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Attending Franchise Trade Shows

Franchise trade shows are a great source of information as you consider which brands to invest in. At these shows, which take place all over the country throughout the year, you can kick the tires, taste the food, and handle the products. Most important, perhaps, you can meet live representatives from dozens, or even hundreds of brands, depending on the size of the show.

Whether national, regional, or local, these shows offer a golden opportunity to ask questions - not only with franchise sales representatives, but often with franchisees as well. Most shows also provide educational seminars and sessions where you can meet franchise experts and specialists. You can also learn a lot from other entrepreneurs seeking the right brand for themselves and compare notes, impressions, hopes, and fears.

IFA Annual Convention - In terms of sheer size and scope, the biggest show is the International Franchise Association's (IFA) annual convention. IFA shows generally offer sessions such as The A to Z's of Buying a Franchise; How To Franchise Your Business; Financing Your Franchise; Opportunities in Franchising for Minorities & Women; and Franchising for Veterans 101. Other shows sponsored by the IFA include:

  • International Franchise Expo (IFE) - Also endorsed by the U.S. Department of Commerce, this annual show is held in April in Washington, D.C.

  • West Coast Franchise Expo - This annual October event draws more than 200 franchise brands from more than a dozen states in the West and offers a complete conference program.

  • Franchise Expo South - Hundreds of franchisors attend to showcase their brands. This show draws both attendees and exhibitors from Latin America and the Caribbean.

  • Franchise & Financing Expo - These are held at different times of the year across the country, sponsored by the IFA, the SBA, and local Chambers of Commerce. Sites include Arizona, Atlanta, Boston, Central Virginia, and North Texas. As the name indicates, these shows are an opportunity to learn about financing and meet lenders face to face.

  • Franchise Opportunities Seminars for Women and Minorities - Conducted by the IFA's Diversity Institute, these one-day events, held in cities across the country, seek to introduce franchising as an economic development tool. They are held in cooperation with Congressional representatives, mayors, local governments, the Urban League, the SBA, Small Business Development Centers, the Minority Business Development Agency, and other partners. They include franchisor exhibits and seminars on franchising fundamentals, legal aspects, financing, funding, and technical assistance. For a list of cities and dates visit the IFA's website.

Further information on many of these events can be found at the IFA website and at www.mfvexpo.com, which produces most of these shows.

How to get the most from these shows

1. Before you attend - Go online and/or phone the sponsoring group to get a list of the franchise companies exhibiting. Choose the brands you want to learn about in advance, and research them online before the show. Don't lock in on your selected brands to the exclusion of new opportunities that may catch your attention once you arrive.

2. At the show - Once inside, stop in at the booths of the brands you have chosen. Bring a list of your three to five most important questions and try to get some one-on-one time with the brand's representatives. Take notes; lots happens at these shows, and you can review your notes - as well as franchisors' printed and digital material home - when you get home.Get business cards from the people you meet, and leave your card or contact information with the brands you like. Try to get a sense of the culture of the brand from the reps you meet, and how they respond to your questions.

3. After the show - Review the materials you have collected, sort out your impressions, comparing your experience to your expectations. See who contacts you first--quick follow-up usually is an indicator of a franchise organization that has its act together--and of how they will treat you later if you sign with them.

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