No-contact franchise models, like the forthcoming Brooklyn Dumpling Shop that revives the automat, will rule in 2021.

Now that the worst year ever has given way to who knows what, it’s time for some predictions for which types of franchises will rule in 2021, in a pandemic world at first and then later (we hope) post-pandemic.

Niche staffing. Seniors Helping Seniors employs mostly people over age 50 to be in-home caregivers, which was a boon during COVID-19. “They’re not partying on the beaches of Florida, and they aren’t prone to going to the nightclub at night,” is how one franchisee put it, meaning their risk of transmitting the disease was lower than a younger crowd. And Be Balanced Hormone & Weight Loss Centers can be staffed with one full-time and one part-time “mature” women, as its CEO says. Franchises with staffing models like that will be attractive.

Contactless service. America’s Swimming Pool Co. provides maintenance service with a single technician, working alone outside, much more than six feet away from customers. Brooklyn Dumpling Shop, a new concept being rolled out by restaurateur Stratis Morfogen and Fransmart’s Dan Rowe, is reviving the automat, where food and drinks are placed in little lockers for customers to grab and go. Morfogen plans to use robotics, infrared sanitation and other technology to make Brooklyn Dumpling Shop super-efficient. “My goal is to get payroll down to 12 percent, and if I can do that I’ll revolutionize fast food,” he said. A word of caution: No units have yet been built, but the no-touch, low labor idea is right on trend.

Essential services is among the new phrases COVID-19 coined last year, from social distancing to smizing (smiling with the eyes) to contact tracing. Nearly every type of business lobbied to be named an essential service and the list varied widely from state to state and city to city. Those that won the coveted designation are high on every investor’s list, both by franchisees, private equity firms and franchise umbrella companies. Restoration 1 and sister brand Bluefrog Plumbing + Drain, for example, attracted MPK Equity Partners as an investor last year, which CEO Gary Findley attributed to its essential services designation. So what’s hot: home services, pet food retailers, batteries stores and restoration services. What’s not: eyelash extensions, paint-and-sip stores, indoor adventure parks. (Sorry.)

Outlets for unused cash. The pandemic has devastated so many people’s lives, businesses and livelihoods that it seems crass to point out some have extra income. But that’s what many franchisees are reporting—their business is up as customers spend discretionary cash that used to go to travel, hotels and dining out. A MyEyelab franchisee in Dallas, for example, said people are buying one pair of glasses they need and a second pair just for fun. A Detail Garage franchisee in Los Angeles said auto-detailing enthusiasts stuck at home are pouring money into their cars, buffing and waxing their way to a more-perfect ride. Franchises that can attract this type of customer will flourish in 2021.

Drive-thrus. Guthrie’s is unveiling a new drive-thru-only prototype that clocks in under 1,000 square feet. La Madeleine’s new prototype is its first to come with a drive-thru. It would be easier to say who isn’t adding a drive-thru than who is. As Checkers and Rally’s franchisee Wahid Karas to Franchise Times, “It’s been a very good year for drive-thru,” which is both an understatement and a top trend for 2021.

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