Want to make the most of a franchise show? Follow this expert advice from Nicky Morgan, franchise services manager for Riverford Organic
Nicky Morgan is the franchise services manager for the organic food delivery franchise Riverford Organic. The company has attended dozens of franchise shows over the last 10 years, both as a way of raising brand awareness and recruiting high calibre franchisees. Nicky believes franchise shows are a powerful vetting device for both franchisors and potential franchisees alike.
She says: “There’s only so much you can learn about a brand from magazines, websites and brochures. At some point the buyer needs to meet the seller to decide if there’s a good fit, and vice versa. Shows are a great place to do that. When potential franchisees come to our stand, they get to meet our team, meet some existing franchisees and find out what’s involved in running a Riverford Organic franchise. Most importantly, they’ll get honest answers to their questions - however silly they may think they are.
“For us it’s an important time to assess and ask qualifying questions to find out if the person visiting us is a good fit. It’s never just a case of the money. Sometimes we may have two or three people after the same territory and we will always choose the candidate with the most promise - those who are ready to take ownership of a territory, increase its turnover and profit, and be true Riverford brand ambassadors.”
Getting the best out of a show
“Firstly, sit down and think about your strengths and weaknesses. Even though you’re buying a tried and tested system, a franchise doesn’t run itself. It still needs people with passion and commitment to make it work and make it profitable. So before attending an exhibition you should think about what sector is most suited to your existing skill set and most aligned with your aspirations.
“Some of our current franchisees started their business with a purely commercial attitude, while others were looking for more of a lifestyle and ethical change. There are no hard and fast rules as to who the right person is, but you should have a passion for the products, services and ethos of the brand you partner with.
“For serious investors, it’s important to have done some research before attending an exhibition about who will be there. You will be wasting your time if you visit companies you do not have an affinity with. There are hundreds of franchised businesses, so having a targeted approach at a show is vital, otherwise you could get bogged down with the sheer volume of opportunities.
“The better you’ve thought about what you want to get out of a show before you go, the more beneficial it will be. Of course, if you’re at the very early stages of thinking about buying a franchise, there’s no harm in walking around and browsing, but at some point you’ll need to get more focused. Ultimately, you’re looking at buying a business. It’s a serious thing. You’ll want it to work and so will the franchisor.”
A seminar or three
“Another thing to think about before attending an exhibition is what seminars are taking place and to select ones that will plug any gaps in your knowledge. Most exhibitions go on for at least two days, so there’s plenty of time to get around to everyone you need to see, while still making time for educational sessions.
“Knowing what franchising is and how it works is as important as knowing what brands you like. You’ll need to understand legal issues specific to the industry such as franchise agreements, what constitutes a territory, the franchisor/franchisee relationship and more. Most of these things are covered in Q&A sessions at shows and the panellists are usually experienced and knowledgeable individuals. My advice is to attend a session where you can hear a franchisee speaking, because their experiences will be most relevant to you as a prospective franchisee.”
Have a strategy
“Buying a business that is going to sustain you for five years or more is a big step. It needs to work for you financially. Franchise exhibitions are excellent places to seek free preliminary legal advice and talk to various banks about funding options. Most franchisors have well-established relationships with potential lenders, which is a key benefit of franchising over starting a business independently.
“A start-up may struggle to attract funding, especially in the current economic climate, because it has no proven track record. However, an established brand can provide new franchisees with the leverage and support they need to persuade the banks to lend. Exhibitions are a great place to start the funding dialogue and meet the lenders, who should be aware of the franchise you are interested in.”
Check your feelings
“It’s important to make a mental note of how you feel about the people you meet, because that’s as important as what they’re offering. It’s not like you’re buying a car and driving it away. Once you become a franchisee, you will continue to have a close, ongoing relationship with the people you buy the business from.
“Once you sign a franchise agreement, you are legally contracted to your franchisor (and vice versa), which is why it helps to have a good rapport from the start. Exhibitions are good places to gauge how people already working in and around the business feel about it, from both a business and personal point of view. Check to see whether the company has a corporate culture. Is it laid back and friendly? Is it stiff? If there seems to be a disconnect between brand image and staff attitude, make a note of it.
“Ultimately, decide what you want and make sure the fit is right for you. It’s much better to experience a short term disappointment than a long term business disaster. And if you like what you see and want to find out more, the franchisor may suggest attending an open day, visiting head office or shadowing a franchisee for half a day to see what it’s like at the coalface.”
Exhibition winning smile
“It’s important to remember that, when you visit a franchisor’s stand, you’re not just a buyer, you’re a seller. Most reputable franchise operations don’t just take somebody on because they have the right amount of money to invest. There will be a thorough recruitment process to ensure the candidate is right for the brand and will make the best of the business opportunity. It will also help your early relationship with the franchisor if they can see you’ve done your homework and know at least a little bit about their business.
“Franchisors want people who are enthusiastic and who will be an asset to the brand as a whole, helping the company to develop and grow nationally. This is worth bearing in mind when meeting them face to face on the stand. Be positive, show genuine interest and convince the franchisor you want to be a part of their business.Above all, remember that a simple smile goes a long way.”