Do you ever wonder what that “special sauce” is that sets the big guys like Chik Fil A and Panda Express apart from the rest and allows them to continue  to grow, thrive, and prosper like no tomorrow? We do, too. In order to shed some light on what it takes to create today’s franchisable brand that keeps going and going, we had a look at the Top 10 Franchises of 2014. These businesses are just gaining momentum on their path towards major success, and are a great indicator of how to start off strong in order to make it long term in the constantly changing landscape of the dog-eat-dog world of franchising.

      Anytime Fitness: It’s true, guys-health and fitness are officially a thing. Due to the rising obesity epidemic, the general population has collectively freaked out and hopped aboard the “clean living” train. Most would call this a great thing-except for fast-food franchises like McDonald’s, Burger King, Arby’s and the like, all of whom were once powerhouses but are now struggling against the negative connotations linking their brands to an unhealthy lifestyle. Conversely, everything is coming up roses for fitness & health food brands like Anytime Fitness, whose locations have jumped to nearly 2,500 units serving 1.9 million members, and another 1,500 locations slated to open in the next five years. Takeaway: Keep your finger on the pulse of popular trends, and know when one is smart to invest in.

2)     Hampton Hotels: In certain situations, staying right in the middle of the road can put you on top. One such case is in the hospitality industry, where mid-range hotels like Hampton draw guests of all demographics, ages, races, and income levels. The reason? Everyone loves a bargain that still offers a premium level of service. By focusing on delivering on their brand promise of a friendly staff and optimum levels of cleanliness, Hampton Hotels has earned a sterling reputation that has garnered more than 1,900 units worldwide. Takeaway: Promise an experience that surpasses its price tag, then deliver on it.

      Subway: Hailed as the original “healthy” fast food chain, Subway was the first to delve into a niche that has since grown by leaps & bounds. Innovation has its rewards: In 2013, Subway celebrated it’s 40,000th store opening, making it the largest chain restaurant in the world. Subway continues to try and stay ahead of the trend, focusing on its breakfast offerings as a way to push a healthy alternative to the typical McMuffin fare. Takeaway: Not only should you keep up with trends-you should always strive to stay one step ahead of them.

           Supercuts: There is many a woman who is willing to part with a pretty penny in the name of the perfect highlights. However, there are precious fewer men that prefer to spend half of a paycheck on their trim, and who pays attention to a 4-year-old’s hair, anyhow? For those audiences, the answer comes in the form of Supercuts, the 2,300-unit chain who has made getting a quick trim convenient and highly affordable. The brand sets itself apart by making an outstanding training program available to franchisees, with 85 trainers available to make the rounds from unit to unit and sharpen employee skills and techniques. Takeaway: Providing an affordable alternative to a typically expensive experience is always a good idea, IF you can do it right.

5)     Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches: Every franchise makes some missteps along the way, and Jimmy John’s is no exception. While owner Jimmy John Liautaud admits that he let the green-eyed monster get the best of him in the beginning by growing locations at too fast a pace to maintain excellent quality and service, he realized the problem in time and made the wise decision to suspend franchise sales and personally visit every store in order to work out internal kinks. He spent two years weeding out underperforming stores and improving training, site selection, and operations. His hard work paid off: the revamped franchising program has been highly successful, opening 275 stores in 2013 with another 330 anticipated in 2014. You can read more about the journey of Jimmy John’s on our franchising blog at Takeaway: Allow your mistakes to result in positive change by using them to develop new strategies and procedures that help your company evolve for the better.

6)     7-Eleven: The name “7-Eleven” has almost become synonymous with the word “convenience”, which is why it is the world’s best-known corner store. Need some Advil? Run to 7-Eleven. Have a thirst that only the infamous Big Gulp can quench? 7-Eleven is where its at. Their tried-and-true strategy of buying up local convenience stores, upgrading them, and rebranding them has proved to be a sound one, resulting in over 51,000 stores worldwide and counting. Takeaway: Hone your store-opening strategy, find what works, and keep it consistent.

7)     Servpro: Who knew that disaster relief was franchisable? Servpro, that’s who. This interesting franchise serves areas in need by dispatching crews to help restore cities and states that have suffered from natural catastrophe. The 1,600 unit franchise was asked to serve as the primary national sponsor for the Red Cross Ready Rating program, the online system that provides information on how to prepare for and handle different types of disasters. Additionally, they are responsible for the DryBook app, which helps franchisees maintain their restoration processes to make sure they are up to industry standard. Takeaway: Niche businesses are important and lucrative because they fill an intense need; think about repositioning your business to serve a need that has yet to be met.

8)     Denny’s: Although the breakfast spot known as “America’s diner” is considered a ‘Merican institution, Denny’s has maintained a fresh perspective by honing in on expanding it’s 1,700 units worldwide, just recently moving into areas like Santiago, Chile. In addition to growing it’s reach, Denny’s has also grown its menu, capitalizing on the customization trend by creating a “build your own” option for pancakes and omelets and offering a wide variety of coffee blends. Takeaway:  The number one rule for a successful long-term franchise is to NEVER get too comfortable. Keep moving onward & upward, searching for new ways to add value and brand innovation to your offerings.

9)     Pizza Hut: Pizza Hut just celebrated its most innovative year yet, debuting tons of crowd-pleasers such as Firebaked-Style Flatbreads, Crazy Cheesy Crust, & Big Pizza Sliders. However, the most remarkable thing Pizza Hut has done is incorporate it’s OWN co-branded chicken wings franchise into 75% of its stores, making it both the largest pizza AND the largest wings restaurant in the U.S. Not too shabby, Pizza Hut! Takeaway: Cobranding is great, but cobranding with your OWN brand is even better.

10  Dunkin Donuts: This well-loved breakfast spot has been making a successful foray into expanding it’s customer base to an all-day crowd by promoting itself as the “third place.” This new push is Dunkin’s way of trying to take on popular snack and coffee spots such as the behemoth Starbucks by providing a revamped location that includes comfy seating, Wi-Fi, flat-screen TV’s and satellite music. Takeaway: If a competitor is besting you at something, find a way to not only match it, but exceed it.

We hope this look into the cream of the 2014 Franchise crop gave you some inspiring ideas of your own. Happy franchising!