Of all the states that require franchise registration, only three make franchise registrations available online today: Wisconsin, Minnesota, and California. Having three states to choose from is a pleasure. For many years, California was the only state that made franchise disclosure documents (FDDs) available to the public. The only alternative was to pay an independent FDD service provider.
I have tried all three websites. Here is what I found:
I like to start any search on the Wisconsin website. The Franchise Search screen asks simply for the name of the franchise. It can be the legal name of the franchisor or the trade name of the franchise system. You enter the name, and the next screen shows both the legal name and trade name, along with the effective date, expiration date and status (registered or expired). If the franchise is registered, you have the option of clicking on “Details”. This gives a screen with more detail, including the other states in which the franchise is filed and the name of the franchisor’s contact person. It also allows you to download the FDD when it’s available. The downside of the Wisconsin website is that some registered offerings are not available for download. But when it is, the downloaded FDD is a searchable PDF document. It is crisp and clean with a color logo and appears to be in the original format that the franchisor submitted for filing.
Minnesota is my second choice. The website allows me to enter the name of either the franchisor or the franchise. The next screen shows the name of the franchisor, the name of the franchise, and the document date, and it allows you to “View Document”. A filing will include the entire submission as one PDF, including the submittal letter and application materials, the order from the state approving the registration, and the FDD. The FDD appears to be scanned but is searchable. So it is not as clean as the FDD version available on the Wisconsin website.
California is my last choice. The opening screen is the California Department of Business Oversight (DBO) Self Service Portal. I click on “Document Search”. From there, I only have the choice of entering the legal name of the franchisor, although the trade name sometimes works as well. Eventually, I get a list of documents. Any one registration may show multiple documents that are not always labeled well. The FDD itself may be comprised of several PDF documents, each of which must be downloaded. There is no indication of which part of the FDD you will get when you click on one of the FDD links. The document itself is a scanned version that is not searchable. The filings are not always up to date. Another problem with California is that many of the filings are exemption filings because California offers more exemptions than Minnesota and Wisconsin.
We look forward to the day, hopefully in the not too distant future, when Illinois, Maryland, New York, Virginia and other states will offer online access to franchise registrations.