How To Work Franchise Trade Shows

Franchise shows have experienced an exciting rebirth during the past few years. The annual International Franchise Expo in Washington, D.C., as well as regional shows in the U.S. and international expos, have provided a valuable recruiting venue for generating qualified buyers. But not everybody is jumping aboard. Some franchisors confess they aren't interested in trying this successful, revitalized lead source.

Actually, this no longer surprises me. Franchise shows require out-of-town working weekends, and aggressively following up once you're back in the office, in addition to juggling the slew of tasks that piled up while you were gone. It's harder work than sitting at your desk and receiving email or broker leads, and some sales execs don't want to make the effort. But for those of you interested in selling more franchise buyers, shows and seminar events could be a great addition to your marketing plan.

Are you ready to exhibit yet?

Cautionary note! Make sure you are well prepared to exhibit at the show. If not, you can make critical mistakes that cost you sales opportunities. First, attend a show before you participate: walk the aisles, note the better booth designs and props that are attracting attention, observe how sales people approach visitors, ask questions and present their concepts, and how they get interested candidates to complete inquiry forms. Pick up any handout materials to get a sense of what may be appropriate for your business. Check out the that offer samples of their sandwiches, ice cookies, smoothies, and other products. The questions you must answer in advance are: Will it be worthwhile for you to display or distribute some of your products? Should you bring your service van, as some franchisors do?

Every year some restless franchisors pull the trigger too soon, signing up for a trade show without proper preparation. Too often start-up franchises participate before their franchise program is ready to market. Results can be disastrous. It's "show time" for your concept, so make sure you are at your best when you hit the stage. Bad reviews will spread fast.

Pre-market to maximize your results

Focused, targeted marketing efforts in advance of a trade show can generate greater return on your investment of money, time, and resources. Here are some ideas that have proven effective:

  • Invite your database - Send letters or email blasts to all area prospects in your contact management program promoting the show and the opportunity to meet with you. Provide free admission passes for responding, and the invitation to book a personal appointment with you. For those who want appointments, send your Request for Consideration to be returned in advance, which will qualify them to receive your disclosure documents before or at the event.
  • Target list mailings - Some franchisors have enjoyed success through advance mailings to prime prospect groups within the show's metropolitan area. When I was with a direct marketing franchise, we sold master licensees at some events by purchasing magazine lists of local managers, who we knew were ideal prospects. Trade shows became a great platform for recruiting attendees through our mailings, and they produced some great franchisees for us.
  • Contact local brokers - If you work with franchise or business brokers, visit them when you are in town. You may want to invite them and their interested candidates to the event, or meet at your if more appropriate.
  • Push for publicity - If you have a PR agency, have them pitch the local media for interviews before, after, or while you are at the event. The larger franchise shows are newsworthy events frequently covered by local television, newspapers, magazines, radio, and online news clips. Most press have some franchisors already lined up for interviews before they enter the exhibit hall. Get your concept on their lists.

Next month: At the show.

This is an excerpt from my book, "Grow to Greatness: How to build a world-class franchise system faster." Order copies at

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