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There are many reasons entrepreneurs may opt for a franchise over a small business startup: Franchises may have higher success rates, and there is an existing framework upon which entrepreneurs can build rather than starting from scratch. But not everyone dreams of opening their very own McDonald’s, and some entrepreneurs may find the available franchise opportunities to be a little less than thrilling. Fortunately, there are alternatives—and we do mean alternatives—and NuWire wants to lend a hand to those yearning for something a bit off the beaten path.

The opportunities showcased here range from unusual to funny to vaguely disturbing, and have been ranked according to their “uniqueness.” There’s sure to be something here to suit the tastes of almost anyone looking to get involved with a franchise that’s a little...well...different.

1. 1-800-AUTOPSY

This franchise is exactly what it sounds like it is: a stand-alone service that performs autopsies. The company was founded by Vidal Herrera in 1988 and began as a one-man operation (no pun intended). 1-800-AUTOPSY franchises offer a variety of services, including toxicology and post-mortem DNA analysis, tissue procurement and, of course, autopsies. Clients include families who want private autopsies performed on deceased loved ones, malpractice lawyers seeking evidence for a trial and medical examiners, pathologists, and schools who need extra assistance.

Herrera once served as the Field Deputy Coroner Investigator with the Los Angeles County Chief Medical Examiner Coroner; he started the company because declining budgets have caused hospitals to decrease their autopsy rates and he said he believed the deceased deserve to be “given a voice.”

“We do 700 procedures a year,” Herrera said. “That includes private autopsies, hospital autopsies, procurements, DNA analysis...we stay pretty busy.” He added, optimistically, “The business is pretty recession-proof. We also have the aging baby-boomers, so we can expect to see death rates rising.”

The death business is relatively recession proof
The autopsy business is alive and kicking, even during recession
This may seem a distasteful and morbid thought to some, but that doesn’t stop interested investors and doctors from contacting Herrera about starting a franchise. However, this is one business that requires a peculiar background and an understanding of the business for which many investors are not suited.

“Our ideal franchisees are funeral directors, embalmers and pathology assistants,” Herrera said. Starting a 1-800-AUTOPSY franchise requires a background in these fields, but new franchisees also receive a week and a half of training in Los Angeles where they learn specific techniques. The franchise fee is $100,000, not including the cost of a vehicle, which franchisees need to carry equipment and specimens to and from procedures. The umbrella company, Autopsy/Post Services, collects 10 percent royalties. The company plans to push more marketing for the brand in the coming year.

“We have already been marketing within the funeral industry, at conventions and conferences,” Herrera said. “Our franchisees are already making money and they seem pretty happy.”

There are franchises in Las Vegas, Orlando and northern California and more are on the way, but 1-800-AUTOPSY’s services are just part of Herrera’s plans; the company even has a gift shop offering items like skeleton key chains and anatomically correct brain gelatin molds. Herrera also runs CoffinCouches.com, which converts caskets into comfy furnishings—so comfy one may never get up after lying on one. Herrera has also made a business of renting morgue and mortuary equipment to Hollywood studios for horror movies and television, such as House, Heroes, Pushing Daisies and CSI. Who says this whole death business isn’t glamorous?

2. DoodyCalls

DoodyCalls is a pet waste removal service. Customers can have the DoodyCalls team clean up dog poop in their yards, apartment complexes and communities so that the area stays attractive and unsoiled. They offer weekly, biweekly, monthly and one-time cleanings. The company will also assist with planning for dog parks and work with communities and property managers to develop waste management plans.

The company was founded in 2000 by Jacob and Susan D’Aniello. They both were looking for a way to escape from their day jobs, and decided that scooping up dog poop offered them the more active, outdoorsy lifestyle they wanted. They began franchising in 2004. DoodyCalls currently provides services to 35 territories in 18 states. In 2008, they made Franchise Time’s  2008 Fastest 55 list, according to the company’s website. The list highlights the fastest-growing companies that have been franchising for fewer than five years.

