Getting the most out of your franchise expo experience

When it comes to running a ‘successful’ stand at the International Franchise Expo (IFE) or other franchise exhibitions, there’s truly no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to approach it.

Over the years, I have observed many different styles of how franchisors draw attention to their stands and franchise opportunities.

Some are more aggressive, actually stepping outside of their stand to greet visitors as they walk by and invite them to their stand. Others take a more subtle approach, using body language and eye contact to draw candidates in.

Exhibitors at the 2011 IFE recently shared their preferred ‘show style’ and tactics they use to drive visitors to their stands and ultimately generate quality leads for their franchise opportunities.

Look alive

An exhibition weekend can be looked at in a number of different ways. Many franchisors, like Kevin Derella, Senior Vice-President of health-based cleaning franchise, Coverall, claim taking a more aggressive approach is the way to stand out and be noticed in a large exhibition hall.

“If you want to do well at an exhibition, you have to talk to people – that’s number one,” says Kevin. “By being alert and excited in your stand and talking to everyone who comes by, you will know what is happening around you.”

Grabbing the attention of franchise exhibition visitors is crucial since you only have a short timeframe to get your potential lead on board with your brand. He adds that everyone working the exhibition stand have their own pitch that works for them to draw in leads. Follow ups should happen immediately after the exhibition.

A warm welcome

A classic way of building a relationship with a new acquaintance is to be warm and welcoming. The same can hold true when recruiting leads to your stand at a franchise exhibition. Something as simple as placing your stand at the entrance and greeting everyone with a welcoming hello will get you far. Ted Looney, International Development Advisor at Jani-King, says a casual greeting can go a long way, while a quick meet-and-greet with potential leads can help them to determine interest level, as well as assess if they are the right type of candidate.

Having two or three workers at the exhibition who know the ins-and-outs of your franchise opportunity will ensure any questions that leads may have, can be answered correctly and thoroughly, as well as build strong and lasting credibility for your brand.

Read, observe, attack

Using your natural instinct and following your first impression goes a long way when looking for leads to sell franchises at an exhibition. Weeding out the right and wrong leads can save your company time and allow you to maximise the amount of people you can reach out to and build a foundation with. Jeff Travitz, Director of Sales for Goddard System, Inc, suggests feeling out your leads and then steering them in the direction of your company.

“You have to read the person, sometimes they are more warm and fuzzy and want to hear about the emotional aspects of your company; other times people just want the cold hard facts,” says Jeff.

Be aware of your surroundings

Exhibitions are a great way to learn, face-to-face, what your potential leads are looking for and if they are the right candidates for you to bring on board.

Studies have shown that human interaction can unveil characteristics and traits of a person more than any other form of communication can.

Charles Gilbert, Emerging Marketing Director, at Choice Hotels, feels strongly about utilising the in-person contact exhibitions provide to your company’s advantage.

“We always ask leads what they’re looking for, which will allow me to go into my response about whether this is or is not what they’re looking for,” says Charles. “For us, there’s a series of questions that the prospect has to answer in the right way. We prompt them and it’s really a discovery after that.”

Make the commitment to yourself

Building a strong, solid plan for a franchise exhibition will help no end. Ray Titus, of United Franchise Group, knows a thing or two about drawing the crowds to his booth at shows.

“We obviously commit to the stand and to the brand,” Ray explains. “We try to help people learn as much as possible about the brand in a short amount of time and look at it as an opportunity to market and promote all of our franchise owners’ services.”

Being alert and aware is a strategy Ray feels is crucial to success: “We don’t believe in chairs in our booth, or eating for that matter. You’re not going to find quality candidates by not paying attention or talking on your mobile phone.”

While franchisors may have many varying exhibition styles, one thing they all agree on is that nothing beats the opportunity to look a prospect in the eye and have face-to-face conversations – that’s what most valuable relationships are founded on.

Joel Goldstein is the Group Marketing Director at MFV Expositions, the producer of leading franchise events worldwide. The 2011 West Coast Franchise Expo will take place November 4-6 at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

Reported by Joel Goldstein (pictured)