Franchise Expos are Dead! Or are They?

Franchise Expos are Dead! Or are They?

Over the past few years, the idea seems to have taken hold among franchisors the world over that franchise exhibitions are a relic of the past. Their argument was that with people becoming increasingly internet-savvy, a slick web presence is all that’s needed to attract quality prospects. It now appears that this was a classic case of “pouring out the baby with the bath water” if there ever was one. Kurt Illetschko examines the expo scene and provides guidance on how to optimise results.

What went wrong?

There is no denying the fact that for several years in the recent past, franchise expos have taken a knock. In fact, the combination of declining exhibitor numbers and reduced visitor numbers became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Citing dropping visitor numbers, exhibitors declared expos dead and stayed away. This caused disappointment among visitors who didn’t find the brands they wanted to interact with and set a seemingly irreversible downward spiral into motion. Fortunately, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

While many in the expo sector prepared for extinction, a handful of forward-thinking companies had the sense to commission research into the problem. It did not take long for some hard-hitting realities to emerge.

Internet enemy no. 1?

Not by a long shot. Research undertaken in the USA and Germany, both countries with a strong franchise sector, revealed that the internet does in fact play a very important role in informing potential prospects about available opportunities. However, it does not replace the need for face-to-face interaction with representatives of pre-selected brands.

After an initial internet search, prospects want personal interaction. A database of canned Q and A type questions cannot satisfy this need. Prospects want a real person to allay their concerns and reassure them that them joining the brand will result in a match made in heaven. And what better place for prospects to meet with several brand representatives under one roof than a franchise expo?

This finding offers a valuable lesson for franchisors wishing to expand their networks. The internet is not replacing expos, it supplements them. Prospects look up brands they are interested in and create a shortlist before entering into face-to-face discussions with franchisor representatives. At this stage, they already have some idea of what fits into their framework of interests and financial capabilities, thus reducing the number of timewasters considerably.

How to optimise expo results

Why is it then that many exhibitors are disappointed with the results of participating in franchise expos? In my view, far too many exhibitors fail to do their homework properly. Granted, most exhibitors prepare for the exhibition well enough. Their stand is OK but once the exhibition is in full swing they quickly run out of steam. Some examples include:

Pre-expo marketing

Some exhibitors seem to believe that this is the organiser’s job but they are wrong. It is the organiser’s job to attract visitors to the expo, not to direct them to your stand. It follows that every exhibitor should do its own marketing. For example,

Announce participation in the forthcoming exhibition on their websites and on social media;

Send VIP invitations to prospects who have expressed interest in the past;

Mention participation in all advertising and brand-building campaigns;

Put up signs with the same message at all stores;

Write brief articles for the FASA newsletter and other media, informing potential visitors what they can expect to find on their stand.

The list goes on…

Focussing on the opportunity

It never ceases to amaze me how some franchisors, after having spent a considerable amount of money on the expo package, forget the purpose of expo participation. Some can’t take their eyes off their smart phones, others attend general business meetings, leaving the stand in the hands of inexperienced juniors, etc. Not to mention the absolute no-no of eating or drinking on the stand.

The above-mentioned actions have one thing in common. They signal to visitors that the exhibitor considers something else to be of far more importance than talking to them.

Record-keeping and follow-up

Keeping detailed records of potential prospects to the expo stand is a must BUT it becomes pointless if follow-up is lacking. Research in the USA revealed that over 80% of leads generated at expos are followed up half-heartedly or not at all.

What usually happens is that after the expo, members of the expo team are exhausted. As soon as they have recovered and drag themselves back to work, they are greeted by a mountain of unattended emails, queries and administrative tasks. This keeps them busy for weeks to come and by then, prospects have become stale.

The answer? Treat follow-up as part of the expo preparations. Assign this task to one individual and isolate him/her from the usual daily pressures. The results will amaze you.

Opportunity beckons

The 2018 International Franchise Expo (IFE) will take place from the 29th of June to the 1st of July 2018. Last year’s event attracted over 5,000 visitors and FASA expects this year’s numbers to be even better. But it isn’t just about numbers, it’s quality that counts. The IFE delivers on this aspect as well. Several of last year’s exhibitors signed up two or three new franchisees within 30 days after the expo ended.  And these were brands that required a substantial investment.

If you want to expand the footprint of your franchise or sound business opportunity, the IFE 2018 is the place to be.  For more information visit IFE at http://ife.co.za/.  Book your stand now – FASA members receive 35% discount on the cost of stands – click here  http://ife.co.za/exhibitor-information/.  Contact Martha Mashele on 011 615 0359 or email martha.mashele@fasa.co.za

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