The Right Place, the Right Time, the Right Match IFE celebrates another year

Just who attended the 17th annual International Franchise Expo? Actually, a better question would be who didn't? After nearly two decades, the number one franchise event on the planet continues to attract the largest, most qualified international and domestic prospects in the industry

How does the International Franchise Exhibition (IFE) manage to maintain its popularity? Well, there is no substitute for meeting with a prospect one-to-one. 'It's important for companies to exhibit at shows like the IFE because you have a chance to connect with the prospects you've been speaking to,' says Shane Connell, Franchise Sales Director for Jan-Pro. 'So many times nowadays people visit websites, submit an inquiry, but you never have the chance to put a name and a face together. At the IFE, we'll spend as much time as we need with each candidate and they have a chance to touch and see the concept, so we really get the chance to connect one-on-one.'

When the doors opened and nearly 11,000 entrepreneurs spilled through the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, odds were that the majority of attendees were searching and thinking the same thing: 'How do I start my own business with as little risk as possible?'

'Franchising is a great way to start your own business because you're not in business by yourself,' says Peter Holt, COO of Tasti-D-Lite. 'With franchising there is a team here to support you. We have a whole system to help a franchisee get started. We show them how to lay out the store, how to market, we give them training and ongoing support. It's everything they need to make their store more successful.'

In today's economy where everyone is looking for a infallible plan, a franchise opportunity allows an entrepreneur to follow a proven system which takes some of the speculation and hesitation out of opening a business. 'Franchising is a great way to build your own business because you're in control,' says David Huether, Chairman of GamerDoc. 'It gives you the ability to leverage proven concepts and ideas and build it into something exciting for you and your family.'

Connell adds that attending a franchise event like IFE helps a potential franchisee understand what concepts are offered across the entire system. 'As a candidate it's vital to attend these types of events and understand what's out there, aside from just the concepts you have under consideration,' he says. 'Take a look around, see what's out there and make an informed choice.'

From a Master Franchisee looking to expand their investments, to a first-time attendee just testing out the waters, the 2008 IFE delivered a range of highly qualified prospects and proven concepts. 'The IFE continues to be a strong event,' says GamerDoc's David. 'It's packed with qualified entrepreneurs and produces great potential results for us, and that's why we do events like this. The people who come here are looking for franchises. We can really do eyeball-to-eyeball interviews at shows like this.'

To find that perfect franchise fit can be a long, demanding process, for both franchisees and franchisors. But IFE provides an opportunity to bring all the right people together at the same time in one location. 'The International Franchise Association and MFV Expositions put the show together with the right timing, the right space in an excellent facility and it's convenient and comfortable to interview prospects here,' adds David.

Paul Kramer, Director of Franchise Development for Jody Maroni's Sausage Kingdom also appreciates the chance to meet one-on-one with a potential franchisee. 'With so much information available on the internet, the face-to-face, handshake approach to attracting prospective franchisees is alive and well at trade shows,' Paul says. 'That's why it's important to exhibit at these events.'

The Washington, D.C.-based event also drew its largest international audience to date, with 51 international delegations and visitors from 85 countries represented. As a result, for a company focusing its expansion efforts on the international market, there is no better place to exhibit than the International Franchise Expo.

'We spoke with a number of qualified candidates at the expo and many of those were international visitors,' says Shane from Jan-Pro. 'That's a benefit for our company as we focus on global expansion. We're placing an emphasis on our international growth and needed to be there to meet with the decision makers that attend the IFE. It's a big part of why we exhibit.'

Eliza Kendall, President and CEO of Eliza J, decided to exhibit at the IFE because of a great experience with Franchise Expo South in Miami. 'The Mid-Atlantic is a market we want to grow in, so it was a natural choice to participate in the International Franchise Expo,' she says. 'We had a great deal of interest from show visitors and spoke with a number of international visitors.'

With thousands of attendees at IFE, how do exhibitors draw in prospects to discuss their concept? For many franchisors that starts with pre-show marketing and reaching out to contacts that have expressed interest in the concept prior to the show.

'Before the show we actively sent invitations out through our website and invited prospects from the area to visit with us at the IFE,' says David. Jody Maroni's Sausage Kingdom's Paul adds: 'We took advantage of the invitations provided by MFV, the show's producer, and invited our prospects through direct mail and our website.'

Tasti-D-Lite took advantage of its existing leads to help spread the word. 'We did quite a lot of pre-show marketing,' says Peter. 'For us a trade show is just one component of an overall strategy when we're trying to penetrate a market. So we use our existing lead base, we tell them that we're here, we send them invitations and we use the Expo as just one tool in our efforts to get our deals completed.'

Kaffee Hopkins with Housewarmers received strong response on her company's pre-show efforts. 'Before the show we sent out an email invitation inviting our prospects,' she says. 'In fact it worked out great because several visitors stopped by to thank us for the complimentary admission, and it provided yet another opportunity to continue qualifying interested entrepreneurs.'

For a successful show, it's also essential to create an effective follow up programme to reach out to attendees after the event. 'After the IFE, we host an online interview and webinar with all the prospects that are interested in our concept,' said GamerDoc's David. 'We answer their questions, discuss some of the details we may not have been able to cover on the show floor, and then hope to close a franchise deal.'

Housewarmers' Hopkins adds: 'Our post show follow up includes an e-mail to all of the prospects we've spoken to along with a package of materials. It's important for them to have the information they'll need to make an informed decision.'

The date is already set for next year's IFE: 20th-22nd March in Washington, D.C, and many concepts have already reserved space. 'The MFV and IFA folks that put the IFE together have done a tremendous job,' says Jan-Pro's Shane. 'From the pre-show planning to making sure we had everything we needed, they've been phenomenal. This is our first time exhibiting at the IFE, and the customer service is truly extraordinary. They've been an integral part of our success and we'll certainly be back again next year.'

Reported by Joel Goldstein