3. Cereality

Cereality meals combine your favorite cereals with new ingredients
A to-go box from Cereality
Lovers of breakfast cereal will think they’ve achieved nirvana when they step into Cereality. This “cereal bar and café” offers a vast selection of hot and cold breakfast cereals and the opportunity to create new combinations. Customers order two scoops of cereal, a topping—from malted milk balls to cranberries and almonds—and whatever type of milk their hearts desire, all served by so-called cerealogists, dressed in pajamas.

David Roth and Rick Bacher founded Cereality when they realized how integral cereal is to the average person’s life. “[P]eople seemed obsessed with satisfying their cravings well beyond their kitchen tables, no matter how inconvenient: The buttoned-up exec on Wall Street who regularly sneaks Cocoa Puffs behind his desk at three in the afternoon, the first-year college student who can't write a paper without a box of cereal at her disposal, and new moms who would never leave home without diapers and a secret stash of Cheerios,” according to their website.

Cereality recently began franchising as a brand of Kahala Corp, a franchising company specializing in quick service franchises throughout North America. Veronica Graves with public relations for Kahala said, “We are always looking for strategic locations for Cereality throughout the United States. Currently, we are evaluating the success of standalone locations for Cereality, like the one near University of California Santa Cruz. Through locations such as in Santa Cruz, we have began testing new craveable products, like crepes and Paninis, in an effort to offer the Cereality experience to more people throughout the day.”

Kahala’s method of playing it safe with its brands extends to Cold Stone Creamery, which it acquired last year. Cold Stone was ailing at the time,  but Kahala, betting on the brand’s “strong business potential, passionate franchise community and solid position as a leader in the ice cream category,” has begun to focus growing same store sales, according to Graves. “We are not looking for expansive unit growth at this time. Instead, we are focused on the unit level economics and our franchisee community’s success.” This may even include co-branding opportunities with Cereality.

“We’ve noticed a synergy between Cereality and Cold Stone Creamery and found interest in expanding the Cereality as a co-brand concept,” Graves said.

Cereality is just getting started, and investors who go coo-coo for Cocoa Puffs—but won’t go crazy hearing Snap-Crackle-Pop all day—may want to follow their nose to this franchise on the ground floor. More information can be requested through the Kahala website: http://www.kahalacorp.com/cereality.php.

4. Racing Limos

Ever wanted to be chauffeured to a wedding by a NASCAR racecar? Well, that probably still won’t happen, but now there’s the next best thing: racing limos! These limousines have been painted up like stock cars and offer customers the chance to pretend they’re in a real live racecar. Or, at least, a very comfortable and significantly larger version of one.

Racing Limos was founded in 2002 by Brian Pease after he saw a photograph of a school bus painted like NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon’s car. Originally he’d intended to duplicate the idea and tour the NASCAR circuit, but later decided that the bus he was going to paint couldn’t handle the trip. At his 13-year-old son’s suggestion, he opted instead for a limousine. The company began franchising in 2003, and is seeking new locations nationwide. More detailed information regarding franchise fees and support is available on the company’s website.

5. Positive Changes Hypnosis Centers

Positive Changes is a network of behavior modification centers, using a combination of personal coaching and hypnosis to help customers achieve their desired results. Goals can range from pain management to quitting smoking, and more. Positive Changes offers free consultations to determine whether or not hypnosis is right for a particular client, and uses a Six-Point System to address clients’ needs.

The company was founded in 1987 by Patricia K. Porter, PhD. It is the nation’s first and only hypnosis and behavior modification franchise, according to the official site. Potential franchisees must complete and submit an application, then attend a mandatory two-week training session at Positive Changes’ corporate headquarters in Dublin, OH. Three or more days of on-site training are also required once the location is up and running. Entrepreneurs interested in opening a Positive Changes franchise can request an application using the contact information on the site.

Honorable Mention: The Crack Team

This franchise didn’t make the official list because, despite their eyebrow-raising name and a website loaded with double entendres, the actual services they offer aren’t particularly strange. The Crack Team repairs cracks in concrete. They have a mascot who is unsettlingly reminiscent of SpongeBob Squarepants—you know, a big square with arms and legs—but much heavier on the innuendo: Mr. Happy Crack.