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Step up Your Educational-Networking Game – Attend the IFA Annual Convention

Challenge yourself and access the connections and insights needed to take your franchise system to the next level.

Having co-founded two other companies prior to launching my professional dog walking and pet-sitting franchise system, Fetch! Pet Care in 2002, I was under the assumption I had all the answers needed to be successful. During the first couple of years of operation, I focused on building our internal systems, processes and procedures. We saw tremendous success in growth from 33 units in 2005 to 209 units nationally by 2008. I was on top of the world, and I thought everything I did was right.

Since starting Fetch! Pet Care, I was approached repeatedly by the International Franchise Association to join as a member. While flattered, I continued ignoring the IFA’s advances and continued building my business thinking I was smarter, more prepared and all around better equipped without the organization.

In retrospect, I couldn’t have been more ignorant. In 2009, the recession hit hard and we experienced internal growing pains that ultimately jeopardized the satisfaction of our existing franchise owners and the future growth of our system overall. I was challenged to generate more value for franchisees and to differentiate our brand in the eyes of prospective buyers.

The IFA convention presented a learning opportunity that I could use to my advantage.

It was at this time our newly acquired investors encouraged me to join the IFA. Exhausting my alternative options, I apprehensively joined and dragged myself to my first IFA Annual Convention in 2010. Needless to say, I was immediately awestruck with the line-up of executives from participating leading national and international franchise brands in attendance. But I was even more amazed they were willing to discuss and share ideas to help me grow my business. I was equally surprised to find that more mature franchise systems were experiencing similar challenges to my young startup, often on a grander scale.

The IFA convention presented a learning opportunity that I could use to my advantage. The available panel discussions, roundtables, general sessions, trade show suppliers and overall networking events culminated in so much rich information and invaluable resource potential.

Panel Discussions

Panel discussions are a great way to gain operational insights from multiple sources in a casual setting. There are always applicable topics of interest that match specific needs and I find myself riveted during the discussions, asking questions and gaining further insight. Each year I’m impressed and grateful with how much information the panelists are willing to share about their internal processes to help those lending an ear. Because I find myself wishing I could attend more panel discussions, I recommend purchasing the recorded version of the panel talks. I always bring these back to my franchise support team to lead our own internal discussion. This helps us determine how we can leverage best practices.

In 2009, I attended a panel discussion on automating the franchise sales process. I was surprised to learn most mature franchise companies were using sophisticated CRM systems that smoothly facilitated the inquiry-to-purchase life cycle with prospects. Out of this discussion it was apparent Fetch! Pet Care needed to innovate and we immediately implemented the FranConnect Virtual Brochure and CRM system. We streamlined our process immeasurably and saw great results.
The following year I attended a panel discussion on maximizing consumer marketing opportunities, a challenging area for franchisees of even the most developed, well-funded brands. That discussion, coupled with some contacts I made on the supplier trade show floor, led us to implement a multi-faceted marketing system and new vendor-managed solutions.

Roundtable Discussions

Roundtable discussions are another valuable resource where I find there are too many tables and not enough time to attend them all. I make it a point to arrive early so I can participate and listen as franchise experts share views on relevant topics of interest. This is perhaps the juiciest part of the IFA convention for me; I get to roll up my sleeves and engage with executives of small and large franchise systems to listen, learn and discuss a well-rounded list of themes. I take copious notes and exchange business cards with thought leaders for future reference and continued innovation within my company.

General Sessions

General sessions are typically attended by almost everyone and are always inspiring and thought-provoking occasions. Plus, they give me a chance to get the latest industry and legislative updates. I’ve had the honor of hearing keynote speeches from Condoleezza Rice, Bill O’Reilly, Yum! Brands, Inc. Chairman and CEO David Novak and others. I’m always thoroughly impressed at the candid insights they share and the core messages they deliver, leaving me refueled, re-energized and proud to be part of the franchise community.

The Exhibit Hall

The entire IFA convention is a place of education with curriculum around every corner. The Exhibit Hall itself is another great source of information. I’m constantly picking up new tactics and discovering innovative products and services to take back to my own system for consideration.

Participation

Picking the right events to attend is the trick. Research each event offered before attending the IFA convention. Ask other attendees for recommendations and select events that pertain to the size of your franchise system and those that are conducive to the challenges that rank highest on your radar. As a final filter for narrowing which event to attend, research who is participating in the discussion, as you want to learn from people who have the most relevant information for your particular needs.

IFA and other franchise industry opportunities abound. Take advantage of what is out there. The majority of the educational sessions are free, while some offerings charge a modest fee to cover material costs – whichever you choose, it is worth the investment.

The educational opportunities offered at the IFA convention, as well as the International Franchise Expo, West Coast Franchise Expo and Franchise Expo South that are produced by MFV Expositions help leaders navigate the complexities of doing business. Some examples of key issues addressed include the national health care mandate, W2/contractor issues, federal/state regulation and registration, communication systems, franchisee relationships, best practices and benchmarking, professional management, operational efficiency and financing/private equity investing.

By not attending the IFA events during the early years of starting Fetch! Pet Care, I denied myself numerous learning tools and opportunities that could have benefited our system. Attending the IFA’s events have since helped my team and me rethink and restructure our approach to the challenges of the past and those we’ll need to tackle in the future, and our system is now back on a strong growth curve.

There is no greater place for franchise education than an IFA event. It will open your mind, challenge your beliefs and provide you with the connections and insights needed to take your franchise system to the next level.

Paul Mann is chief executive officer of Fetch! Pet Care, Inc. Find him at fransocial.franchise.org via the directory.

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