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Great American Expo keeping it (virtually) real


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Trying out virtual reality at The Dog Stop booth.

If a picture’s worth a thousand words, videos showing more than 100 franchises inside and out may be priceless, according to Nick Neonakis—or at least worth the cost of a six-figure investment his new company has made in a virtual reality platform.

He’s the founder of Franchise Consulting Co. and a new trade show firm, The Great American Franchise Expo, which held its first show in March in Boston. Visitors to the show, or clients of the company’s consultants, can put on a virtual reality headset and get a feel for what a day in the life is like when operating as many as 100 franchises and counting.

“With the virtual reality, we can help people visualize businesses, and not just the outside,” he said. “We can show them, this is what your life would look like. We process so much faster and so much more completely visually than we do with words.”

Neonakis is best known as the author of “The Franchise MBA: Mastering the Four Essential Steps to Owning a Franchise.” Over many years in franchising, including 10 years as a senior executive, he’s talked with thousands of people about how to select a franchise and then how to successfully operate one.

About a year ago, he decided to invest in a virtual reality platform and then send out videographers with VR rigs to produce video for more than 100 franchise clients.

“Definitely it was a big investment, in hardware and software and people costs,” he said, not to mention finding venues to hold his expos that have “really fast internet connections” to stream all that video. “Luckily, all the good venues around the country have this ability.”

For now, at least, he views the technology as a competitive advantage for his expo and for his consulting company. “For how long, I don’t know,” he said. “I always think of Moore’s law, things become cheaper, better and faster. Certainly I believe we’ve planted our flag with technology, and we don’t anticipate stopping our investments,” he said. “With the Great American Franchise Expo, all of the franchisors that sign up, we will send our photographers” to add them to the mix.

Nick Neonakis

Nick Neonakis, author of “The Franchise MBA.”

I wanted to try it, so Neonakis immediately shipped me a box of three virtual reality headsets, then set an appointment with Aditya Rengaswamy, a very patient and friendly consultant with Franchise Consulting Co.

He wanted to show me some “really cool shots” inside a cycling studio. “You can see the bikes with mood lighting. One is from the perspective of the seat,” he said, but alas there were technical difficulties and I had to revert to looking at the images on my computer screen. (This possibly was my fault, not his, as I am technically challenged.)

“The beauty of this kind of platform, I’m able to give them an idea” of what a franchise is like. “I can walk through multiple brands and be fully immersed” when using the VR headset, he said.  

He’s been working with franchise clients for about a year. “The biggest thing I’ve noticed is they just get it better,” when they can see as well as hear about a franchise.

Neonakis, a Greek immigrant who calls himself “proof of the American dream,” is a big believer in the power of franchising. “I think of franchising as a connection between great entrepreneurs who have ideas and local individuals who want to make a difference,” he said.

All of his advice for prospective operators—and it’s extensive, in both written and spoken form—could be said to boil down to this: “Go walk a day in the shoes of a franchisee,” he said, and with virtual reality, that task becomes a bit easier.

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