My Franchise Story Continued: Fraud and Franchisee Satisfaction Awards

This is another chapter of my book. The book is fully drafted and I’m “sweeping” up the DRAFT this weekend… it’s getting really close.

This chapter tells the story of what happened right after I signed my franchise agreement and depicts the moment, two weeks later, when I first realized I had been defrauded.


Signing the franchise agreement changed everything. It was almost as if a switch had been flipped the second I put my name on that digitized dotted line and sent Langford Iris Associates $8,800, or 10% of their $88,000 franchise fee.

The first rough moment happened only two days after signing. Horace Maxwell, the CEO, called to “help” me make an important decision that would affect the future of my business.

Horace started talking. He kept talking. He talked some more. And after he spoke, he spoke again. By the time I’d listened to forty minutes of non-stop Horace, my psychology brain kicked in. This is almost “pressure of speech,” I thought. It could be manic. In psychology, “pressure of speech” describes speech that comes so quickly and forcefully that it feels like it’s blasting from a disorganized fire hose.

I listened for almost two hours that day. Horace literally did not ever pause to give me an opportunity to respond to anything he was advising. Occasionally, I jettisoned my voice into his self-conversation because we were supposed to be talking about my business and my desires. But mostly, I just listened because there wan’t much else I could do.

And I listened because Horace didn’t respond to the content of anything I said when did I try to break my voice through his wall of words. Before I signed the franchise agreement they promised they’d support me as I took charge of my business and made my own decisions. After I signed, I literally could not get a word in edgewise. 

By the time the two hours were up, I was concerned. That wasn’t only “pressure of speech,” I thought, it was just plain pressure. Horace wasn’t supporting me, he was pressuring me to make the decisions he wanted made.

A psychology degree isn’t worth much, but it isn’t worth nothing.

The second rough moment occurred a couple days later when I didn’t receive any training on some important paperwork that would affect the future of my business. I had been promised full support before I signed, yet I was quickly abandoned to important tasks.

I can be alone for free, I thought. I don’t need to pay $88,000 for it. I already understand alone. I’ve been alone all my life. 

The third rough moment was the moment in which I first discovered that I had been defrauded.

It was September, only two weeks after I’d signed the agreement. The school year was new, the air was still warm, and I had just driven my daughter to the first day of her new fall dance class. The children were in their dance clothes and parents were mingling in the hall outside the studio. I exchanged a bit of small talk and then found a small side room where I could plug in my computer, connect to the Internet, and pass my time working while my daughter danced.

I sat with my laptop on desk and opened my email. The dance music reverberated through the floor beneath my feet. At the top of my inbox was a message from Margo.

“Dear Langford Iris franchisees,” it read. “It’s that time of year again: time for you to take our franchisee satisfaction survey. We’re shooting for an 85% participation rate. Please remember to get this done, we only have a few weeks left.”

Perfect I thought. I’ll do it now. This is the survey that gave Langford Isis that franchisee satisfaction award I saw hung on the wall on Discovery Day. I knew a thing or two about surveys and research methodology because I was finishing a master’s at Harvard. I was excited to see how the survey worked. But they’re only “shooting” for 85%. Sounds like franchisees don’t want to participate? A bad sign.

I followed Margo’s link and looked the survey questions over. As my eyes passed over the questions, my stomach fell to my feet and joined the rumble of the dance music. It wasn’t an anonymous survey at all. Not only did it ask me for the location of my franchise, which would obviously connect anybody who read the results at the Langford Iris franchisor headquarters to my answers, but it even gave me an option to leave my name.

This survey isn’t legit, I thought. If it’s not anonymous, positive results could even mean franchisees are afraid — afraid of saying what they really think.

I’d signed a dangerous contract, committed $88,000, and agreed to pay future royalties, because, in part, Margo had told me that Langford Iris had anonymously surveyed their franchisees and had consequently received a franchisee satisfaction award. And yet, two weeks after signing, I was asked to participate in a non-anonymous survey.

Without anonymity, the franchisee satisfaction award is a sham, I thought. My chest felt tight and painful. Anger at the deceit filled my torso with a sharpness that stung. The contract I’d been defrauded into signing was only worth signing if the people with whom I’d chosen to work with were worth paying for. And nobody who uses fake franchisee satisfaction awards and lies about survey anonymity is worth paying for.

