Getting the most value out of franchise expos
Before you attend a franchise expo (such as Franchise Expo South, Feb. 6-8 in Houston) there’s one important question to ask yourself: “Why am I going to this expo?”
To put you at ease, there’s no “wrong” answer to that question. In fact, some honest folks will say they’re going for the freebies, including pizza, yogurt and smoothies. That may not be the “best” answer, but it’s acceptable. You may fall in love with the freebie and end up buying the franchise! At worst case, now that you’ve tested the product, when someone opens that franchise in your area, you’ll become a regular customer.
Of course, the “best” answer goes like this, “To find a franchise opportunity that’s right for me, buy it, open it, and change my life.” Deep down, even the freebie seekers are hoping that scenario comes true. And why not? It’s happened for tens of thousands of people in the past 50 years in the USA alone. Over time, every franchise expo organized by MFV Exhibitions results in hundreds of franchise sales.
A major expo, such as FES in Houston and the International Franchise Expo coming up in June in New York City, can be covered in a day (if you arrive early, leave late, and work your plan), but ideally you need two days at least to get the most from these events. One day, for example, could easily be spent in symposia where you can learn valuable insights about franchising in general, and specific franchise opportunities. Another day or two can be spent visiting the franchise exhibits, speaking with franchisors, franchisees and advisors, and collecting and evaluating information.
Here, then, is a typical plan for “working” a franchise expo.
- Set some goals. For example: To attend two symposia and learn how franchising works. . . . . To speak with 15 franchisors in (select an industry, i.e. fast food, children’s education, auto repair, business services, etc.) to determine if there’s an opportunity for me. . . . To speak with a franchise specialist (i.e. an attorney, an accountant, a coach, etc.) who can help me evaluate my opportunities in franchising. You get the idea?
- Given any time constraints that you may face, figure out how you’re going to spend your time. It would be smart to spend a day attending symposia as well as free seminars. But if you’ve only got a day to spend at the expo, then perhaps schedule one symposium and plan to spend the rest of your time visiting the exhibits.
- In advance of the expo, visit the expo’s web site to find out what’s going on. When are the symposia? Who are the exhibitors? You can register for the symposia and also contact exhibitors of your choice in advance. Even if you don’t contact the exhibitors you can learn their location on the show floor and that will save you time – you won’t have to hunt for the franchisors of interest to you.
- While you’re on the expo’s web site, register in advance. It’s another time saver! You don’t want to waste time standing in a queue – pre-register so you can spend more time in the expo. You won’t get through the expo doors unless you’re wearing a badge.
- Visit the International Franchise Association (IFA) booth. You’ll usually find the IFA booth at the entrance of the expo. Here’s an opportunity to speak with knowledgeable people who can help you fulfill your goals. Don’t be shy! The IFA staff wants to help you. First, they’ll give you plenty of free information about franchising. Then, they’ll answer specific questions. They also may be able to introduce you to other experts who can assist you. You can easily spend 30 minutes at the IFA booth, so plan on it.
- There are always “last-minute” exhibitors at franchise expos, so it’s important to get a copy of the expo guide (it’s free and available at registration or the IFA booth) and review it. MFV Exhibitions does a great job of listing franchise exhibitors by different categories, i.e. Investment Level, Industry, etc. Find a place to sit down and review the guide.
- Once you know the franchise brands you want to visit, start working your plan. Warning: Sticking to your plan will be a challenge! Why? Because as you walk through the expo you are going to see a variety of brands that suddenly appeal to you. An oft-heard statement on the expo floor: “I had no idea that business was a franchise – I love their products!” So it’s important to schedule some flextime, even if you’ve only got a few hours to spend at the expo.
- Some franchise exhibitors are bolder than others as they attempt to get you to stop and speak with them. Keep in mind that no one can sell you a franchise at an expo – there are stringent disclosure laws in franchising and the expo is purely for information sharing. Other than your time (which is valuable!), you can’t lose anything by visiting with a franchisor. And if you’re absolutely not interested in the brand, for whatever reason, just say so! Be bold yourself! Smile and say, “Sorry, I’m not interested” and keep walking. Of course, there’s always the chance that you’re walking past a great opportunity – but you won’t know what it is unless you stop and listen.
- Ask questions! Be sure you’ve got a notebook and pen, or take notes in your computer. If you’re not sure which questions to ask, here’s a book that will help you: 101 Questions To Ask Before You Invest In A Franchise.
- Schedule time to review the information you collected at the expo, including notes that you may have taken during symposia and meetings with experts. Many people attend franchise expos without realizing that it takes some review after the fact. See if you can zero in on a few brands that really interest you and set a time to follow up by phone or a personal visit with the franchisor.
And that’s how you visit a franchise expo! It requires some work, and that’s why all those freebies are available during the show – you’ll get hungry and thirsty!
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