THE BLOG
07/30/2014 05:28 pm ET Updated Sep 29, 2014

Leveraging Trade Shows for Franchise Development

Growing your brand online is tough. I've done it for the past 10+ years. Recently I've started working with several franchises. This is more offline than online but something we're become very good at.

Franchise development is often one of the most unique challenges that any emerging franchise business faces. Identifying qualified individuals to represent your brand and have the funding at their disposal is what separates a truly successful franchise development team from others.

One of the most important facets in being successful is leveraging trade shows to identify those candidates. Setting up a booth at a trade show is an excellent way to meet potential franchisees eager to learn more about different opportunities and businesses. You can only learn so much online before you really need to go out and talk with someone who has been through the process, which is where you come in to help.

However, most franchisors quickly learn that it's not easy to stand out amongst the rest. You have one booth, so you have to know what to do with it--and I don't just mean making it look nice. There are many different tricks you can setup to help you accomplish your goals. In other words, the more you know going into the trade show, the better chance of success.

Josh York, Founder & CEO of GYMGUYZ, says, "Trade shows are amazing for the fact that you're able to showcase your brand to potential franchisees. In addition it allows you to be able to talk one on one in person about the opportunity with someone to purchase a franchise."

How to Make the Most of Your Trade Show Experience as a Franchisor

Each time you attend a trade show you find that it gets less overwhelming because you're more prepared, but it doesn't always get easier. The name of the game seems to be standing out amongst the rest of the franchisors setting up a booth, but this can be tough. You have to walk the fine line of being forward without being annoying, and that can be tough. Consider some of these tips below that might help you feel more confident and help you accomplish your trade show goals:

  • Have the right people in charge of your booth.
This is what is going to make your booth unique and stand out amongst the rest. You want to make sure that whoever you choose is knowledgeable, but believe it or not, someone who is friendly, upbeat, and has a little bit of sales experience is going to be your best option. You want to hook franchisees initially and then send them them to technical experts during a follow-up. After all, people will do business with people they like, so you want someone who is high-energy and feels comfortable talking to strangers on the front lines of this trade show, which is something a lot of first-timers don't get right.
  • Schedule a workshop a few hours before each trade show.

This is an excellent way to really see who is interested in your specific franchise, as well as give you an idea of some goals of the people attending and a few talking points that might be helpful as the day continues.

Greg Marco, Vice President at MFV Expositions says: "You could spend several months trying to contact all of the franchise companies that you will be able to see in one weekend at a Franchise Event. Attending the Franchise Event is the easiest way possible to gather and evaluate information about franchise opportunities. Franchise Events also provide a comprehensive menu of workshops and training sessions about franchising. From buying a franchise to franchising your own business."

It's important to remember that each show has its own vibe and its own audience (whether it's because of the region you're in, the season that's happening, or different values of an area), so you can't just assume that what worked last time is going to work this time. Having a workshop can help you get a feel for the trade show and be more prepared.

  • Have the right materials and ask the right questions.
This is a no-brainer but it needed to be mentioned. You have to be prepared with all of your handouts and answers to different questions.

Asking the right questions is also crucial. One of the biggest mistakes that franchises make at trade shows is being prepared with answers and not with questions. Asking questions to start a conversation with someone is a great way to get the conversation going. You sometimes only have a few seconds to grab someone's interest, so be prepared with questions. Asking 'what industries interest you? Or 'what made you interested in franchise ownership' can help grab their attention.

  • Give you pitch, and then always coordinate follow-ups on the spot.
This includes in-person meet-ups as well as over the phone. Once you give someone your pitch about financial requirements, ask whether or not that is in their range. If so, get their contact information and try to schedule a follow-up right then and there so that there is no confusion or second thoughts once the trade show is over. Even if the potential franchisee doesn't want to make any plans to have a meeting just yet, you still want to follow-up on your own. You want to make sure the follow-up is three or four days after the trade show.

According to Adam Heitzman, managing partner of the Franchise SEO Company HigherVisibility, regularly attends these types of events says, "remember something unique about the person and write it down because this will help make your follow-up more personal and show that you were really paying attention, which will help you stand out amongst your competition. Again, don't just assume that you will remember something--you'd be very surprised just how many people you meet and how much it all blends together at the end of the night or weekend!"

A Few Trade Shows Coming Up in 2014-2015

  • The Midwest Franchise Expo. September 27-28, 2014. Chicago, IL.
  • The West Coast Franchise Expo. October 23-25, 2014. Anaheim, CA.
  • The New York/ New Jersey Franchise Expo. November 15-16, 2014. Secaucus, NJ.
  • Franchise Expo South. February 5-7, 2015. Houston, TX.
  • International Franchise Expo. June 18-20, 2015. New York City, NY.

The Takeaway

Once again, it's important to remember that many people attending these trade shows have researched who is going to be there and have an agenda about what they want to see. This doesn't mean that your booth doesn't have a chance to connect with some of these people; it just means you need to be more creative, forward, and quick. As a franchise owner you need to have your own agenda and set goals for yourself so that you make the