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At its fourth annual Franchising Gives Back celebration on September 4, the International Franchise Association will continue its recognition of franchise companies' charitable programs and the impact they have on their communities. One winner in each of five categories will receive the Gold distinction from the stage prior to the IFA's Franchise Action Network initiative, where members visit their congressional leaders. Franchises will also bring home silver awards in each category. Franchise Times, the program's media partner, has profiled the winners selected by the IFA Educational Foundation here.

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Chefs at independent restaurants are all the rage these days, attaining celebrity status, trotting the globe and hosting their own shows while they delight diners who flock to their celebrated kitchens. But we know plenty of great chefs are working in franchising, too, driving culinary innovation that can lead to a dizzying number of people trained in their methods and a multiplied portion of the masses who can enjoy top-notch food for a generally dialed-down price. In our new Kitchen Royalty package, planned as an annual feature, we shine the light on five of these innovators whose work is coming to a franchised restaurant near you.

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A glamorous founder. Storied eyewear brands. An eyeglass supply chain that parent company Luxottica controls from lens to store. Now all Alex Wilkes, general manager, has to do is push Pearle Vision from about 550 stores to a nice round thousand. Here's his analysis.

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Last month we published the Restaurant 200, our annual ranking of the largest franchisees who posted another year of eye-popping growth. This month we talked to four of their standout chief financial officers to find out how they're driving their companies forward.

When we met Ryan Burnet at the Minneapolis location of Crisp & Green last spring, the creator of the fast-casual, health-focused concept said the restaurant's counter-service style is a model that worked immediately, yielding sales and strong volumes, “and it's going to enable us to grow a lot more quickly.”

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With 76 Rent-A-Centers and two Carstar units in eight states, this operator believes in diversification. He likes industries that may not have huge growth spurts but they also don't have many valleys.

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What could be better than walking through your house with friendly and strong people in uniform, pointing at things that have gone unused for years, and asking those same people to pile it in their truck and haul it away within an hour or two? Nothing, you say? Correct!

An uptick in registered vehicles, longer work commutes and lower gas prices continue to present more opportunities for automotive aftermarket franchises as they look to snag a piece of a $287 billion industry.

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Operators who are on a growth track are discovering they can build new stores with no skin in the game. It may sound too good to be true, but development sale-leasebacks provide a financing alternative that can fully cover land and construction costs.