When the extraordinary seems ordinary, it’s a reason to toast
Dateline: Las Vegas
When reporting on the international features of the International Franchise Association’s annual convention, I’ve commented on how remarkable it is that a gathering that for years was almost entirely domestic in nature has taken on an international, or cross-border, flavor. The 57th annual convention—one of the largest ever held— was most assuredly no exception.
But what is remarkable is how we now take it for granted.
Yes, the sheer numbers are stunning: 360 attendees from outside of the United States, hailing from 41 different countries, which are listed below courtesy of the IFA
Both numbers are a record high for any convention which does not also host a meeting of the World Franchise Council, an event that automatically raises those levels.
Sufficient numbers of attendees from some countries (Australia, Brazil, Finland, Japan, the Philippines, Sweden and the United Kingdom) that structured “delegations” were formed.
A large number of representatives of the U.S. Commercial Service, that group which does so much to assist franchisors as they enter a new country—many of them traveling from their own home countries: Austria, Brazil, China, India, Mexico.
And what was happening to attract so many to our shores, and our convention? Before the formal convention was ever gaveled to order, a full half-day of an International Summit, with the level of interest by the early arrivals such that it was broken into two tracks: one for those considering or new to the international arena (selecting and prioritizing countries; identifying the optimum method of expansion for your goals and needs); and another for those more advanced (international training and support; the benefits and challenges of more complex arrangements, such as master franchising).
Threaded throughout the entire convention were programs taught by world-class experts on features of franchising of special interest to those entering other countries. (These included: Labor Issues and Unit Economics: Learning from Across Borders; Adapting Your Concept; programs focusing on Canada, Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa and other markets).
Notable this year were the number of panels and discussions woven into franchising’s larger issues: How the concern over joint employer is playing out on the international stage; what’s happening in the social franchising sector, a field heavily international in nature; the numerous graduates of the Certified Franchise Executive program who came from their home countries to receive their diplomas; an examination of the other side of the coin: “Riding the Latino Boom Wave”).
And, of course, some features which are looked forward to and welcomed: a festive International Reception, and an invaluable International Lounge. For many attendees these are the venues where the most promising cross-border transactions are initiated and advanced, and where handshakes and toasts were frequently in evidence.
Lest anyone think the business cards are now to be stashed away until the 58th convention, note what’s coming up: the International Franchise Association/British Franchise Association/European Franchise Federation International Symposium in London; the numerous such events in other countries; the International Franchise Legal Symposium in Washington; and the heavily international International Franchise Expo in New York.
What’s “extraordinary” is how “ordinary” it has become. It is now routinely accepted that cross-border expansion is a crucial component in the plans of every major company, and those of a rapidly growing number of smaller and newer companies. That is the case not only with U.S.-based companies, but with those in many other countries as well. The convention thus simply reflects reality.
The question in the minds of many in Las Vegas as the convention closed was: How long will it be before a critical mass of non-U.S. franchisors view this annual convention as the “must attend” event to advance their own plans to enter that daunting but beckoning market, the United States itself?
Philip Zeidman is a partner in DLA Piper’s Washington, D.C., office. Reach him at 202.799.4272 or firstname.lastname@example.org.