing Hammell, the confidence to open her first restaurant in June, a Teriyaki Madness franchise near Interstate 25 and Arapahoe Road in Greenwood Village, the growing fast-casual brand’s only location in Colorado.

“Doing food, I don’t have any experience. The learning curve would be so steep,” said Hammell, a financial-industry veteran who moved to the U.S. from China 20 years ago to get her master’s degree in business administration. “The thing is about doing a food business, you don’t know what you don’t know.”

After researching a number of concepts with the help of a franchise consultant, Teriyaki Madness rose to the top of her list because of its menu — over the years, Hammell herself struggled to find high-quality, made-to-order lunch options — and its support of its franchisees, she said.

Currently, the Denver-based fast-casual concept has 37 stores in 15 states, with the goal to end 2016 with 46 restaurants in 17 states.

“Some of the franchisor companies, after I talked with them, I felt like their purpose was just the selling,” Hammell said. “But Teriyaki Madness, it has the potential to grow — we’re the only one in Denver right now so the growth opportunities are good.  And at every single step, they showed us they want us to be successful.”

Franchise Expo West

When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday

Where: Colorado Convention Center, 700 14th St., Denver

Cost: $20 for day-of registration