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Pip Wilkins, CEO of the British Franchise Association (bfa), explains why there is no better way to understand franchising than to attend a franchise exhibition, and also why it’s important for anyone working in the industry to attend.

franchise exhibitionFranchising is a huge industry, one that has shown continued growth for over 20 years, with a £17.2 billion turnover generated in 2018, according to the 2018 bfa NatWest Franchise Survey. Despite this, most people in the UK couldn’t tell you what franchising is, with the industry still being associated with fast-food conglomerates. While fast food chains are still a heavyweight in franchising, the industry has evolved rapidly and continues to do so. There are now 48,600 franchised units in the UK, up 10% since the last set of stats in 2015, showing a diversity in businesses and opportunities in hotel & catering, store retailing, personal services, property services, transport & vehicle services and business & commercial services. However, as with many things in life, false facts, bad advice and misleading information can get in the way. This goes for people in and out of the industry. So whether you are a seasoned franchising professional, looking to franchise your business or to become a franchisee of a successful business model, it’s extremely important to either go to a franchise exhibition for the first time, or keep going to refresh your memory, meet new faces and companies, as well as attending programmes to keep up-to-speed with the latest best practices.

A place for ethical businesses

The bfa is an organisation that defines and enforces ethical franchising in the UK, which is why we are in partnership with The Franchise Exhibitions held throughout the year. Only bfa members and bfa accredited stalls are allowed to exhibit. This ensures that franchising remains at its most ethical and people are given the best and most accurate advice and information possible. The last thing you want, especially if you are new to franchising and willing to believe half-truths, is to receive mis-information, something which the industry tries so hard to avoid. The bfa wants people from different backgrounds and with all scopes of knowledge within franchising and business to be able to attend without fear of being conned or scammed, and to be truly enlightened in regards to what the industry is about.

As a prospective franchisee, with so many companies having stalls, from all the different sectors, it is essential that you research beforehand which businesses will be exhibiting and take note of the ones that spark you interest, so you don’t waste value exhibition time. However, even if you don’t have a particular mandate, just walking around and asking questions will be of great benefit. 

Learning from the best

Having a consultation with franchise professionals can be costly, especially as it is a necessary step into understanding the benefits and challenges that franchising brings. However this is why you should seize the chance to attend an exhibition. Not only is it free to attend if you get a pass in advance, but you will have the opportunity to talk to the best of the best in franchising, with no cost!

You can have a chat with the many bfa accredited affiliates that exhibit at the event, such as franchise consultants, legal advisors and banks that will be able to provide you with initial advice and guidance. I would recommend writing down some of the most important questions you have and getting some one on one time with a specialist.

Nick Williams, managing consultant for Ashtons Franchise Consulting, understands there is no better form of research than spending some quality time with industry experts, stating:

“Ashtons Franchise Consulting have been exhibiting at the National Franchise Exhibition for a number of years. As a consultancy we have helped many brands into franchise expansion and this exhibition has been instrumental in us meeting many of those businesses. There is no compensation for face to face interaction and the exhibition is a great way for business owners to drop by and have a chat with us, gain some knowledge, and find out more about how we can help them. We have been able to meet and advise businesses from all kinds of sectors: from food and beverage to domiciliary care and B2B to property management, franchising is diverse, and the exhibition represents this. We have built up some great relationships with other franchises and suppliers to the franchise industry, and we always look forward to the event.”

A place to be inspired

Not only do you have access to affiliates, but you can attend the free seminars organised throughout the event, featuring hand-picked speakers from the bfa, franchise industry experts and even current franchisees who understand what it is like to be in your shoes. These educational talks are imperative for prospective franchisees with no franchising experience to understand the fundamentals and determine whether franchising is an ideal career choice for them. However, even veterans of the franchising industry can benefit from attending. I can guarantee that there will be an education workshop, seminar or talk that will give you new insights and help you continue progressing in your franchising journey. Standing still and not moving forward is one of the biggest threats to our industry.

An inspirational story

Someone who benefitted from attending one of these seminars and hearing from a franchisee was Duncan Cameron, a former sales manager who had been made redundant. Having had his interest in franchising and the care sector pique at a previous event, Duncan attended The British & International Franchise Exhibition at Olympia, London, in February 2015. After visiting several stands, he attended the ‘Real Franchise Stories’ panel, where Right at Home’s owner in Sutton and Epsom, Tim Haigh, was telling his story. Duncan was immediately taken with his journey and with the Right at Home business model.

“The exhibition was an easy way to get to know the homecare sector and to assess the range of businesses operating within it. I spoke to a few providers to compare their offerings, but I found Tim’s story especially inspiring.

“I was able to listen to someone who had done what I wanted to do; he was two or three years in and doing really well – it was exactly what I wanted to hear.”

After the event, Dunson continued his research, and became the Right at Home franchisee in for Havant & District, including Emsworth, Waterlooville and Hayling Island in January 2016. Not only is he happy to be running his own business, but is ecstatic to be able to do it in a sector that he is passionate about. He says:

“I find being a franchisee immensely rewarding. Not only do I love working with my team, I run a business that has a positive impact on the community, treating older people with dignity and respect and helping them to enjoy their independence in the comfort of their own home. Our business keeps growing, but what I’m really proud of is the service we provide – we’ve just been awarded a rating of ‘Outstanding’ by the Care Quality Commission (CQC), which is a fantastic achievement in the industry and one which will see us grow from strength to strength.”

Showing the reality of franchising

Kate Dilworth, franchise recruitment manager for Right at Home, knows that bringing along a franchisee to an exhibition is a great way for people to have a real understanding of what franchisee life could be like and gives value to attending an exhibition. She says:

“Often, as we do at Right at Home, franchisors will bring one or more of their franchisees to the exhibition. In speaking with them, they offer a personal account of their experiences with the franchise you are interested in, bringing it to life. This often helps with your initial research. Otherwise you may have to pass through various stages of qualification, before you even speak with a franchisee.”

Speaking to franchisees is a key part of the due diligence process for people looking to become a franchisee themselves, and attending an exhibition can be a great way to see and speak to some franchisees who will be able to give you real insight into what a franchisee is. Once you’re interested in a franchisor, you should always ask for a full list of their franchisees, so you are able to get a balanced picture of the franchise network, not just a hand picked few, and allow for full transparency.

Exploring options

It’s important to be open minded when attending an exhibition as a prospective franchisee. You will see how diverse the sector really is and may find yourself interested in a business that you had not previously given any thought to. Dilworth believes exhibitions are a great way to speak to the franchisors and get a feel for the business.

“When looking to invest in a franchise, exhibitions are a great way of exploring your options. They give you a clearer idea of what is ‘out there’ to invest in. Maybe franchising was something you’ve heard about in the past, and it has sparked your curiosity? An exhibition reveals all your options, adding in an extra element of due diligence to your research, not always found by ‘Googling’.”

When you join a franchise, it’s a commitment to their values and ethos. So when talking to businesses, make sure to understand what their underlying beliefs are and their vision for the future of the franchise. At the end of the day, you want to be a part of a business that shares your values.

A supportive industry

Exhibitions represent what franchising is at its heart – supportive. Come and discover the diverse and colourful world of franchising by attending The Franchise Exhibitions in 2019.