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West Coast Expo

Exhibitors enjoy what may be second happiest place on earth


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MFV’s shaking it up, and its new twist—shows in more entrepreneurial neighborhoods—is getting a shout out from exhibitors.

Most of the people walking six abreast on the streets outside the Anaheim Convention Center were headed to the happiest place on earth, Disneyland. But a significant number found their way to the West Coast Franchise Expo, making it, perhaps, the second happiest place on earth, or at least in the franchise universe.

MFV, the promoters of the expo, have been shaking it up lately. First it moved the venerable International Franchise Expo from Washington, D.C.—the least entrepreneurial place on earth—to New York City—the most populous, vibrant melting pot in the country. It was a move that had exhibitors signing up for the 2013 event before leaving 2012’s. The West Coast move also appeared to be a popular one with exhibitors. Traffic was up; the dress code of attendees seemed a little more upscale and there was definitely a buzz that had been missing the last couple of years in L.A.

This year Guidant Financial prequalified attendees; and all 50 who took the time to sign up for the tool qualified for a franchise, according to Rachel Villiott, senior director for Guidant.

Creativity always abounds at these shows because exhibitors need to stand out. OneClick Cleaners had Elvis in the building. Known as the “Dodger Elvis” because he entertains at the baseball team’s home games, Danny Del Toro is actually sponsored by franchisor OneClick. “They clean my (jump)suits,” he said. Which is no easy feat, thank you, thank you, very much, because of all the ornate beading, further complicated by the addition of an oversized Dodger logo.

Another creative moment came when Truckie, Two Men and a Truck’s mascot, went AWOL. The moving company’s Sacramento franchisee made the seven-hour-plus drive to deliver his Truckie costume for the show’s opening. “We had promised people could get their picture taken with him,” explained Kelly Rogers, franchise development director.

Traffic was steady, especially in the mornings, but it never hurts to have food to sample.

America’s Taco Shop served mini tacos and thimble-sized drinks, which never failed to attract a crowd around the booth. The Brass Tap and Beef O’Brady’s Family Sports Pubs grilled seasoned burgers served on pretzel buns to long lines. But the two sister brands took it a step further by having singer/musician Kurt Hunter play live music in their booth.

Eighty-year-old brand Merle Norman Cosmetics’ experienced make-up artists gave make-overs to both attendees and exhibitors. Being interactive provided an opportunity to introduce the made-in-the U.S. products sold through retail locations to a younger audience.

The School of Rock was back exhibiting after a three-year hiatus to “drum up business here,” according to Aaron Delfausse, vice president of development, and they were satisfied with their number of California leads.

Don Johnson, president of the New Jersey office of Diamond Financial Services, had also taken an extended break from exhibiting, but after adding new products to his offerings, he was happy to be back. He teamed up to man the booth with his local partner, Grey Nguyen of The Business Finance Store in Santa Ana.

New concepts also made their way onto the floor. The most eye-catching was the Marilyn Monroe Cafe. The Toronto-based company bought the name from the legend’s family, but doesn’t have a unit open yet. It plans to open its first cafe, in Toronto, by the end of this year.

Gem and Bead Mall, another new franchise, does have units open—two. It’s a minimum 4,000-square-foot store that stocks cheap glass beads to $2,000 strands of sapphires, plus jewelry-making supplies. “This show has been great,” Vincent Mao enthused. “I’ve had a few hundred leads and they said the N.Y. show was even better.”

But as a veteran exhibitor said: How good a show is depends on leads being closed.

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