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Franchising can be daunting for first-timers considering making an investment to go into business “for themselves, but not by themselves” as the popular mantra goes. There are thousands of brands to choose from in an ever-expanding array of categories, and most do a great job highlighting the best-case scenario for prospective franchisees. That makes choosing a franchise—and deciding which hat you will wear as an entrepreneur, as our photo shoot illustrates—a difficult task.

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The annual ICR event is one of the first big restaurant and retail events of the year, and it's where companies public and private go to outline their strategies for the next year—as well as drum up a little support from the investment community. Here's a rundown.

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Dreams of cuddling puppies and being herded by sheepdogs 40 hours a week is the holy grail for franchisees looking to turn their love of pooches into profits. Once up and running with any number of doggy franchises out there—from pet spas to pooper scoopers—that enthusiasm can fade with the reality of lawsuits, onerous zoning restrictions and 3 a.m. phone calls that are common in the business of canines.

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When the Uber driver finds out you're heading to Cowboy Chicken for lunch and is only half joking when he invites himself along because the rotisserie meat “is just about the best there is in Dallas,” expectations jump even higher. The food lives up to the hype at Cowboy Chicken, known for its slow-roasted-on-a-spit, wood-fired chicken that in real life is as succulent and flavorful as the online imagery suggests.

Melissa Gallagher grew up as the daughter of Subway franchisees in Ontario, Canada, and her earliest job for the brand was as Subway mascot. “It's a giant sub with a cape. It's called Subman,” she says with a laugh. Today, she's VP of marketing for Freshii, which published an open letter to Subway corporate in the Chicago Tribune in January, offering a “sincere proposal” to allow a smooth transition for Subway operators to become Freshii franchisees instead.

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Crunch Fitness has emerged from a checkered past that is equal parts sexy and sad. Originally branded as a high-end fitness studio in the late 1980s, its formative years included shows on cable TV, energetic DVDs sold at big-box outlets and the first-ever stripper pole classes that shocked the eyeballs out of plenty of grandmothers in what now seems like sweeter, simpler times. That sweat-fueled party came to an end in 2009, eight years after Bally Total Fitness acquired the brand, when Crunch filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

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The restaurant industry has been on a tear in recent years with a surge in expansion that has delivered thousands of shiny new stores touting the latest designs, efficient floor plans and innovative tech. Standing behind them is a fleet of aging restaurants that are starting to feel a bit dowdy. Those older restaurants are facing more pressure to step-up their game—and their image—in order to remain competitive in today's marketplace.

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Headlines are everywhere describing a “retail apocalypse” or the “tsunami” of retail store closures. Rest assured, the sky is not falling on the entire universe of brick-and-mortar retail. However, franchise operators are taking note of the changing retail real estate market and being more diligent when deciding where to locate new stores.