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The franchising world is letting loose. Gone are the days of one owner being chained behind the counter of a single store day in, day out. Today, there are absentee owners who oversee their operations from laptops and Treos, and owners who maintain dual careers or run multiple franchises…

Even costs are more flexible, with investments ranging from as low as $10, 000 to more than $1 million, according to the International Franchise Association. That frees up owners to spread their talents around by opening multiple franchises, either of the same brand or even in different industries — a departure from the days when the rule of thumb for franchising was “one person, one store, ” says Ann Dugan, author of “Franchising 101” and assistant dean at the University of Pittsburgh business school.

In large part, technology has helped fuel the shift, making it easier for franchisers to replicate and spread their systems, as well as for franchise owners to keep track of their businesses wherever they are.

An unstable economy has also made the franchise model look more appealing with its entrenched systems and sales history; between 2003 and 2005, about 900 new franchising concepts were launched in such diverse fields as real estate, art education, construction and health care. Today there are an estimated 760, 000 U.S. franchised establishments generating more than $1.5 trillion in economic activity and producing one out of every seven jobs, according to the franchise association….

Likewise, Mark Tucci, 46, leads by example for his newly franchised company, Custom Blends Franchise Services, a seller of roll-your-own tobacco supplies based in York, Pa. Mr. Tucci lives in Hilton Head, S.C., where he keeps track of sales at his own store in York, often via his Treo 700w smartphone, and allows his two franchisees to also oversee their businesses from home. He says franchisers that require owners to be physically present in their stores “don’t put enough faith” in their owners’ abilities. “It assumes the franchisee doesn’t know how to remotely manage or hire effective managers who can manage in their place, ” Mr. Tucci says.

In part, the attitude shift is born out of necessity, as franchisers look to attract the best business talent in a digital age where working remotely is an accepted job perk, both among baby boomers who may be looking to slow down, and among younger workers who demand more work-life flexibility.

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