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8 Steps to Mastering a Franchise Expo

Participants at a franchise fair can evaluate numerous franchise options

Franchising is one route to owning your own business.  Rather than starting out completely on your own, franchising allows you to leverage an existing brand name. The franchisee (you) buys the right to sell a product or a service from the franchisor and depending on terms of the franchise, the franchisor may provide everything necessary for starting and running the business: trade names, products, operating procedures, quality assurance standards, management consulting support, and facility design.

Picking the right franchise is essential to success and attending a franchise fair is one way to jump-start on the process. However, just as business success hinges on initial preparation and planning, so does attending a franchise fair.  Don’t just show up and stroll from booth to booth. Walk into the exhibit hall with a definite plan and goals in mind.  Here are eight steps that you should take so that you don’t come away with only a bag full of candy, pens, and keychain flashlights.

Before the Expo

Define the type of franchise that interests you.  This is the time for day-dreaming, followed by a reality check.  You will be investing considerable time, money and effort into the endeavor, so it needs to be the type of business that excites you. For some, that means owning a health and fitness franchise; others will find fast food appealing.  While it’s wise to be aware of trends in business, such as “going green” or home health care, don’t try to cash in on a trend that does not capture your enthusiasm. Many websites, such as franchise.com, franchising.com, and Blue MauMau, provide lists of available franchises to help you see what is available that interest you. When you find an opportunity that intrigues you, go to the company’s website to get more details.

Determine your investment readiness.  Are you looking to purchase a franchise this week, this year or maybe sometime in the future? How much are you willing to invest initially?  Any franchisor will be vitally interested in the answer to these questions. Knowing your time frame and financial boundaries will enable you to engage in productive conversations with prospective franchisors.

Select an event with many franchisors in attendance.  One of the nation’s largest, the International Franchise Expo takes place in New York City. This year it will be held June 16-18, 2016. Inconvenient time? Too far away? You can find other events at franchise.com or by searching online for events in your area. Whenever possible, check out the expo website to determine which franchisors will be there.  Match the vendors to your interests and business skills and experience.  This will provide your initial exhibit day road map.

Develop your questions.  Be ready to speak with the individuals who are manning the booth.  View this as an interview, not merely a chance to stock up on free pens and stress balls.  Have a short list of questions that you will ask each of prospects. Questions may include: the initial investment and on-going payments required; the degree of support and training provided new franchisees; ongoing support—such as inventory management software and adverting; the range of products offered; locations that are available; the franchisee’s obligation to participate in the business; how much are current franchisees earning; how many franchisees are in business 5 years after opening; what’s the biggest reason for a franchise failing and what makes a franchisee successful.  Make sure to have a way of recording the answers—whether pen & paper or a smart device.

During the Expo

Dress for success. Yes, that’s a trite phrase. But, like it or not, first impressions can make a significant difference.  A franchise fair is similar to a job fair: Both parties are sizing each other up to determine the odds of a potential match.  In the case of the franchise fair, the franchisors are interested in prospects who will successfully represent their brand and generate profits.  But, remember, the “dress for success” works both ways—the presentation of the booth and the attitudes and knowledge of those staffing it can speak volumes about the organization itself.

Plan your exhibit floor strategy.  Once you arrive at the event, don’t just grab the program and start walking. Instead, take some time to locate those vendors that you identified in your initial research. Then, scan the list to see if there are others that are worth investigating.  Once you have your route mapped out, move from booth to booth, sizing up the booth presentation and personnel, collecting information, asking your prepared questions and listening for the advantages and disadvantages of each opportunity. While it’s important to have a game plan, be alert for a company that you may not have considered, but which looks to be a good fit for you.

Take advantage of seminars. Most events have educational seminars offered throughout the day. As you map out your route through the exhibit hall, take a moment to note the times of the seminars that interest you.  For those just getting started in franchising, these seminars can provide valuable information. In the same spirit, collect information from service providers, such attorneys, accountants or tax firms that are exhibiting. There are not many opportunities to get free legal and accounting advice, so capitalize on this one.

After the Expo

Consolidate what you learned.  After arriving home from the event, take the time to review your notes and the literature that you collected. It’s probable that you will have eliminated a few of your original prospects, confirmed your interest in several others, and added a few new companies into the mix. As soon as possible after the event, schedule follow-up meetings to learn more about those franchisors that are still in contention. And, congratulate yourself on a successful day.

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