Coffee News is an unassuming single sheet of brown paper found in restaurants across America. The two-sided assortment of local ads, trivia and funny anecdotes may not look like much, but it has caught the attention of one of the nation's most well-known business publications.
Forbes magazine recently recognized the Bangor-based operation as one of the top 20 best franchises in the country to start now. Operated out of the home of resident Bill Buckley, the weekly publication has 1,070 franchises in the United States, Canada and 18 other countries from South Africa to Peru.
Though recognized several times over the years by Entrepreneur magazine, Coffee News has earned its first-ever recognition from Forbes, a fact Buckley attributes to the glossy magazine's recent effort to attract franchisers to its ad base. "We're just flabbergasted," he told Mainebiz. "Not that we think we didn't deserve it. We didn't think people would notice. We're a niche publication; we're not The Wall Street Journal."
Forbes, teaming up with a franchise database operator, ranked 400 franchise operators that require less than $100,000 to open a new location, have operated for at least five years and are currently opening new locations. Coffee News ranks 18th among the top 20, which were evaluated on initial franchise fees, number of locations, survival rates, and the ratio of corporate support staff to the number of locations.
"For their first foray into the franchise world, for them to sift through all the franchises that are out there and come up with 20 and include us in it was really kind of amazing," Buckley says. Other top picks included the No. 2 American Poolplayers Association in Missouri, 7 Eleven stores at No. 3 and a Texas Christmas decoration company at No. 15.
Coffee News has 725 franchises in the United States, including 29 in Maine from Kittery to Caribou, Buckley says. It claims a worldwide weekly readership of 7 million, and Buckley estimates about 200,000 per week in Maine. The operation charges $8,000 for the first franchise and $5,500 for subsequent franchises. With recent declines in home equity loans, home values and available credit, Coffee News is for the first time working with outside lenders to finance new franchises, including a local bank that may soon finance franchises nationwide, Buckley says.
Though Buckley labels Coffee News an "anti-recession business" - saying local businesses turn to his publication as they cut back on radio, television and print advertising - it isn't immune from wider economic pressures. "The last 12 months have been the worst we've seen since we've been franchising since 1988," he says. Still, the appeal of Coffee News -- providing easy reading while offering advertising opportunities for small- and medium-sized businesses - survives.
Buckley and his wife, Sue-Ann, acquired worldwide operations of Coffee News in October 2008, after the death of Coffee News founder Jean Daum, who started the company in Winnipeg, Manitoba, over two decades ago. Buckley took on U.S. franchising rights in 1996, and despite the recent run of tough luck is now looking to move the business out of his Bangor home and into local office space. Last summer, Coffee News also purchased a printing company in Houlton that prints 150 editions a week and ships them all over the country. "We're up 15% on sales volume, just in the last three or four months," Buckley says. "We'll probably print almost all U.S. editions there."
Revenue from all franchises, which Buckley takes only a small percentage of, is nearing $150 million annually, he says. And it's only expected to climb higher. "We're looking for huge growth in the next 12 to 24 months," Buckley says. "It's picking up right now."