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Road show

Franchisors go on the road to find franchisees


Gather together a group of salespeople at the same table and it might take two minutes for them to begin talking shop. So when a group of franchise sales executives sat down for an Italian dinner in Atlanta this past October, they quickly started talking about the issue toward the top of most franchisors’ minds: How to attract quality franchisees at a time when the Internet has watered everything down.

By the end of the dinner, that group—Debbie Laughlin and Steve Beagelman from Saladworks, Ray Torres from Carvel, Randy Watts from Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs and Jeff Sturgis from Fantastic Sam’s Hair Salons—struck upon a potential solution. They decided to join forces and take their show on the road.

The group, which then added Philly Soft Pretzel and Dunkin’ Brands, has created a traveling franchise expo in miniature. The companies pool their resources and prospects and travel from city to city, presenting their opportunities to groups of prospective franchisees. It’s a similar, albeit smaller, version of the local expos that used to dominate franchise sales before the Internet came along.

“We’re pooling our dollars, working as a team,” said Beagelman, senior vice president and chief franchising officer of Pennsylvania-based Saladworks. “It’s a little bit unique and maybe a little old-school. I think it’s just a little bit different than what most franchisors are doing.”

So far, at least, the effort appears to be working. At its first seminar at a Huntington Hilton on Long Island, New York, the group attracted 140 potential franchisees—the group had hoped for 50. Most of them were serious leads, and only a small percentage had actually started the franchise sales process. The group organized four in May and June, mostly on the East Coast. They are taking a break in July and August and plan to start the shows again in September by hitting places like Charlotte and South Florida.

In years past, franchisors attracted franchisees by hosting seminars in local markets. “You used to run an ad in the newspaper, do a seminar by yourself, and get 20 to 30 leads in a room,” Beagelman said. These days it’s much tougher to do that. MFV Expositions, the New Jersey-based company that organizes franchise expos—and is not associated with the road show effort—once organized 70 local shows around the country.

Nowadays MFV organizes three big ones. Yet those in attendance are more serious about buying a franchise, said Tom Portesy, president of MFV Expositions.

Each company on the road show contributes $5,000 for the show’s cost while a financing company, which also does a presentation, contributes $2,000. A typical show with five franchisors and the finance company might cost less than $30,000. Each franchisor takes 15 minutes presenting their brand to the group and they all have small displays.

Many of the people who come to the shows had already been in contact with one of the companies and were contacted again with information about the show. Others were lured by advertisements on the program or news accounts. The franchisors share lists of people who attended the event.

The franchisors all insist that there is no competition for the prospects. They even say that they’ve developed relationships with one another that have allowed them to cooperate on other issues, such as locating architects. Even Carvel says there is no tension between it and Dunkin—which operates rival ice cream franchise Baskin Robbins.

“We have different offerings, cost of entry, products and availability,” said Ray Torres, regional vice president of franchise foodservice sales for Carvel. “There’s something for everybody.

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