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IFA’s Trade Shows Build Your Brand’s Presence

The expo provides an excellent opportunity to generate new leads and an opportunity for the franchisor to highlight its concept.

Anthony Padulo, CFE, is vice president of franchise development for Goddard Systems.  Find him at fransocial.franchise.org via the directory.

Anthony Padulo, CFE, is vice president of franchise development for Goddard Systems. Find him at fransocial.franchise.org via the directory.

Another franchise expo has come and gone, and as a responsible franchisor looking for the most efficient lead generation tools, you were either a participant at the show, or debating whether to participate in the upcoming show(s). The International Franchise Association sponsors three trade shows. The International Franchise Expo, Franchise Expo South and the West Coast Franchise Expo are produced by MFV Expositions.

Over the years, franchise expos have been on a cyclical path, going through periods of high interest, then through periods of non-interest, but are presently experiencing a renaissance of interest by both franchisor and potential franchisee. This is clearly visible by the consistently growing franchisor participation over the past 18 months.
How does a franchisor determine if exhibiting is right for its brand and concept? The first criteria, obviously, is whether the brand has the resources, both financial and human, to participate in the venue.

Assuming this first criteria is not the issue, then the checklist of questions on whether to participate should be along these lines:

  • Who is your target candidate?
  • Is the expo being conducted in a targeted growth market or is this a well- penetrated market with little room for new growth?
  • What are the company’s goals in participating?
    • Award franchises
    • Build brand equity or recognition

Let’s consider each of these objectives.

Who is your target candidate?

First and foremost, a responsible franchisor must understand who its target candidate is, considering financial criteria, background, lifestyle interests, business acumen and experience with similar or related concepts. If the franchisor knows its target candidate, the decision to participate in a franchise expo is simplified if the primary objective is developing a strong list of potential franchisees during the expo.
A franchisor thinking about exhibiting in an expo must do its due diligence as to whether its targeted profile is a likely attendee. Traditionally, most expos have attracted primarily candidates with a limited amount of available cash or borrowing power. That said, however, certain locations such as Manhattan attract better financially qualified candidates, or a Washington, D.C. expo would attract a high international contingent. If your target candidate is not a likely attendee, should you be exhibiting?

This logic often explains why many mature franchisors are not attending certain or all expos. The investment necessary to exhibit in the expo is much better spent on lead generation to the right demographics, or in markets where there are growth opportunities. This brings to the next question:

Is the expo being conducted in a targeted growth market?

Suppose the next expo is being conducted in Southern California, but that region either has no additional room for growth or the franchisor is not ready to grow in that market. Then why would the franchisor spend precious time, resources and money participating in that particular expo?

This may appear to an obvious question, but how often has an attendee stopped by a booth, interested in the concept, only to be told, “Sorry, we are sold out of opportunities in this region.” This approach may only work if one believes the concept is strong enough and “hot” enough that candidates are willing to relocate themselves and their family to another region of the country. This approach may work, but most data suggests that candidates are less likely to relocate today than they might have been 10 to 15 years ago.

Can a franchisor use the expo as a vehicle for building brand presence, equity and recognition?

The simple answer is “yes.” The expo provides not only an excellent opportunity to generate new leads, but as importantly, it should be viewed as an opportunity for the franchisor to highlight its concept. This is particularly important if the concept in new to the region.

The benefits are twofold. Attendees visiting the expo are presumably in search of a franchise opportunity, and the idea of selecting a franchise that is arriving to their region can be very attractive since this provides first dibs on growth in the area, availability of growth opportunities and the pride of being the franchisor’s first or early franchisees for that area is significant.

Additionally, if the attendee is not a potential franchisee, he may be a potential customer. The attendee will remember having seen the brand at the expo, will surely remember the warm, courteous, and passionate reception received from your franchise executives, and will more likely to plan a stop or visit once your outlet opens for business, and perhaps, tell a few friends and neighbors to do likewise.
Even if your brand is well-represented in the market, exhibiting at the expo further validates your commitment to growth in the area. A gentle reminder that the franchise is still franchising in this market, and has growth opportunities is critical. All too often, candidates assume a brand is no longer franchising or does not have any growth opportunities, particularly if they have seen quick growth in their specific market. Use your focused and accelerated growth as a further sales tool by highlighting your success in their home town. Then people will know there is still strong opportunity for growth.

Finally, when you are exhibiting at an expo, ensure your space is professional, well laid-out, adequately staffed and professional − all representative of your brand’s quality. Large, splashy expensive exhibits go a long way in attracting interest and visitors, but the important factor is how attendees are greeted and received in the booth. Treat every visitor with the respect they deserve, treat them as a potential franchisee, and never make a preconceived notion of their ability to purchase based on looks or initial attitude.

Anthony Padulo, CFE, is vice president of franchise development for Goddard Systems. Find him at fransocial.franchise.org via the directory.

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