Keeping Attendees Engaged During Your Franchise Convention
The keys to great franchisee engagement are clear — address their questions, provide ample opportunity for significant peertopeer discussions, as well as access to system management.
By Cynthia Gartman, CFE
Keeping attendees engaged during any conference function is a constant challenge, just ask any member of the International Franchise Association’s Convention Committee, or perhaps the members of your own system’s convention committee. You worry about everything: Will they like the venue? Will the rooms be clean? Will the food be good? If these basics don’t make the grade, the celebrations, conversations, educational sessions and teambuilding time will all suffer. If you can find an exceptional venue, then the next keys are takehome values for the franchisees.
I spoke with several franchisors, those known for using cutting-edge techniques. We talked about how they keep attendees engaged while at their conference, as well as key draws, entertainment factors and venue. These executives include TWO MEN AND A TRUCK Chairwoman Melanie Bergeron, CFE; Lawn Doctor, Inc. Pres. and CEO Scott Frith, CFE; and Abrakadoodle Pres. and CoFounder Rosemarie Harnett, CFE.
Gartman: How do you keep attendees engaged during your conference?
Bergeron: Scheduling is important, keep them moving and get them in alignment with the company’s goals. A franchisee survey is done each year before the conference and the issues that are brought up are addressed at the convention.
One of our most unique and sought — after conference attributes is that we provide the franchisees an opportunity to meet one-on-one with our management staff. These sessions are called Chief Chats, Director Chats and Board Chats. In these sessions the franchisees have the chance to talk individually with management in a 20minute session. The goal is that everyone leaves the meeting feeling like their questions were answered.
Frith: This really starts with the strategy; what do you want to accomplish? Once you know that, then you create conference content that builds to that strategy. You must know who your audience is — earlystage, intermediate and mature franchisees all have different needs that must be spoken to.
Hartnett: We have sessions that are valuable for more mature franchisees and new franchisees; we must offer education for their current life cycle. We answer the question, how can franchisees become more profitable? We survey franchisees before and after the conference to learn what they would they like to see the next time? What did they walk away with right now to improve their business? We drive franchisee participation with peertopeer opportunities such as a panel of experts. We bring in outside speakers, but the sessions must be interactive; we make sure that the speaker talks with franchisees before the conference and references them during the presentation.
Gartman: What do you think are the key draws for franchisees?
Bergeron: In addition to the one-on-one time with management, there are several others. There is a mobile Tech Lab that is open during the entire convention and franchisees get the chance to participate hands-on with the system’s technology platform. There is a mobile messaging ability available after each major speaker to give comments and questions to the speaker. This is very interesting and entertaining. We also utilize roundtables and panel of the pros sessions which are very popular.
Finally, we have a large vendor marketplace with games and cash prizes given all day. Also central to our conference is a prayer breakfast.
Frith: Roundtables are very important, they should be structured, but provide open time for discussion. They also need tracks and formats that are based on their development stage. You must have franchisee inclusion with content. Lawn Doctor has a Marketing Committee, Sales Committee and Service Committees (all franchisee committees) and their input leads to the Conference Committee for content. This really drives engagement and credibility and builds on peertopeer coaching, which is essential.
Harnett: We have been very effective in listening and designing sessions that are interactive. We provide a great deal of networking time and we make sure that they are not in sessions where they are being talked “at.” Sharing experiences is the most valuable part of the conference. We hold many sessions that are specifically geared at improved profitability.
Gartman: Does educational entertainment or entertainment play a role?
Bergeron: Definitely, our keys are celebration, recognition, and education. One of the fun times is at the end of each break; we hold Ontime Drawings. We pull a name out of a bowl and if that person is in his seat he receives a prize! Also, we have inspirational speakers and the awards banquet is a major highlight.
Frith: Yes, it is a draw, same as for venue. You also have to make sure that it’s the right time for the business, which for us is at the end of the year before the holidays.
Hartnett: This is important and hits the hearts of the franchisees at our conference. We expanded the “Arts for All” scholarships to support programs in the community for those neighborhoods that couldn’t necessarily afford a local art program — a bit like “Franchising Gives Back.” In the past, we have taken owners on a cruise on the Potomac, etc.
Gartman: What role does venue play?
Bergeron: In early days everyone wanted the cheapest; now due to the size of the conference, we need a venue with lots of truck parking and attendee rooms. The franchisees’ tastes have matured and they appreciate exciting places; many of the franchisees make it a family vacation.
Frith: Family venues are excellent draws and allow more family inclusion. You need to build in enough business and bonding time to build deep relationships among the franchisees. The venue will not necessarily drive attendance, but it definitely drives reviews, one way or another.
Harnett: It’s a big issue. Franchisees want something that has a lot of potential outside of the meeting. They like to extend the conference experience with other activities in the area. Ease of air travel access is also important. They like a venue with upscale facilities and excellent food.
Over a great part of my career I have been on the franchisor side of the business, but recently a wonderful opportunity came along for my husband and me to become franchisees of a young system in the senior/publishing sector with Seniors Blue Book. This franchise, which serves seniors, caregivers and the professionals that serve them, held its first franchise conference in June. As a young system, it was a smaller conference with about 30 in attendance, but the basics were there. We had ample opportunity to interact with management and other franchisees. We were provided a lot of discussion time and asked to provide questions before the conference began.
These questions were melded into the conference agenda and addressed in order. The venue was a smaller boutique hotel in a fabulous section of Denver that afforded the attendees to eat, shop and play in the area.
The keys to great franchisee engagement are clear: address their questions, provide ample opportunity to have significant peertopeer discussions, as well as access to system management. Adding entertainment and an excellent venue will provide the “icing on the cake” that attendees want.
Cynthia Gartman is a Seniors Blue Book franchisee and serves on IFA’s Convention Committee, the ICFE Board of Governors as chairwoman, the IFA Educational Foundation Board and is the coleader of the Women’s Franchise Network in Philadelphia. Find her at fransocial.franchise.org.