How to Throw a Great Trade Mission Stop
Nicole DeSilvis, senior commercial officer for the Guatemala office
The last time Franchise Times’ readers met Nicole DeSilvis was in the November/December 2012 issue, when the Franchise Times, IFA, U.S. Commercial Service trade mission visited Panama, Chile and Colombia, and she was the senior officer for the Colombia office.
Since transferring to Guatemala, DeSilvis has become the head cheerleader for franchising a little farther north in the Latin American market. “We’re trying to get people in the region up on franchising,” she said about the trade mission to Costa Rica, Guatemala and El Salvador in late September.
In addition, she knows how to throw a great trade mission stop. DeSilvis believes Commercial Service officers should arrive at the airport to greet people and personally put them on the bus back to the airport. “People remember entrances and exits,” she said. They also remember when she prechecks them into the hotel and all they have to do upon arrival is pick up their key and head upstairs.
Knowing we’d be staying at U.S. hotel brands in the other two cities, DeSilvis chose to house the delegation at the Vista Real, an opulently decorated inner-city resort with private rooms where upscale weddings and baby showers were being held—all for a room rate that started at USD$119, with breakfast included. Although the hotel was walled off for safety purposes, a little slice of the outdoors was allowed in where the frequent rain, — it rained almost everyday on the trade mission — could create a waterfall effect as it fell into koi ponds surrounded by lush trees and plants.
Winner of the Voice, Colombia, Juan Manuel Guiza
DeSilvis even provided entertainment for a sit-down dinner on our last night in town—the runner-up for The Voice Colombia, Juan Manuel Guiza. “If you think this is cheesy, don’t tell me,” she said earlier in the day when she shared her plans. As it turned out, it was a highlight, especially because Manuel Guiza’s range of singing styles adapted so well to the American hits we all knew.
After an exhausting day of one-on-one meetings with investors, the tour of the Arkadia mall the next day started with Auntie Anne’s pretzel bites and cappuccinos, plus a demonstration of the movie theatre’s 4-D effects, where designated seats provided the motion for the movie being shown. Tickets for 4-D seats were around $17 each, while sedentary seats were closer to $8.
“I’m a salesperson,” DeSilvis says of her role in Guatemala. “You treat people with a little bit of extras.”
Pulling off a trade mission stop is not easy. The Commercial Service office in Guatemala has just three staff members, all with other industries to cover. One staffer also doubles as her driver (which is a timesaver, since he’s also a racecar driver). The interns she rounded up to help out with the onsite meetings were high school-age secretarial students.
The office had been left without an American senior officer for four years before DeSilvis was transferred there. When she arrived, she said, her strategy was to “assess what each person is good at and let them shine—and to encourage them to try something new.” That something new was franchising.
The Vista Real Hotel
“I give them the tools and step back. I’m in and out,” she said about the role of the U.S. senior officer who is assigned to a post for three to four years. “Antonio (Prieto, a senior trade specialist) is the one who is going to be there.” To that end, DeSilvis says she tries to give staff the spotlight to do the interviews, but all too often the local media wants the American face to discuss the issues.
When she arrived, DeSilvis said, staff was bogged down in the struggles between U.S. companies and the government. She challenged them to get out into the market and meet people, not to just read about the country in the newspapers. “I want to get them excited in their own country (again),” she said.
What excites her about franchising, she added, is that “it’s not just about the sale, it’s the way you’re changing a country by investing in the country and its people.”
It’s not imposing our culinary customs on another country, she said, addressing one of the negative perceptions about international franchising, but in giving choice—along with training, jobs and a taste of home to ex-pats.