Smart franchise owners should always have their ears to the ground, hoping to hear whatever trends might dictate how customers will shop or choose certain businesses over others. Healthy competition depends on it. So if franchisees were to get down on their knees and listen closely right now, what factors sway consumers of today most of all?

Targeting a single niche could open up countless opportunities for franchises.Targeting a single niche could open up countless opportunities for franchises.

Specialization attract audiences
Consumers have seen it all, and giving them something they've never seen before has slowly become a motivating force in franchising, according to Edith Wiseman, president of the client solutions team at franchise data research agency FRANdata.

"Across the board, we're seeing growth of more personalized services," Wiseman told CNBC, sharing information that projected the number of new brands entering the franchise arena should return to prerecession levels by the end of the year.

For prospective franchisees still deciding on a company to work with, this factor could give credence to the value of thinking outside the box. Owners of more traditional franchises who have been in operation for a while now need not panic. They can yield effective results by simply consulting with their franchisors on new, niche services to offer their devoted customer base.

"More than 6 out of every 10 shoppers think about green packaging options."

Greener businesses pique interests
These days, businesses have just as much of an obligation to the environment as to themselves and their customers. According to a consumer survey by Dotcom Distribution, more often than not, customers scrutinize the sustainability of both online and brick-and-mortar retailers – as well as their supply chains. More than 6 out of every 10 shoppers think about green packaging options before picking which businesses to patronize.

Again, communication between franchisees and franchisors can improve customer relations. Discussing small changes like recyclable packing products or hiring a logistics provider with a fleet of environmentally friendly hybrid trucks not only impacts climate change and perhaps even a business's bottom line, but shows a franchise cares for the concerns of its customers and is willing to do more than just sit and listen.

Equipment and franchise industry piece brought to you by Marlin Equipment Finance, a nationwide provider of commercial lending solutions for small and mid-size businesses. Marlin's equipment financing and loan products are offered directly to businesses, and through third party vendor programs, which include manufacturers, distributors, independent dealers and brokers in the security, food services, healthcare, information technology, office technology and telecommunications sectors.