International Franchise Expo

What you can see at a Franchise Expo, and how COVID is changing them?

Two years ago I was in New York City for the massive International Franchise Expo, attending classes to renew my Certified Franchise Executive (CFE) certification. I also took the time to walk the show floor, and I saw almost four hundred exhibitors, including franchise concepts that were household names and many fresh new ideas. For example, many show attendees were introduced to poutine, an authentic Canadian comfort food of French fries, cheese curds, and gravy, often with barbecued pork or other meat. Your cardiologist would probably hate it, but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it!

The cycle of franchise industries is always turning; far fewer hair salons, frozen yogurt, mosquito treatment, and ice cream shops were present, not one tanning salon, and not one consignment shop! There were some new concepts, though… I have attended over sixty national, regional and local franchise expos over the past 20 years, and I don’t remember ever before seeing a lemonade stand, urban bike sharing, goose clearing (really!), debt collection, juicing, or an online news concept.

As always, there were some industries with quite a few brands on display. Senior care, education, health and fitness, beauty, coffee/tea, sandwiches, and pizza shops were very popular with six or more brands each. The big ‘winners’ were burger joints, with 15 separate brands, including one imported from Europe; and dessert concepts, with an incredible 31 different companies presenting! Many were offering samples of their wares – frozen yogurt and ice cream, macaroon cookies (3 different franchise offerings!), candy, pastries, and more. Sad to say, I’m on a Very Low Carb diet so I couldn’t partake (much).

There were also many suppliers catering to the exhibitors, such as franchise lenders, advertising and marketing companies, PR firms, sign companies, attorneys, software vendors, and franchise consultants. Franchise Associations representing and promoting many countries, including Brazil, Abu Dhabi, The Bahamas, Hong Kong, Japan, Mexico, The Philippines, and more spoke about the brands they wanted to introduce to the US as well as opportunities for American companies to enter their home markets.

Industry prognosticators say that during and post-COVID cleaning, sanitizing, and takeout and delivery concepts will be on the upswing. On the downswing: Paint-and-sip, traditional restaurant and retail, e-cigarette stores, trampoline parks, clothing alterations, and those macaroon stores.

Just about all franchises are actively reworking their business models to better fit into the post-COVID world. Fitness, food service, retail, and much more now have to include disinfecting and social distancing just to rebuild consumer confidence, not to mention making their candidates, franchisees, and franchisee employees feel safe and comfortable.

Who knows when these in-person franchise expos will return, but you can certainly ‘attend’ the new Virtual Expo offshoots to see the wide variety of franchise concepts out there! Perhaps you will find the franchise that calls out to you…
– Ron Bender

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