Exhibitions are part and parcel of everyday life for franchisors and franchisees. Somewhere in the UK, at any given time, you can be pretty sure there are people working their way around a large indoor space and seeing if there are any franchise opportunities that take their fancy.”
For franchisors, exhibitions are a great opportunity to recruit new franchisees. But there are no guarantees. In order to achieve their exhibition goals, franchisors have to take many things into consideration.”
First, a franchisor will need to establish what exhibitions work for them. Finding the right franchise exhibition can often be time consuming but doing your homework beforehand can prevent a franchisor investing in an exhibition that doesn’t represent what its brand stands for. Before loosening the purse strings and spending often a few pretty pennies on an exhibition, a little due diligence can go a long way.
Attending an exhibition yourself can give a rough idea of what to expect and can also set the bar for the standard an exhibition stand needs to be in order to capture the crowd’s attention. Polly Smalley, operations manager of Green Square, the renewable energy franchise, attends exhibitions personally to get an idea of footfall and space. “I do this so that before I book a stand I know in my head where we are going to be and what sort of footfall we are going to get,” she reveals.”
Trial and error can also be an effective route to find the right exhibitions for your brand but this method can sometimes prove expensive. “We’ve done a couple of smaller regional ones but they have not been as effective for us,” admits Graham Duckworth, franchise sales director at Driver Hire. It’s often the main exhibitions that give franchises the best exposure but this comes with a higher price tag.
For some franchises, just making its presence known is reason enough to appear at an exhibition. David Banfield, president of The Interface Financial Group regards exhibitions as a great way to make a franchise reputable and well-known amongst other franchisors, recruits and potential clients. “We’ll also look at major events where we can get the opportunity to do what we describe as flag waving,” says Banfield.
Shelling out for an exhibition can be costly for a new franchisor and Banfield advises franshisors to give haggling a shot. “Always negotiate the price. Show organisers say, ‘this is the price: take it or leave it,’ but in reality this isn’t true,” Banfield points out. “There are packages and there are prices so always negotiate the price and look for a package which may include advertising in the show material or on its website.”
Exhibitions don’t always come cheap and, if you want to compete with the big boys, you’ll need to be seen. When haggling a good price with an organiser, bear in mind the best spots to capture the crowds. Often, the earlier you book, the higher the chance you can pick a space.
Some might assume that being placed near the entrance of an event is best but they then run the risk that visitors will bypass the first stalls when venturing into the crowds. Researching the venue yourself beforehand can offer an insight into the busier spots at an event.
“We tend to make sure we have a good sized stand in a prominent location that is normally down the corridor from the main doors,” reveals Duckworth. Driver Hire regularly appears at the main exhibitions and Duckworth advises that getting a good spot every year can be achieved by planning a year in advance to budget for the exhibition.
After booking a space at an exhibition, franchisors need to have all hands on deck to let people know about their exhibition presence. With a wealth of free and low-cost marketing tools at a franchisor’s fingertips, getting the word out to potential franchisees before an exhibition has never been easier.
Heritage Healthcare, the home care franchise, marketing starts 12 weeks before the exhibition. “We do e-shots on a monthly basis and at least three e-shots prior to an exhibition,” says Fenwick. “These e-shots will be announcing that we are attending the exhibition and also what stand we are on, so that it’s a bit easier to find us.” Heritage Healthcare also markets free tickets through its e-shots, another cost-effective marketing tool to drive the footfall to your exhibition stand.”
Tapping into the wealth of potential recruits on a database is arguably the easiest way to entice prospective franchisees and, for Driver Hire, its database will all receive word of any opportunities to meet the faces behind the brand. “We build up a database of everybody that has made an enquiry into Driver Hire before we go to any franchise event and we’ll send quite an attractive HTML-style email to our database just to make them aware that we are going,” explains Duckworth.
Creating a buzz about an exhibition presence on social media platforms both before and during an exhibition can drive people to your stand. “Our marketing executive tweets prior to the exhibition and he tweets continuously while we are at the exhibition,” says Fenwick.”
In an event full of other well-known franchisors, your exhibition needs to stand out and capture the attention of attendees. Green Square brings some of the products that its franchisees will be selling. As a new and unique franchise, its products are its standout. “It’s very important to us that we try and market anything at an exhibition that is unique to us and that sets us aside from the other brands that are there and provide the same type of franchise as us,” says Fenwick.”
Fenwick herself is the only person in the country in the franchise care sector that holds a QFP (Qualified Franchise Professional) qualification. Heritage Healthcare is therefore able to promote this as a unique element of support that it can offer to franchisees.
Heritage Healthcare also maintains that having the franchise directors present to talk to prospective franchisees is essential to allow them to learn more about the brand. More importantly, Fenwick advises that having an existing franchisee present at an exhibition to endorse the franchise is crucial. “Having somebody there that has been successful through your support and through what you have done is very valuable to us as a franchisor and very valuable to those that need to make that decision.”
Driver Hire also finds it useful to have a franchisee present. “We want the franchisee to talk very openly about the good parts of the business and also what can be a challenge,” explains Duckworth. “We try to give people a very rounded view of what running a Driver Hire franchise is like so that they go into it with their eyes wide open.”
Once you have the attention of attendees, engaging with them and capturing the appropriate information is paramount. Banfield advises that using a barcode scanner to scan badges and digitally capture information is the quickest option. However, if this option is unavailable, Banfield highlights that it is essential to have enough staff present at the exhibition to capture information.”
After the exhibition is over, it’s time to communicate with all attendees who provided their information and requested further information about the franchise. Fenwick and her team send information in real time to the marketing team to communicate with potential leads before that person gets home that evening. Being quick off the mark to send over information and thank potential franchisees is essential to Heritage Healthcare. “We feel that puts us ahead of some of the competitors at a franchise exhibition.””
If a franchisor does not put the continued graft in after to support potential franchisees, the hefty investment into an exhibition can be diminished. “You must put the effort in to match the cost because if you don’t put that effort in, your return on that investment isn’t going to be very good,” warns Fenwick. “We have achieved at least one franchisee from every exhibition so it’s definitely worthwhile being there,” she advises. “It is great fun but it is hard work.””