In line with the current economic and market needs, the producers who wish to reach out to customers prefer distributing their products/services through local dealers which are experienced and well- organized about local markets, instead of establishing their own distribution network (vertical integration). In accordance with this objective, long term relationships are established between the producer and the dealer concerning the marketing and distribution of the good/service at stake. Within such relationships, the basic commitment of the manufacturer is to supply the goods/services to distributor which is qualified to provide the desired benefit to the customer whereas the dealer is committed to effectively provide the good/service to the customers and to increase the sales figures in the market.
Agency agreement, dealership agreement, exclusive sales agreement and franchising agreements are among the most common types of distribution agreements encountered in practice. Such agreements, except the agency agreement regulated under Turkish Commercial Code (“TCC”), are atypical agreements which are not regulated under Turkish Law. Commonly, these agreements serve the purpose of effective distribution of the products/services in the relevant market although they vary from each other in many ways mostly depending on the nature of the distribution network and the sales organization.
II. CONDITIONS OF CLAIMING GOODWILL INDEMNITY
The conditions of claiming goodwill indemnity have been indicated within article 122 of TCC specifically with regards to agencies. The conditions may be briefly listed as;
Termination of the agency agreement (however the contract shall not be terminated through justifiable cause by the principal due to a default of the agent or by the agent without any justifiable cause)
Principal continuing to gain benefits even after the termination of the agency agreement
Agency facing loss thereof,
The claim justified by the principle of equity.
Below, the above mentioned conditions of claiming a goodwill indemnity have been analyzed with reference to franchise relations and in consideration with the characteristics of franchise agreements.
III. GOODWILL INDEMNITY CLAIM OF THE FRANCHISEE AND ARTICLE 122 OF TCC
A. Article 122/V of TCC
a. General Remarks on the Clause
As per article 122/V of TCC, the right of agencies to claim goodwill indemnity after the termination of the agency agreement is also granted to the buyers within exclusive sales agreements (or agreements which grant similar exclusive sales rights) on the condition that it shall be justified on basis of the principle of equity. This clause constitutes the legal basis of the franchisee’s right to claim goodwill indemnity under Turkish Law. Hence, concerning exclusive sales or similar agreements (like franchise agreements), direct application of the clause takes place instead of analogous application as is the case in some comparative law jurisdictions.
b. Article 122/V of TCC and Franchise Agreements
As can be inferred from the clause, the first and essential condition of franchisee’s goodwill indemnity claim is the exclusivity right of the franchisee granted through the franchise agreement. This exclusivity right may be territorial (geographical) or may be related with a certain class of customers. In such regards, the integration of the franchisee to the distribution organization of the franchisor and thus becoming a fundamental factor of the distribution structure shall be analyzed together along with other specific conditions of the franchise relation.
For instance, the franchisee shall not only be granted with an exclusivity right but shall also be bound with an in-term non-competition clause in my opinion. Such rights and obligations are supplementary in nature and the franchisor requests the franchisee not to enter into any commercial relation with competing suppliers in return of the exclusivity (territorial or class of customers) granted to the franchisee. Only as a result of such mutual rights and obligations, the franchisee shall become an essential element in the distribution organization of the franchisor. As a fact, even granted with exclusivity, a franchisee which continues its business with competing suppliers shall not claim goodwill indemnity hence the business of the franchisee is not dedicated to the franchisor.
The nature of the exclusivity right granted to the franchisee shall also be analyzed in this respect. In franchise agreements where the exclusivity right of the franchisee is considerably restricted and the franchisor is entitled to deal with large scale orders from clients (orders above certain volume), the goodwill indemnity claim of the franchisee shall be questioned. Likewise in markets where sales by tenders are frequently applied, the exclusive right of the franchisee to participate to tenders shall be decisive. Finally in markets where the after sales service activity is profitable, the exclusive right of the franchisee to provide after sales service shall be analyzed by courts within the context of exclusivity.
B. The Conditions Regulated under article 122/I of TCC and Franchise Agreements
In case the analysis under article 122/V of TCC justifies the goodwill indemnity claim of the franchisee, next step shall be evaluation of the specific franchise agreement before the general conditions stipulated under 122/I of TCC. Only after such evaluation, the court shall accept a goodwill indemnity claim of a franchisee.
a. The principal benefiting substantially from the customer pool created by the agent after the termination of the agreement
The franchisee which requests goodwill indemnity shall better strongly prove and document that this condition has been met as controversy shall be expected with regards to the elaboration of the phrase “new customer” regulated in the clause. The franchisor typically would argue that the attainment of customers by the franchisee is not due to the efforts of the franchisee but the franchisee has just reached franchisor’s own and ready customers.
From certain aspects, such argument might have substantial basis. The characteristic features of franchise agreements like the transfer of know-how or a marketing system from the franchisor to the franchisee would bring such argument naturally into play. The franchisor would argue that the attainment of customers in the territory is merely a consequence of the know-how or marketing system transferred to the franchisee and substantial degree of marketing is not required to be performed by the franchisee to reach out to the customers 2. However, taking into account that in today’s competitive markets most of the franchisees put substantial effort in finding and reaching to customers, it would be appropriate to consider such cases exceptional and assume in principal that the customers attained by the franchisee are a result of the efforts of the franchisee in the relevant market.
Special emphasis shall also be given to the phrase “benefiting substantially” indicated in the clause as the method of benefiting shall be analyzed. The franchisor, after the termination of the franchise agreement, shall easily reach out to the customers accumulated by the franchisee during the term of the franchise agreement. Acquiring information of general kind regarding the customers accumulated by the franchisee shall not be deemed sufficient for meeting the requirement of “benefiting” by the franchisor. At this point the existence of the obligation of the franchisee to transfer the customer data to the franchisor shall be decisive. During such assessment not only contractual arrangements shall be taken into account but also the de-facto relation between the franchisor and the franchisee (reports, e- mails, etc.) shall be considered.
b. As a result of the termination of the agreement, the agent shall loose its right to demand for commission in relation with the business already realized with the customers which are accumulated by the agent or in relation with the business to be realized with such customers in a short period of time.
