In an industry of copycats, fresh ideas can stand out. Meet four new franchisors who are thinking ahead.

By Jason Daley

entrep-magazineWalking through a franchise convention, and most of the reps manning the booths might as well be shouting, “Me too!” Franchising is all about replication, after all – and franchises are experts at replicating the same type of concepts. But amid the modern scrum of “better burger” joints, burrito restaurants and permutations of oil-change places and riffs on the 24-hour gym, a few new interesting concepts are rising up. They’re driven by technology, mobile franchising and the fading hangover from the debt crisis. Some are on the wacky side – like a potato-based fast casual brand or burrito vending machines – but some seem like potential winners, just at the beginning of their long journey upward.

Here are our picks for four of the most interesting newcomers in the franchise game.

Stone homes at light prices

3MEDIEVEL LORDS AND Harry Potter set designers agree: Stone buildings look awesome. They’re also expensive; even a few chunks of fieldstone or granite on a house or office building can bust the budget. What’s more, the rocks add so much weight that they also require industrial-strength engineering.

Still, in the HGTV era, people want to get stone on – and that includes Dallas entrepreneur Ken Morrison. In 2005, he wanted to add some stone accents to a house he was hoping to flip. But after a consultation, he learned that the rocks were too heavy to incorporate into the remodel. Surely, he thought, this can’t be the only kind of stone available. So he began researching after-market applications and came upon something called hydraulic limestone.

Found only in a few quarries in Europe, hydraulic limestone can be powdered and mixed with water to form a slurry, which can then be sprayed onto almost any surface. Because it takes two hours to dry, it can be colored, carved and shaped into practically any pattern – chalk cast stone, marble and more. When it dries, it turns into actual limestone that won’t crack or chip. And because the layer is relatively thin, it doesn’t have the weight problems of cut stone.

Morrison spent several years experimenting with processes for applying and shaping the hydraulic limestone. Then, in 2010, he launched a company called StoneCoat. After five years of good business, Morrison hooked up last year with Sam Hance, a veteran franchise developer who helped grow 10 other brands, including Curves. After one month, the company sold four units.

“What makes us novel is that we are a low-cost franchise – it usually takes $75,000 to $155,000 to open, and our pipeline is very strong,” says Hance. “From the time a franchisee signs the paperwork, they can be up and running in less than 60 days.”

But the biggest selling point, says Hance, is the product itself. “Stone is messy – you deal with mortar, there’s a rubble pile when you’re done and it takes a long time. We come in, blow it on and we’re done.”