Your Step-By-Step Guide to Attending a Franchise Trade Show

Explore franchise brands and business opportunities like a pro.

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With several thousand different franchise concepts on the market today, wading into the wide range of concepts and business models can seem like an overwhelming task ⁠— especially for first-time buyers. To get started, you could begin your own internet research and/or seek the counsel of a qualified franchise broker to help navigate the process.

But if you plan to augment your quest by attending a franchise show in person, get ready to experience a whole new level of reality. This will be your chance to get up close and personal with franchise brands and their representatives. To do it right, you'll want to prepare ahead of time to maximize your time on the trade show floor. There are so many concepts and so many choices, but your time allowance is limited — so you'll need to use it wisely.

To attend a franchise expo like a pro, here are five ways for potential franchisees to get the most out of the event.

1. Find the right trade show option

Thanks to the robust schedule of franchising trade shows, chances are there's one coming to a city or town near you. They tend to gravitate towards the major metropolitan areas of the U.S., so it might necessitate a bit of a drive if you live in a more rural area. That being said, you should still be able to review your options for shows that would only require a brief road trip. FranchiseWire has a decent list of franchise expos, conventions and shows for 2022, along with an explanation of the type of exhibitors and attendees. You'll want to attend the prospective franchisee and/or investor-related shows.

Related: Franchise the Unexpected: 4 Franchisors Thinking Ahead

2. Look the part

Attending a franchise convention, trade show or expo is a setting in which you'll want to dress for success. This visit is essentially a two-way street. While you're evaluating the different franchise concepts on the trade show floor, those brand representatives manning the booth will be evaluating you as well. Business casual is strongly recommended, but it's also important to wear some comfortable shoes. You will definitely get your exercise as you make the rounds and explore the exhibitors.

While most trade shows will supply you with a tote bag for storing materials, it's also a good idea to take a light backpack or expandable folder. If you have the means to supply representatives with a current business card, do so. This is how they'll remember to follow up with you once they get back to brand headquarters. Remember, dressy clothes, comfortable shoes, shoulders back, confident gait, speak clearly, shake hands, make eye contact and be as personable as you can. After all, attending a trade show is a bit like a two-way job interview.

3. Cram for the exam

Before attending a trade show, you'll need to cram for your exam. Well, not in the literal sense, but it's good form to study the expo's exhibitor list to preview the trade show floor layout. In addition to the midway-like atmosphere of the convention hall, some shows set aside floor space for meet and greets, as well as deeper conversations. When certain sections of the floor and booths become too crowded for private conversations, you can sometimes find those extra spaces to be a big help. Do your due diligence in researching franchise concepts that appeal to you and be sure to throw in a couple of dark horse options as well. You should also prepare a list of questions that would be relevant across the board ⁠— and perhaps a few specific inquiries for the brands you've circled on your list beforehand. Place these in your notebook, preferably one with a legal pad for taking notes of your own.

Related: 6 Tips to Consider When Searching for a Franchise for the First Time

4. How to work the floor

Arrive early to maximize your time at the trade show. Because you've already spent time working on a plan, you'll save yourself a lot of time. That being said, you should still make it a point to first walk the trade show floor from one end to the other. No stops just yet, this is your opportunity to get acquainted with the layout and size up the brand representatives that you'd like to visit with the next time around.

In a hypothetical situation, you can science out the amount of time you have to spend at a specific booth, but you don't have to be overly rigid about it. Once you begin your inquiries ⁠— while getting a few thrown your way ⁠— if the brand doesn't feel like a fit, you can politely decline and work your way back to the main floor. Be diplomatic, but firm. And never be rude or condescending.

Remember: These brand representatives are likely familiar with one another, and you don't want to pick up a bad rep while the show is still in progress. If you find a certain brand has met your pre-show expectations, make sure to gather their marketing materials to take home with you.

5. Follow up accordingly

Following up is an exercise that's just as important for a franchisor as it is for a prospective franchisee. If a particular brand and its representatives made an impression on you, send them a thank you email and request an introductory call. Let them know what aspects of the franchise business model you find appealing. When you will inevitably receive follow-ups from specific brand representatives, make it a point to send a response that includes your interest level going forward. That way, you can weed out multiple attempts to get your attention.

Attending a trade show can be an enlightening experience. For those prospects who prepare ahead of time, work the floor accordingly and follow up promptly, the next steps in the franchise investigative process will feel like you're making progress towards a life more entrepreneurial.

Related: Exploring a Franchise Opportunity? 5 Key Questions to Ask.

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