Tub liners fit over existing bathtubs and enclosures and offer homeowners a fast way to update their bathrooms that's a lot less expensive than a more extensive remodel. For kitchen and bath dealers, buying into a tub liner franchise can expand their business into a new area and position them to serve the middle market.

Linda Brakel, vice president of franchise operations for Bath Fitter ( www.bathfitter.com), says the product sells in residences in all areas -- rural, urban, and suburban. "Homes are aging every day; the market is growing," she says. The commercial market is big, too. Customers include hotels, motels, condominium associations, dormitories, hospitals, and military bases.

John Heckenlaible, executive director of marketing for Re-Bath ( www.rebath.com), says his company focuses on middle-income households and houses that are over 20 years old. He says Re-Bath began by focusing on hotels and motels, but the business has expanded to single-family dwellings.

Davis Glassberg, president of Luxury Bath ( www.luxurybath.com), says standard liners are the bulk of their market, but there is a growing interest in accessible tubs and showers.

Making the investment

Brakel says the initial investment for a Bath Fitter franchise in an exclusive territory is about $150,000. It includes the franchise fee and start-up expenses for the full, freestanding business, including hiring a staff, marketing, and insurance.

Franchisees go through a three-day training session and receive a visit from a company representative for on-site training. Installers go through a 10-day course and technical trainers visit separately to work with new installers when they work on their first job. The company also offers round-the-clock hotlines for questions and courses for managers and salespeople.

The franchise fees for Re-Bath are based on the population of the area. The fees are based on several variables, but on average, the cost is 4 cents per person. Re-Bath offers a nine-day training program at their facility that includes manufacturing, installation, sales, marketing, and administration. Account coordinators assist each dealer with their exclusive territory. "My goal is to make my dealers as successful as possible," Heckenlaible says. Re-Bath franchisees meet every 18 months at a nationwide conference.

The Luxury Bath franchise costs around 6 cents per person for an exclusive territory. The company requires that a territory have a minimum of 200,000 people, so prices start at around $12,000. That investment includes the use of the Luxury Bath name, marketing materials, a 20% discount on dealer pricing, and sales and marketing training for owners. The franchisee must sign a five-year contract and have a certified installer on staff.

The ideal franchisee

Glassberg says the ideal Luxury Bath franchisee is someone with a successful Kamp;B remodeling operation. "Then we don't have to teach them marketing skills," he says. The company has also had luck with windows and siding and sunroom operations. "When they're in a house for other things, they can say, by the way, we can fix your tub," says franchise coordinator Megan Dilberto.

Re-Bath looks for Kamp;B dealers, too. "Being in the Kamp;B industry gives someone a distinct advantage because they have an understanding of the market and may have some appropriate staff to plug in," Heckenlaible says. But Re-Bath also looks for aggressive people who will embrace growth.

Bath Fitter looks primarily for business managers. "With the potential for this business, they have to hire and manage salespeople, installers, and office staff. Any knowledge of remodeling is secondary," Brakel says. The franchisee and the company both miss an opportunity for growth and profit if it's run as a side business, she says.