This condition, (which I haven’t observed in relevant comparative law regulations), shall be regarded as the de facto consequence of the previous condition stipulated under article 122/I-a of TCC (“the benefit of the principle condition”). In other words, the benefit of the franchisor gained as a result of the termination of the franchise agreement corresponds to the commission loss of the franchisee and it shall be deemed that the second condition has de facto been met when the first condition takes place.
However, it shall be referred to the phrase “in a short period time” as indicated in the clause. It is a fact that franchise agreements are executed in various industries. For instance a franchisee which operates in the food and beverages industry daily executes its commercial transaction (sales) with the customer and thus is entitled to the relevant commission in rather short periods of time, however, a franchisee who operates as a real estate broker may execute the transaction which entitles the franchisee to commission over a long period of time. Therefore, especially in relation with such condition, the courts shall carry out an evaluation on sectorial basis.
c. The claim shall be justified by the principle of equity in consideration with the facts and conditions of the relevant case.
As mentioned above (fn. 1), the court at this point shall realize an analysis in relation with the compliance of the goodwill indemnity claim to the principle of equity for the second time. Naturally, the analysis this time shall be realized in consideration with different factors and criteria.
The franchisee’s investment cost, with respect to the franchise agreement, shall be one of the parameters to be taken into account during equity principle evaluation. A franchisee which shall bear high sunk costs for market entry may use this investment as an argument with regards to meeting the equity principle. The duration which the franchise agreement has lasted, and in relation to that, the speed of return on investment in the relevant product market shall also be discussed. Furthermore, franchisee’s contribution to marketing and advertisement budget of the franchisor may also be discussed within this context. This contribution of the franchisee may be a contractual obligation or a de facto one.
Another factor that shall be taken into account relates with the strategically and commercial preference of the franchisor in the relevant market after the termination of the franchise agreement. If the franchisor designates and assigns another franchisee in the relevant market instead of direct supply, the sales volume of the new franchisee shall be regarded as a criterion. In case the franchisor can document and verify that the sales volume in the market has significantly risen with the assignment of the new franchisee, the franchisor may claim the unjustness of the goodwill indemnity claim of the franchisee on the basis that the franchisee has not complied with its marketing obligations.
Another topic which shall be discussed within this context is the post non-competition obligation imposed on the franchisee (if any). The consequence of such type of an imposition would be that the franchisee, for a certain period of time after the termination of the franchise agreement, shall not be engaged in business with the customers accumulated by the franchisee during the term of the franchise agreement. In this regards, the existence of a post non-competition obligation within a franchise agreement and also its application shall be considered and analyzed by the court in relation with the justification of the goodwill indemnity claim of the franchisee.
IV . CONCLUSION
While determining on a goodwill indemnity claim of a franchisee, the first step shall be analyzing the legal grounds of the claim before article 122/V of TCC (in other words if the franchise agreement at stake shall be regarded as one of those agreements granting exclusivity as regulated in the clause). In case the result of such analysis is affirmative, whether the stipulated conditions of claiming goodwill indemnity has been met shall be evaluated as a second step. In other words, the affirmative result of the first step analysis shall not be deemed adequate for determining on a goodwill indemnity claim but a separate analysis shall be carried out in view of complying with the conditions stipulated within article 122/I of TCC.
During the so called first step analysis, factors like; the nature of the right of exclusivity of the franchisee, if a non-competition obligation has been imposed on the franchisee and the level of integration of the franchisee to the distribution organization of the franchisor shall be discussed and considered.
In the second step analysis, the specific features of the franchise agreement at stake shall be decisive. During such determination the level of the know-how transferred by the franchisor to the franchisee through the franchise agreement, the reputation and power of the franchised trademark (brand) in the market, the scale and volume of franchisee’s marketing activity and even whether such marketing activity is necessary, the preference of the franchisor on reaching out to the customer pool accumulated by franchisee’s activity after the termination of the franchise agreement (direct supply or through another franchisee), the industry the franchisee is operating, the level of investment and other relevant factors shall be taken into account. It should not be forgotten that goodwill indemnity claims of franchisees are one of the controversial issues also in comparative law and each claim shall be analyzed and discussed in a very delicate manner and with special emphasis on the specific features of the relevant case.
Hikmet Koyuncuoglu, IDI franchising country expert for Turkey
1 Article 122/V of TCC stipulates the justification of the goodwill indemnity claim on basis of the principle of equity. As stated above, the same stipulation is regulated under the general conditions for claiming goodwill indemnity (article 122/I-c). In such regards, for an exclusive distributor (or franchisee) claiming goodwill indemnity, there shall be two different phases of analysis in view of complying with the principle of equity which are regulated respectively under article 122/V and article 122/1-c of TCC. The two equity analysis shall be realized in consideration with different factors and criteria as elaborated and discussed above.
2 At this point it is also important to identify the relevant product and the relevant geographical market. Know- how or a marketing strategy, which draws considerable demand in a specific geographical market, may need intensive advertisement and marketing in another geographical market. For instance, in a vegetarian restaurant concept where any meat product is not promoted, a franchisee’s marketing and advertising activities can differ substantially depending on the region the restaurant is operating (i.e. the cuisine and eating habits of the people in that region). Likewise, when a marketing of a product is concerned, the contribution of passive sales and parallel imports on the reputation and recognition of the product shall also be considered.