Formula retail uses are commonly referred to as “chain stores.” Under Section 703.3 of the San Francisco Planning Code they are defined as “a type of retail sales activity or retail sales establishment which, along with eleven or more other retail sales establishments located in the United States, maintains two or more of the following features: astandardized array of merchandise, a standardized facade, a standardized decor and color scheme, a uniform apparel, standardized signage, a trademark or a servicemark.” In other words, retail stores with multiple locations and a recognizable “look” or appearance.
There’s something pleasingly damning about the phrase “Formula retail use” for a chain. It is also pleasing to see this so clearly detailed out, in a relatively objective way. That aside – it is interesting to see how far you could go under these definitions without technically being called a chain, though you’d probably end up with a dangerously interesting business at the end of it all! (Or a completely incoherent one….)
Of course – defining a chain is a pretty poor way of defining an independent. Coffee shops don’t exist in two categories – no matter how convenient or easy for us it would be if they did.