How to make the most of franchise exhibitions
With the approach of a host of seminars, conferences and exhibitions focused on UK franchising, including UK Franchise Week and the National Franchise Exhibition, Stuart Anderson advises how to make the most of these events
Hand in hand with specialist publications and websites, franchise exhibitions are a useful addition to your franchise research arsenal. After all, when else will you get the chance to meet and compare the head office teams of so many franchise brands in such a short space of time?
Although franchisor attendance of exhibitions is on the decline as franchisors switch their funding toward web and print-based recruitment drives (only 21 per cent of franchisors rate franchise exhibitions as the most useful method of recruiting franchisees according to the 2005 NatWest/British Franchise Association UK Franchise Survey), the forthcoming National Franchise Exhibition (7th-8th October at the NEC, Birmingham) still expects to draw in excess of 250 brands. These companies operate in fields as diverse as quick service restaurants, high street retail, health & fitness, lettings & estate agency, driver hire agency and domestic & commercial cleaning.
Each of these brands will be spending thousands of pounds to set out their stall to potential franchisees. In addition to the cost of booking exhibition stand space, exhibitors have invested capital in creating a highly colourful and branded stand, devoted time, travelling and hotel expenses to moving themselves and their staff to the event for its duration and possibly commissioned a promotional campaign in the national and franchise press to publicise their involvement. All this investment creates a highly charged and competitive selling atmosphere, with the onus on the staff manning the stands to achieve the franchisor's ambitious targets for the number of prospects conversed with and registered for further contact.
This pressured environment can be intimidating, so keep in mind your goals: to identify a number of promising opportunities that deserve further investigation after the event and to meet and gain an impression of the management of those franchises, all the while retaining a level of detachment sufficient to avoid being swept up in the hype and enthusiasm. Franchise exhibitions should be treated as part of your franchise research, not the whole, and wise visitors will set aside a whole day to visit as many stands and talk to as many franchisors as possible. By approaching the event with a strategy, perhaps sitting down with a copy of the expo catalogue when you arrive and identifying your 'must sees', you'll have a better chance of coming away from the event satisfied that you have gained an accurate picture of the range of opportunities you want to explore.
THE TWO-WAY INTERVIEW
Meetings between franchisors and potential franchisees are often described as two-way interviews, and this is the best way to approach franchisor exhibitors. You are both gauging each other's potential as a partner in a franchise relationship, and you must strive to maintain a balanced approach to the meeting.
On the one hand, you are attempting to discern the details of the franchise and the philosophy of the management team from your meeting, which may not be with a member of the management. Arm yourself with a list of questions before the event to ensure you make the most of this opportunity - an excellent crib list of questions is The Franchise Magazine's Franchise Guidance Checklist.
On the other, the person you are talking to is charged with evaluating you. Do you have the capital investment that you claim? Do you have what it takes to operate the franchised business, and conform to the corporate values of the concept? Are you capable of making the decision to invest or unlikely to commit? It is possible they may misread your intentions and not class you as a genuine prospect, in which case they'll be quick to ask you to fill in a registration card for possible follow-up after the exhibition and seek to devote their time to meeting with more promising stand visitors. If your interest in the opportunity is sincere, make this clear and request that you receive the attention your serious interest deserves.
Many exhibitions reassure visitors that all exhibitors are vetted by the British Franchise Association. However, companies that sign up to participate in the event too late for the proper checks to be made will be classed as 'Accreditation Pending', while 'Provisional Listing' status is conferred upon franchises that may still be at the pilot stage.
Make yourself aware of the levels of BFA accreditation (see box, right), and the level of accreditation of each brand you speak to, but don't rely on this status to the detriment of your own research.
The BFA itself recommends that 'you still have the responsibility to undertake your own research on the substance of the proposition and your suitability for it... it is not a substitute for your own research.'
Most exhibitions run accompanying seminars to educate visitors. Subjects such as 'An introduction to franchising' and 'How to franchise your business' are covered, usually lasting the best part of an hour. It is up to you to decide how your time is best spent, although anyone who has read more than a couple of editions of The Franchise Magazine will learn little new information.
KEEP YOUR CHEQUEBOOK CLOSED
Most franchisors view the return on their investment as a significant amount of registered interest in their opportunity - a list of leads on which to follow up, with a percentage 'converting' by investing in the franchise.
Certainly no franchisor should be seeking to sign franchisees up on the exhibition floor, and you should consider any attempt to get you to sign a franchise contract or signal of intent document as a highly dubious practise - one which could signal a franchisor keen to avoid too much investigation into its track record, or one that is desperate for the franchise fee to shore up a dodgy financial situation.
Approached properly, franchise exhibitions represent valuable and even fun opportunities to gain access to the people involved with the franchises available and secure the information you need to properly consider the opportunity being presented. By the end of the day you'll be returning home with a couple of plastic bags full of brochures and promotional literature, which you can read through during your cooling off period. Combined with the research you have carried out on the internet and through reading The Franchise Magazine, you should now have enough information to begin identifying the opportunities that most interest you.