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Trade Show Standout – Creating A Reasonable Budget

Make the most of your time and money by focusing on priorities for your brand.

There is a real need in any industry to get in front of people face to face, especially when your brand represents a new industry in franchising. Until your franchise company builds that coveted brand recognition, it can’t expect franchise agreements to sell themselves.

Trade shows are not only strong opportunities to gain national exposure, but also to get the “lay of the land” on a grassroots level. In talking with people from the local area, your brand gets an innate sense for the community and demographics that it cannot get over the phone or sifting through data. Personal interviews and accounts can be some of the best research to conduct.

Putting together a budget for a trade show can seem daunting, but by reading the fine print and identifying your priorities, your business can develop a reasonable plan that allows it to take advantage of all the benefits trade shows offer while remaining within your means.

1. Identify Priorities to Find a Fit

Not every franchisor has the money to attend every trade show. Identify the best option for your brand. There are many great candidates, but not every show will be a fit. For Pinot’s Palette, we focus on trade shows that provide exposure in our priority markets. Opportunities such as the West Coast Franchise Expo have been significant, as we wanted to plant our flag in major cities throughout California that could have the potential for multi-unit development.

2. Determine Your Needs

Franchisors with limited budgets may not have the resources available to have the big, fancy trade show booth, but you may not need it, especially if you’re attending your first trade show. You’ll learn a significant amount just by being there. Create a smart budget based on what you think you will need and help you stand out. Maybe it is a creative premium item to generate buzz. Sometimes the smallest things can make the biggest impact. One of Pinot’s Palette’s most impactful premiums has been a pen/postcard duo: it not only has a high-branding effect, but also encourages action.

3. Define Success Metrics

Determine your success metrics early on. The goal of many trade shows is to educate yourself to become a better franchisor, so decide what you want out of each event, take notes and then create a plan of action. Whether your ultimate goal is to learn best practices to save your organization money or to connect with a really great contact, focus your time, and money there.

4. Account for Sessions That Aren’t Free

While most sessions are free, there may be a few symposiums that are worth attending, but cost extra. Review with your team which ones you will attend and account for those additional costs.

5. Highlight Hidden Costs

Participating in a trade show goes beyond just registration and hotel fees. Budgets easily can be blown by not accounting for hidden costs like printed materials, shipping, advertising, premium items and even furniture. Read the trade show packet early and carefully to ensure you are aware of the requirements and do not overlook any of the details. One of the things we work into our budget for every year is an additional “conversation table” that provides an area for us to continue an involved discussion. Our booths wouldn’t be the same without them because it gives attendees a better understanding of what Pinot’s Palette is.

6. Leverage the Freebies

Does your franchise organization have a chance to sit on a panel? If there is someone at your company that is passionate about a certain topic that attendees could learn from, nominate him or her to be a guest speaker.

Additionally, take advantage of the social events outside of the normal trade show hours. Aside from being a fun way to wind down after a busy day, such events are a great way to network in a casual setting.

As part of your conference registration fee, you will receive a list of people and companies attending. Use it to your advantage. For example, search the list to identify people within the industry that you want to have the opportunity to meet personally and send him or her a note to visit your booth.

7. Create an Ad Plan

Franchisors will travel from far and wide to attend trade shows, so it is smart to take advantage of opportunities to raise brand awareness while in town. Consider investing in incremental advertising in or outside of the show that will help educate the marketplace on what you can offer potential franchisees.

In addition to advertising, franchisors can leverage social media to let the community, especially journalists, know you are considering expansion in their city. Find out if the trade show is on Twitter (such as @MFVExpositions) and or gives participants the chance to join the conversation using a unique hashtag (like #FranchiseExpo).

8. Backup Your Backup

There is nothing worse than spending time networking and collecting information, then suffering a glitch in technology and losing that critical data; it’s like flushing opportunities down the drain. Backup your names and numbers. And then backup the backup data. Otherwise, you will have spent many resources just to return home empty-handed. Be sure to account for any incremental dollars needed to ensure your data is protected.

9. Follow Up With New Contacts

You will have spent a significant amount of time and energy preparing for and networking during a trade show, so make the most of the money you’ve spent by following up with those you met. Keeping in touch with those contacts could reap rewards. You never know who could lead you to your next franchisee. Consider working into your budget the manpower and hours needed to follow up effectively. ⎯

Mari Sokolowski is franchise development director for Pinot’s Palette, an upscale, entertainment art studio based in Houston, Texas. Today, 12 studios host hundreds of painters each week and the company has become one of the fastest-growing paint and sip franchises in the country. She can be reached at mari@pinotspalette.com. 

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