Getting to a Franchise Trade Mission is Half the Fun
The flight from the United States’ Midwest to Amsterdam consumed eight nighttime hours. Even in coach, it was somewhat relaxing, although in my wisdom to get a seat near the restroom, I chose one that didn’t recline. But once I boarded the day flight in Amsterdam to continue on to New Delhi, the first stop in the franchise trade mission to India, the temperament changed.
Instead of businessmen and women and older couples, the plane was now filled with extended family headed home. Children weren’t afraid to make their presence known and hung over the back of seats to talk to their grandparents in the row behind them. It was a nice energy, except perhaps for the one child screaming “ma maw” all through the night, and the passenger in the B seat who bullyragged me into stepping into the aisle while we were still taxiing so he could head back to the restroom. (I am a rule-follower and did not like the whole plane watching me slink back into my seat, as the captain demanded the man in the red jacket sit down.)
Five years ago when I tool a similar flight to India, I was greeted at the airport by intense heat and what seemed like every person in India. Dozens of persistent men wanted to help me with my luggage or find me a cab. But arriving at the luggage carrousel at 2 a.m., holds down the crowds. The only masses I saw were lined up at the money exchange booth (later Michael Kim of Bonchon told me he waited in line for three hours to get cash for a cab). I wasn’t able to exchange currency in either Minneapolis or Amsterdam due to a government policy that took bills out of circulation, and I was a bit concerned what I would do if the hotel’s shuttle wasn’t out in front as promised.
Fortunately, Emil Kumar, the airport representative for The Claridges, where I was staying, hung with me while the driver circled the airport. As we stood in the garage chatting, two stray dogs approached. One of them rubbed up against my leg and begged to be petted. He was well fed, and Kumar said the ownerless dogs hang around the garage and wait for people who get a snack at the T Spot to share with them. I had just watched The Secret Lives of Pets on the plane, so I knew that for this dog, I was his surrogate owner for the 10 minutes I was there. I petted away and told him he was a good boy. If my husband was a dog lover, I may have applied for adoption papers.
Mission trips are a whirlwind of meeting people, swapping stories, catching planes and sleeping when you can. Very rarely do you get to see what tourists see of a country.
I joined this mission late, so IFA’s Director of International Affairs Josh Merin; Jennifer Loffredo, the franchise lead for the U.S. Commercial Services; and Mala Venkat, senior commercial specialist in Chennai, India, did all the heavy lifting. Venkat accompanied the franchisors on all three legs of the trip: New Delhi and Mumbai, India, and Colombo, Sri Lanka. “Accompanied” is probably the wrong word, she was the one making sure all the buses were running on time and the one-on-one meetings were productive.
Perhaps because this trip was late in the year, or after an election, the delegation was smaller than most. Seven companies make the trek: Bonchon Chicken, Carl’s Jr., Coldwell Banker Real Estate, Denny’s, Edible Arrangements, Golden Chick and Seniors Helping Seniors.
Previous trade missions were met by some serious strife in the world right before we went, such as the mass shooting at a Kenyan shopping center and political unrest in Egypt that sent commercial service officers home a few weeks after we left.
This trip was greeted by the Indian government’s surprise announcement that it was taking the 500 and 1,000 rupee notes out of circulation immediately. The two currencies account for about 85 percent of the money supply, according to Bloomberg.
In addition we had some personal adversity on this mission. One member couldn’t join us because he was hospitalized in Calcutta and another made it as far as London before being paged to return home because of a family emergency.
But franchising is a team effort and two of their colleagues stepped in and the mission continued.
(Next up: Christmas in Sri Lanka, India's currency woes and more. Plus coverage on mission itself in the February issue of Franchise Times.)