With franchise shows taking place nationwide, aspiring business owners have plenty of opportunities to do their due diligence. Also known as “expos,” these events allow attendees to engage with franchisors, receive answers to their most pressing questions, and collect valuable information that will aid them in the evaluation process.
For first-time participants, the idea of navigating through hundreds of booths on a trade show floor might seem overwhelming. However, proper preparation, a little self-awareness, and an open mind can help potential franchisees ensure that they’ll leave with much more than a stash of promotional “freebies.”
Few people understand how beneficial a sound strategy can be to the franchise show experience than Tom Portesy. As President and CEO of MFV Expositions, Tom and his team produce premier franchise gatherings in major cities across the globe, including the International Franchise Expo, Franchise Expo South, and the most recent West Coast Franchise Expo. I sat down with Tom to come up with top-notch suggestions that will prepare both first-time and seasoned attendees alike for a productive expo experience.
Keep an Open Mind
Whether you already have an idea about what company or industry you’re interested in or you’re just curious – remain open to as many concepts as possible. Show exhibitors are not there to “sell” to you, so you’re free to explore as many concepts as you like to find the right fit for you. Your final decision might surprise you in the end.
“Most people who end up buying a franchise wind up buying in an industry that wasn’t on their radar prior to attending a show,” says Portesy. “There are people who own sign shops and pet stores who didn’t wake up that morning and say, ‘You know? I think I want to get into the pet supply store business’ or ‘I really feel like making signs.’”
Look out for learning opportunities
Expos offer attendees a multiple of opportunities to learn valuable insights about the franchise space. Seminars and symposia hosted by industry experts speaking on financing, marketing, and more are often available free of charge throughout the weekend. Additionally, many organizations will host exhibits solely for knowledge seekers, including the Small Business Administration, franchise lawyers, and SCORE.
“Know before you go”
Be sure to check online for a list of exhibitors prior to the event and take note of company representatives you’d be interested in meeting. Contact information is often available, as well – giving you an opportunity to reach out and connect beforehand or schedule an appointment for the day of the event.
Portesy also recommends thinking deeply about what kinds of industries you’d be passionate about entering, as well as how much you’re willing to invest. Will you pay in cash? Will you pursue financing options? A little self-awareness can go a long way in helping you craft the perfect game plan for the weekend.
Franchise vs. business opportunities
Particularly, at some smaller shows, representatives from other business modes might be present, as well. Know the difference between a “franchise” opportunity” and a “business” or “multi-level” marketing opportunity. Asking representatives simple questions about their organizational structure, standards, and FDD – if applicable – can help you sort through these options if you’re set on finding a franchise system.
Talk, talk, talk
Make sure you have a list of thoughtful questions – both company-specific and general – to ask representatives at a franchise show, many of whom are senior leaders who can give you a thorough perspective on how the system partners with its franchisees.
“When you go into business with a franchise, you’re going to be working very closely with the organization for many years to come, so it’s important to get a good feel for the senior executives who are present and how comfortable you’d feel in dealing with them,” Portesy added.
While surfing the Internet might allow you to look at a multitude of opportunities, web research is just the first step in what should be a thorough evaluation process. Attending a franchise show, if you’re able, grants you a unique opportunity to ask your questions, talk to the principals of the business, and see how concepts work. Keeping the above strategies in mind will give you a headstart on selecting the best franchise for you.