In less than a month, the franchising community will converge upon Las Vegas for arguably the most important event of the year: the 55th annual IFA Convention at the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino. With approximately 3,500 anticipated attendees, this event is “the center of the universe” for the franchise industry - as well as an unparalleled opportunity to develop relationships with franchise professionals from all over the world.
If you’re planning to attend the event (and I hope you are), you’ll want to spend some time creating your convention strategy before the trip. With so much to see and do, it’s easy to get caught up in the intensity and miss crucial moments to grow and learn as a franchise professional. Whether you’re attending as a franchisor, franchisee or supplier, here are some tips to help maximize your time at the event.
For the Franchisor
Your primary opportunity is to meet other franchisors who have been in your shoes and have dealt with many of the same issues you’re currently facing. Generally speaking, these franchisors are happy to share their experiences with you, as you won’t be seen as a direct competitor. This lends itself to a noncompetitive environment of open sharing that is unusual to most industries.
These fellow franchisors may be anywhere - sitting next to you at a seminar, at your lunch table or standing next to you in the elevator. Never miss an opportunity to introduce yourself and you’ll be surprised who you meet - as well as how willing they are to talk business with you.
The convention is also a great opportunity to learn more about franchising, including the issues and challenges the industry is currently facing. From top-notch speakers to roundtables and exhibitors, make it a point to participate in as many IFA events as possible during your trip. Not only will you learn a lot, but you’ll drastically improve your networking opportunities, as well.
For the Franchisee
Typically, the franchisees that come to the IFA Convention are larger and more sophisticated, including many multi-unit owners and leaders in their systems. Often, they are there to learn and share ideas, as well as to look for new deals - again, the willingness to share is there. Talk to these fellow franchisees and share real world experiences about the business you are in: share about your system and brand, the types of systems or technology you’re using, and the management issues you’re each dealing with. For you, The IFA Convention provides a great opportunity to learn best practices - both by networking with other franchisees and through the educational opportunities the convention provides.
You’ll find a full list of seminars, workshops and other educational events in the convention brochure. Make sure to preview it in advance so you know which events will best meet your needs.
For the Supplier
As a supplier, your primary goal for the convention is to promote and sell your products and services, as well as to build deeper and better relationships with both existing customers and prospective new customers. If this is one of your first years at the convention, keep in mind that the IFA is a commitment and attendees want to see you back year after year to ensure you’re committed to the franchise industry. Take this opportunity to learn all you can about franchising, as well as the business realities and challenges that face your customers. The more you know, the more valuable you’ll become.
Don’t forget to take time to get to know your competitors, as well. With 250+ other suppliers in the exhibitor hall, you can bet there is at least one other supplier who is offering similar or comparable products or services as you. And if there’s not, there likely will be next year. Learn how you can compare and contrast your offering with others that might be perceived as competitive - by knowing the landscape and context of the industry, you might find a strategic deal or channel partner.
Other tips to keep in mind:
- If this is your first time attending the IFA Convention, make sure you receive a copy of the brochure. If you don’t automatically receive one, you may request a copy from the International Franchise Association or download one from the IFA website. Use this brochure to PLAN your sessions in advance - the meeting rooms often fill up fast and latecomers might not get a seat!
- Most of the IFA committee meetings are open to anyone who would like to attend - only a few are limited or closed. Select a few committee meetings that interest you so you can listen, ask questions and contribute your ideas. It’s a great way to meet new people and learn more about the IFA and the people involved in the organization - they are the ones to really connect with.
- Reach out to the IFA leaders of the franchisor forum, franchisee forum or supplier forum and ask to meet with them during your trip. Members of the IFA board of directors are also open to networking opportunities. After all, IFA staff members are professionals and want to help you, too - ask for the help and get connected!
- Bring a stack of business cards to hand out during the event so you can follow up and nurture those new relationships after the event. It’s also useful to download the IFA event app to your phone - it’s easy to use and can help with follow up after the sessions are over.
Lastly, don’t forget that the convention is about more than business, it’s about having fun! The convention attracts business owners, founders, corporate executives, entrepreneurs and other professionals who like to have a good time together and share their success. By attending the receptions and dinner events, you’ll open yourself up to building those lasting personal and professional relationships.
With so much to see and do, the IFA Convention can be intense, but it’s in your best interest to pay attention, take notes and try to connect with others as much as possible. It may take some commitment, but the relationships you make - and the information you learn - will change your game in the franchise world.
John Francis is a consultant, strategic advisor and keynote speaker who helps franchise organizations “see what they don’t see” and achieve their highest levels of success. In his 25+ year career, John has worked as a franchisee, franchisor, investor and Board Member for brands and organizations such as Cost Cutters, PostNet, Sport Clips, Office Pride and the International Franchise Association (IFA). To learn more about John, visit www.johnwfrancis.com.
Copyright © 2015 by John Francis. All rights reserved