More than 3,000 attended annual convention in Orlando, and the mood was giddy
Ladies and gentlemen, it may be time to celebrate. At least, that was the feeling in Orlando recently when the International Franchise Association held its annual franchise industry conference.
This year’s IFA Conference was the highest attended in history. There are still some grim economic realities and the economy still has a long way to go, but it is clear that the franchise industry is expecting to see growth across all sectors in 2012.
“We’re seeing a lot of new concepts coming on board,” says Jania Bailey, president of FranNet. “That had died down for a few years, but now we’re seeing people venture back out and start franchising concepts.”
Bailey and vice president of operations, Todd Bingham, were at the conference as both attendees and presenters.
Here are some of their takeaways:
• Franchisees have more to spend: “Pockets of bricks and mortar franchises are starting to come back,” Bailey says. “People are starting to be willing to look at the higher priced franchises, not just the under $100,000. There is a lot more confidence driving decisions.”
• Robust online recruiting: “In the past, more people were focused on using the internet and social media to develop their brands, and they’re starting to get pretty good at it,” Bingham said. “Now the conversation is more about how to generate leads — especially quality, qualified leads. Franchisors are starting to move away from Pay-Per-Click and look more toward organic SEO that comes from having a good blog and a good franchise development website. It’s about finding real leads and not just tire-kickers.”
• Financing: “It can still be hard to obtain credit, but it seems to have loosened a little,” Bailey said. “A lot of people are still utilizing 401(k) rollover plans to finance their franchises. You also see some franchisors who have secured financing with institutions that know and are comfortable with their brand.”
• Taking care of your franchisees: “A lot of people compared notes about surviving the recession and the fact that franchises that were only focused on franchise sales took the biggest hit. Franchisors that really focused on unit economics — the health of their franchises — did the best,” Bailey said. “You have to take care of the ones you have if you want to sell more. For those who did best, there was a lot of working with the franchisees and helping them strengthen their local marketing — or coaching, training and mentoring to really help the individual franchisees weather the downturn.”
• Careful selection of technology: “One of the technology talks focused on paying attention to what’s really essential, and keeping things simple,” Bingham said. “Every piece of tech that is introduced, it needs to have a function of making the franchisee’s life easier. Don’t introduce it just to say you’ve introduced something.”
• Impressive speakers: Kat Cole, the new CEO of Cinnabon, was a keynote speaker and talked about the changes the company has made to increase sales. “It can be scary when someone comes on board and starts to make changes to a concept, but it can be important,” Bailey said.
A lot of people also talked about a speech by Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly, who gave his thoughts on the political climate and the November election.
Bailey also called David Novak of Yum Brands “a brilliant speaker.” He talked about the importance of recognizing outstanding performers, as well as getting out of the office and into the field to make sure you’re connecting with franchisees.
• Point of pride: Bailey said there was a lot of discussion about IFA’s VetFran initiative, which seeks to help military veterans become franchise owners. “The IFA is eager to support our returning vets. There are a lot of companies reaching out, and I’m very proud of my industry for trying to do right by our veterans.”
• Knocking on doors: “The convention is a little different for me,” Bingham says, because he approves which franchisors FranNet represents. That makes him a very busy man during IFA conventions — and busier this year than in years past. “More people are trying to build a relationship, which reflects just how much better an environment it is for franchises.”
For more information about FranNet, visit www.frannet.com.