Today's fast-paced startup environment isn't for everyone. Lots of people dream of starting their own business and getting rich, but most don't actually follow that dream. Maybe they're scared off by the high initial costs, the risk, their lack of knowledge about how to operate a business or just not having an idea for what kind of business to start.

In that case, pursuing a franchise opportunity can be a lucrative and fulfilling alternative. Franchises allow you to tap into existing business models and expertise, reducing your risk while also, in many cases, having lower startup costs.

The key is to work with the right company. Everyone's heard of fast food franchises like McDonald's, but there are a number of opportunities you might not have heard of to get into the franchise game. This post was inspired by my ongoing visits to a strip mall near my home in San Francisco. I've done the research and there are plenty of viable franchise opportunities you may not have thought of. Here are five of them. 

H&R Block

Benjamin Franklin famously said, "In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes." Talk about a reliable business. Everybody has to do their taxes each year, and with the Affordable Care Act making filing even more complicated, the market for tax preparers like H&R Block is booming.

Becoming an H&R Block franchisee allows you to tap into a well-established brand. The company spent $274 million on marketing last year, and you'll be hard pressed to find someone who hasn't seen one of their commercials. Combine that with plenty of training and support, as well as startup costs as low as $32,000, and H&R Block comes out as one of the safer franchise options out there. The 30 percent royalty fee is high, but it reflects the fact that tax preparation is a much higher margin business than most franchise opportunities out there.


Hair care is another stable business. People need to get their hair cut in good times and bad. And, in a bad economy, they're more likely to go to a discount barber like Supercuts than a high-priced salon.

Supercuts has a minimum startup cost of $119,000, and you need to have a net worth of at least $300,000, but the good news is that there's plenty of room to keep growing once you start. NPR interviewed a franchisee who said that Supercuts provides so much of the infrastructure that he was able to focus on customer service and expansion, and now he owns over 40 locations.

Kumon Math & Reading Center

With over 25,000 locations worldwide, Kumon is the largest education franchise in the world. Want to not just make money but also have a positive impact on children's lives? This is quite possibly the franchise for you.

This is another franchise with relatively low overhead, as you only need two or three employees. Also, the five-year franchise agreement is shorter than the industry norm, which is a big plus. Long franchise agreements can be hard to get out of and keep you stuck in an uneasy business arrangement.

Jiffy Lube

Jiffy Lube is great for the ambitious franchise owner. A total of 80 percent of all franchisees own more than one location, and with royalty fees of just 3 percent here, you get to keep a lot of what you make. On the other hand, startup costs are between $219,000 and $400,000, so it's a larger initial investment.

Jiffy Lube also allows independent quick lube owners to convert into franchisees, so this can be a great option if you already own your own business but are looking for the resources and support to expand.

Hampton By Hilton

With minimum startup costs of $4 million, Hampton is not for the entrepreneur just starting out. However, if you've already made millions, and want to make even more, it's a great option. Top publications rank it as one of the best franchises based on its stability, the size of its system and the opportunity for growth.