Make the most of your face-to-face investment at the International Franchise Expo

Joel Goldstein, Group Marketing Director at MFV Expositions, reveals how attending the right franchise exhibition could help you successfully expand your franchise network.

At the International Franchise Expo (IFE) in 2010, almost 8,000 domestic and international visitors came to explore and talk business with 200 franchise companies, each offering a wide range of opportunities at virtually every investment level.

Franchising is, and always will be, about establishing and building relationships. At exhibitions, prospects can put a face, a voice and an “aura” around the person they’ve been communicating with over the telephone, email or social media. Similarly, franchisors view exhibitions as a way to seal the deal with their internet leads. The bottom line is franchise deals are often seeded on the internet, nurtured on the phone, and sealed at the exhibition once a voice and face can be tied together.

For many emerging franchisors, exhibitions are considered powerful tools to create brand awareness, as well as network and learn from other franchisors. Many new and established franchisors, as well as prospects, also value exhibitions for the educational benefits they offer. At last year’s IFE, more than 30 free workshops were covering topics such as franchising basics and ways to obtain financing.

With budgets still tight, franchisors can take several steps to maximise Return On Investment (ROI) of the exhibitions they attend. First, they should be selective about which exhibitions to attend. Factors to consider include the target audience, opportunities for meeting quality leads, the credibility of the hosting organisation and networking opportunities with other franchisors. It is wise to conduct due diligence by asking other people which exhibitions have been most beneficial for them.

Exhibitors who get the best results tend to do some preparation before the exhibition. To set themselves up for success, several weeks before attending, they will seek out leads in the area and target them with direct mail, advertising and public relations, resulting in more qualified leads once they arrive and set up their booth.

For example, Greg Delks, Director of Franchise Development for Firehouse Subs, takes several measures to set up leads before the IFE.

“We didn’t just meet the people walking around the show – we sent a pre-exhibition email invitation to our database of prospects to drive additional traffic right to our booth,” he explains. “The quality of people who attend are educated and ready to buy a franchise. Nothing beats the face-to-face opportunity of being at the IFE. It’s the best way to start a relationship. We see the IFE as our chance to build long term relationships with the best candidates to grow our business.”

The most ‘successful’ exhibitors also have a positive attitude at the show. Conversations with prospects or peers should showcase the exhibitor’s excitement for the brand they’re representing, as well as positive discussions around the franchising model in general. Prospects are attracted to and can sense genuine positive aura, so it should emanate from your booth.

Finally, follow-up is a huge factor contributing to exhibition ROI – always provide requested information to your prospects as soon as possible. Expectations also need to be properly set. It can often take attending multiple shows and continuous follow-ups to strike the ultimate deal, according to Dave Schaefers, Senior Vice President of Franchise Development at Driven Brands.

“We have met with people who have been in our pipeline, and West Coast Franchise Expo was a great opportunity to reconnect with these prospects. Either you’re in the business or you’re not. We’re in franchising for the long haul. If we don’t award a new franchise owner at the expo this year, we’ll get one next year.”

Whether it’s to increase brand awareness, meet a certain number of realistic potential prospects to start the conversation process, or to seal the deal with a prospect a franchisor has already been working with, exhibitions provide an ideal environment.

No matter how many conversations you’ve had over the phone, via email or on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or other social networks, nothing beats a straight-up, face-to-face conversation. However, exhibitions are not magic bullets – like anything else, preparation, positive attitude and diligent follow-up with prospects will maximise your investment.