I closed my laptop, stood up from my chair and started to suck in a deep breath. It caught in my throat. On the other side of a thin wall was a young dancing girl who was counting on me to make the money we needed to stay safe. For now, she was happily engaged with her teacher and friends without knowing what Margo, Horace and Grant had done to me — had done to her — had done to all of us.

Some tear water feels so hot that it’s as if it holds toxins, and my tears of that moment scorched. My children and I had already been through far too much. A small wad of vomit come to the top of my throat.

I swallowed and choked the rest of my tears into silence. I pulled my sleeve across my eyes and then forced myself to sit back down to the screen. I looked at the survey again. Do the other franchisees know that a non-anonymous survey means the franchisee satisfaction award is nonsense? Am I the only one who sees how flawed this is? Or is that why Margo has to work hard just to get an 85% participation rate?

I remembered the moment at my Texas Discovery Day when Margo had claimed the survey was anonymous. But she knew it wasn’t, I thought. She lied. She sees the survey results and knows she can connect answers to franchisees. 

That’s fraud.

My mind went back to the image of the franchisee satisfaction award hanging on the wall just at my eye-level outside the conference room where Margo had lied to me. It was an engraved plaque: dark brown walnut with gold inscriptions, the likeness of a winner’s cup, and a large “#1.” And I remembered that there had been more than one of them. I saw at least three plaques on that tour of their offices, I thought. They must have hung their lies just for me.

In my mind I saw an image of Margo sitting across from me at the over-sized conference table. I saw her strikingly straight hair and her tidy blue dress suit. In my mind I listened to her explain the franchisee satisfaction award.

I re-lived the conversation in my memory.

She specifically told me that she understood that franchisees might be too afraid to tell the truth if she or one of the other officers asked them directly about their satisfaction. She specifically told me she understood that the survey had to be anonymous for it to be valid. She specifically told me that anonymity was why Langford Iris had hired a third-party service to handle the survey.

I looked at the computer screen again. There, in front of me, the survey gave me proof that Margo herself would have known exactly which franchisee had responded with which answers. For all I knew, the other franchisees might have been terrified of saying what they really thought when they answered. And considering the way Horace had already walked all over the top of me in that initial phone call, I knew that to be completely possible.

I became aware of the dance music again. I wanted to get up and run away. The thought of taking the survey now repulsed me. Any excitement I had once felt was gone. I knew then that I’d have to decide how to answer with the knowledge that my answers would go straight to Margo and Horace and Grant.

I sighed — it was a hot, deep sigh. I heard a drum beat. My daughter needs me to succeed with this, I thought. She’s counting on me. I thought of her sweet face and of all her hopes for the future. I thought of her suffering related to the way her dad was treating me.

Okay, I’ll do it. I thought. I’ll answer this thing. The drum kept up its rhythm. I wished I were in the dance studio with the children, leaping and swaying to its beat, rather than there, at that computer, trying to figure out the right thing to say to some people who had scammed me.

Everything I write could change the way they treat me in the future and could affect my success or failure in this business, I thought. I stood up again. And this is why anonymity is critical!” I said out loud and to no one in a whisper that could have been a yell. “These thoughts I’m having right now are exactly why that franchisee satisfaction award is obviously a scam. I bet a lot of the franchisees are having them.”

But I’ve signed a dangerous contract, I thought. This is where I am now and I need to make it work.

I sat back down.

I considered buttering the officers up and leaving falsely positive comments in hopes they’d give me better service. I considered telling the truth about what had already gone wrong. I wondered if they’d choose retaliation or if they’d sincerely try to change. I realized that I was too afraid to find out: that telling the truth was too much of a risk.

So I settled on giving them a falsely positive review.

My head ached.

I was a franchisee greeny; I was just beginning. And at only two weeks in, things had gone far less than okay and certainly not spectacularly.

And at only two weeks in I knew I had signed a very dangerous contract based on the belief that I could trust Grant, Margo and Horace, only to find that Margo, at the very least, had scammed me into signing that contract.

She’s wasn’t working alone, I thought. They’re in on this together.

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