Taking your franchise brand to an exhibition provides a unique forum from which to promote your opportunity and find excellent franchisees.
For that reason, and to some extent because the process also incurs costs, it is never enough to settle for a neutral encounter where your brand image is merely ranked alongside that of its rivals.
Success is generally the result of careful preparation in two key areas: confidently answering the range of questions prospective franchisees will ask, and presenting your franchise in a way which will particularly appeal to the type of investors you wish to attract.
Advertise in advance
Before the event, do as much as you can to ensure that the right sort of people will turn up.
Seasoned PR & Marketing Consultant Norman Grossman, whose clients include the highly successful cost management franchise, Auditel, strongly advocates the importance of advance publicity,
'Before the exhibition, add the event to your own website and ask rented websites to do the same on your profile page. Circulate a news release to go to rented websites and magazines and add to your own website blog. Notify the event on your existing database and provide a link to the show website so that tickets may be ordered.'
Prepare and predict
Your aspiring candidates are likely to be well informed, eager to research and sample a range of franchise options, and keen to hear your answers to questions such as:
- What is the total investment required?
- Does the deal include sources of financing?
- What are the anticipated earnings?
- Is this a full-time working commitment, or is remote ownership acceptable?
- What is the timescale from the moment I commit to an operational franchise?
- At what point will the operation move into profit and produce a positive cash flow?
- How happy are your existing franchise operators?
- Can you outline the projected growth strategy for the franchise as a whole?
- Does this franchise opportunity include a protected territory?
- What is the potential for multi-unit holdings?
Being able to answer such questions quickly and informatively will certainly create a favourable impression.
In explaining the franchise benefits, your responses should show a clear understanding of the potential franchisee’s perspective; the ability to customise the franchise information to reflect the individual concerns of each interested candidate will strongly influence the likelihood of a positive outcome.
Be sharp and simple
Nigel Toplis, a Franchise expo veteran and Managing Director of the award winning Bardon Group, has plenty of advice for franchisors seeking to attract and engage would-be franchisees attending exhibitions:
‘Remember the vast proportion of attendees at shows are there to get ideas, pick up information and find out more – very few are at the stage of making a decision. You and your stand are key to attracting attention. I’m a great believer in ‘less is more’. Most people are walking, not standing, around - so you need to catch their attention quickly. Make the stand bright with only one or two messages and ensure staff are well turned out…wearing a uniform and/or badges.’
Toplis advocates ‘bold branding and sharp concise messages’ and relaying positives such as ‘multiple income streams’, any awards and ‘excellent and reputed on-going support’.
Grossman agrees that reasonably brief exchanges and a blend of clarity and confidence are key, adding:
'Some franchisors include videos or presentations but they can get in the way of a one-to-one meeting. Have very simple but elegant banners to set the scene, (and) take staff who are thoroughly familiar with the franchise and what it offers, so that conversations flow easily! With so many visitors coming on the stand, keep the conversation simple and short: “What are you looking for?” “This is what we do. Come to one of our discovery seminars to find out more.” And always send out literature on the same day to prospects.'
A simple uncluttered fact sheet will help to summarise and reinforce the core elements of the franchise opportunity, supply answers to the most common questions, and provide a means of ensuring your essential messages are given due prominence.
Furnishing some information in advance can also free up time for a useful and far more valuable two-way conversation.
For interested attendees with real potential and a desire to move forward, a carefully prepared, factual prospectus or franchise disclosure document with substantive financial projections will do much to promote confidence between potential partners.
Such information is a legal requirement in many countries beyond the UK, and helps candidates to understand financial trajectories and thus formulate a practical business plan.
Bring brand champions
For potential candidates, the opportunity to discuss the franchise scheme with a successful franchisee is usually the ultimate brand endorsement.
Hearing the real life experience of a fellow entrepreneur who has already made the journey can add the kind of authentication which even the most professional presentations cannot match.
Similarly, if your company scheme has major strengths, such as training or mentor support, key staff from those sectors who are involved in the implementation of such programmes are also likely to prove your most effective and convincing ambassadors.
There is always a delicate balance to be struck between a sale and a selection process, and pitching this correctly is vital for maintaining brand integrity. Certified Franchise Executive, Anthony Padulo, observes:
'Candidates should feel that they are trying to sell themselves as you are courting them to join your franchise.'
Alex Waite, of Dream Doors kitchen refurbishment franchise agrees that a more considered approach is the best way to find the right franchisee,
‘It certainly pays to stand out, but we've never been a company that just grabs people! We want to meet serious and like-minded investors who want to be part of our brand. Most of those people have done their research before even coming to the exhibition. Our approach is more subtle than some franchisors, who employ actors, dress their staff up in costumes, or even use scantily clad women to hand out flyers!’
Set the tone carefully, avoid overselling your brand, and make all potential franchisees aware you plan to select only the best candidates to join an elite franchise.
Remember, successfully exhibiting your franchise can never be left to chance. Achieving the franchise-sales outcome you seek requires detailed planning, a nuanced sales pitch, and a targeted follow up to convert gold-standard prospects into substantial franchise development.