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Why You Need to Make Trade Shows a Part of Your Budget

Trade shows are en vogue once again or at least becoming more common in annual budgets.

In recent years as the economy struggled, attendance and exhibitor numbers significantly dipped at professional trade shows and conventions. Franchisors tightened their belts as they cut back on non-essential expenses to protect bottom lines. Franchise prospects were staying home and research new business opportunities from a computer screen. But times have changed and now trade shows are more important than ever.

“Trade shows are just expensive, no two ways about it,” said John Twist, vice president of franchise and business development for Batteries Plus Bulbs. “Booth fees, materials, travel and lodging add up pretty quickly before you know it.”
“When you’re looking at an annual budget, it’s a little easier to cut back on expenses that don’t always directly translate into new business,” said Mike Powers, managing director for Painting with a Twist, “especially when you attend one of the larger shows, which typically take place in more expensive host cities.”

The Trade Show News Network reports that about 50 percent of the largest 200 shows in the United States take place in just three cities: Las Vegas, Chicago and Orlando. Yes, it’s true, franchisors are going to have to shell out a little more to make it worthwhile.

Perrone photo-WCFE 2013-650

But might these shows be more valuable to a company’s growth than one would initially think? And, how can franchisors look beyond the costs? They miss out, potentially, on three major benefits by not exhibiting and attending trade shows:

1. Face-to-face interaction with high-quality, interested franchise candidates

“These are the franchise prospects who have made the effort to get out from behind their computer screens and actively investigate franchise opportunities,” said Doug Jackson, director of franchise development for Philly Pretzel Factory. “Most of these attendees are actively looking to buy.”

According to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research, 81 percent of trade show attendees have buying authority and 45 percent of attendees visit only one exhibition per year. What does this mean? The prospects are above-average candidates, and if you miss them at one show you probably won’t see them again.

2. Staying abreast of what other franchisors in your segment are doing and keeping a competitive edge

“If you decide to stay home and your fiercest competitor doesn’t, that’s a huge advantage for them right off the bat,” said Powers. “It can easily boil down to a simple process of elimination for prospective franchise candidates.”

“Try to impress a franchise candidate who came to the trade show interested in another franchise opportunity, but is now interested in your concept because you got him to stop at your booth and sold him on your opportunity,” said Jackson. “You can’t get that chance staying at home.”

3. Raising brand awareness within the industry

“These shows have more than potential buyers in attendance,” said Twist. “Passing on a good event means you could miss out on opportunities to secure coverage for your brand with influential media, meeting well-regarded franchise consultants who can point investors and franchisees in your direction, or interacting with real estate brokers who have the power to help you move into a strategic growth market.”

The CEIR states that 83 percent of exhibitors agreed that “building/expanding brand awareness” is a high-priority marketing-related objective for trade shows. The next two objectives tied at 63 percent.

Market research conducted by Skyline Exhibits, maker of trade show displays and portable exhibits, supports these critical points: the top three goals for exhibitors at trade shows are brand awareness, lead generation and relationship building.

“Industry trade shows are a prime opportunity to build lasting relationships with prospective and existing franchise partners,” said Mark Jameson, executive vice president, franchise support and development at FASTSIGNS International Inc. “Of our 37 signed franchise agreements in 2013, about 50 percent of those were with individuals we met in-person at shows. Whether it’s your first meeting with the prospect or it’s someone you’ve been communicating with for months, meeting in-person allows you to build a direct, personal connection that is otherwise more challenging to develop.”

Regardless of the benefits, picking a show, or shows, to attend any given year can be difficult. The economy might be improving and the franchise industry might be very healthy, but for smaller franchisors especially it must be carefully determined how many shows can fit into the budget. Likewise, larger concepts don’t want to just throw money away on a mass of shows without being strategic.

“I think it is important to understand the attributes and characteristics of the candidates you are trying to reach and the geography you wish to develop and choose among the show options accordingly,” said Twist.

Many franchisors seem to agree: picking two or three regional shows to attend might be more beneficial than going for the biggest show on the block, at least until you are ready financially. Otherwise, there is very little to be gained by attending anything and everything.

Trade Shows en Vogue

Signs are indicating that trade shows are en vogue once again, or at least becoming more common in annual budgets. In 2012, the IFA-sponsored International Franchise Expo moved to New York City after 20 years in Washington, D.C., and was largely hailed as a success. The following year, attendance increased 30 percent, while the number of exhibitors rose 24 percent.

“In my opinion, the IFE is the ‘must-attend’ show of the year for franchisors looking to sell units,” said Powers. “Last year, we were able to leverage our time at the IFE into an appearance on a national morning show, which resulted in great feedback from our franchise system and generated quality leads.”

At the 2013 IFE, an extensive variety of industries was represented including restaurant, health care, home improvement, retail, fitness, pet care and education. Many vendors and franchisors were on hand to share products and services including marketing materials, vehicles, clothing, printing and design. International exhibitors from Brazil, Japan, Korea, Mexico and the United Kingdom were actively seeking partnerships and franchisees for U.S. expansion.

“The 2013 IFE brought us tremendous brand exposure as we made fresh pretzels on the show floor and handed out thousands and thousands of pretzels to everyone at the show,” said Jackson. “More importantly, we also closed deals from the show.”

More than 30 percent of attendees indicated that they planned to invest between $100,000 to 500,000, while there were also golden opportunities to find concepts that cost less than $10,000. Whether single-unit or multi-unit buyers, or area developers, the expo visitors were well-educated, engaged and serious about taking the next step.

The 2014 IFE will be conducted June 19 to 21 at the Javits Center in New York City and will feature more than 450 franchise opportunities. The IFE offers the most comprehensive conference on franchising, including more than 70 free seminars along with in-depth symposiums. This is a one-of-a-kind opportunity to meet entrepreneurs from the United States and more than 90 countries around the world. Attendees can learn best practices from industry experts hosting educational symposia geared toward every stage of the franchise journey. For more information, visit http://www.ifeinfo.com.

Sonia Perrone is the director of marketing at MFV Expositions, the producer of leading franchise events worldwide. Find her at fransocial.franchise.org.

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