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A recent bestseller by Naomi Klein (No Logo) argued against the invasion of brand names in our everyday lives. Brands are everywhere, but there are most likely economic reasons for this. Brand names provide consumers with information and reduce information and search costs. As a traveler, I know that McDonald's hamburgers will taste more or less the same in Paris and Los Banos (Philippines). At the same time, in developed countries, firms are increasingly focussing on channeling branded products to consumers, especially in sectors where competitive advantage depends on organizational approaches.
This chapter focuses on the provision of branded products by retailers. More specifically, it studies relations between retailers and producers when several retailers are part of a shared retail chain. When talking about a retail chain we include several types of retail distribution systems where trademarks are prominent. The rest of the paper focusses mainly on franchising, for two reasons. First, most of the empirical literature on contracting in distribution channels concerns franchising. Insights gleaned from studies on franchised chains enable researchers to develop a better understanding of how firms organize their activities much more generally, both in-house and across firms. Second, franchising agreements include several contractual provisions, sometimes called “vertical restraints” (e.g. selective or exclusive distribution), which may be used to analyze the rationale behind contractual design.
This chapter adopts a new institutional economics (NIE) approach to the study of retail chains. It explores the existence and role of franchising as an efficient device.
Franchising is a contractual relationship that has received a significant amount of attention in the empirical literature on contracting. In large part, this is because franchising is one of the few types of contractual relationships about which significant amounts of data are available from public sources. But franchising is also, as noted by Williamson (1991), a hybrid organizational form, which lies somewhere between complete vertical integration and spot markets. Thus insights gleaned from the study of franchise contracting have allowed researchers to develop a better understanding not only of this organizational form, but also of how firms organize their activities much more generally, both within and across firms.
Much of the literature on franchising has specifically been concerned with incentive issues and how these are managed in these contracts. This literature has identified two main categories of incentive mechanisms relevant to the franchise relationship: residual claims and self-enforcement. The former relates to the fact that franchisees get to keep their outlet's profits net of the fees they pay to their franchisors, giving them incentives to maximize those residual profits. The second relies on the presence of on-going rent at the outlet level, rent that the franchisee forgoes if his contract is terminated. Such rent is simply the difference between the (net present value of) returns that the franchisee earns as a result of being associated with the franchise network and the returns he could garner in his next best alternative. If the rent is positive, and franchisors can terminate franchisees, franchisees will have incentives to perform according to the standards set by the franchisor to reduce their chances of termination and protect their access to the rent.
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