Writing this article is very timely for me, as I am currently in the process of finalizing the last details of my own brand’s annual franchise convention which takes place next month. It’s always a great weekend filled with team-building, learning, networking and development and our franchisees are still talking about last year’s event.
Whilst planning my own, my thoughts turned to why franchise conventions are so important to a franchise brand – and what actually makes for a really great franchise convention.
The answer to the first point is a simple one. An annual franchise conference is the one single occasion each year when the entire franchise network comes together. Yes, all good franchise brands will provide forums for their franchisees to interact online in some way, but there’s no substitute for bringing people together face to face. A franchise convention is much more than just an excuse for a party though. It’s an opportunity to motivate the team, to grow and develop your brand, and really consolidate and strengthen the franchisor-franchisee relationship that is so key to successful franchise growth.
Franchise conventions, just like the brands hosting them, vary hugely in size and scale. From exotic beach front locations, black tie galas and fire eaters, to modest conference centers and sandwich buffet lunches, the key needs and wants of franchisor and franchisees from the event are the same across the spectrum. Both want the event to add value for the brand and for the individual business owners who operate within the network. And even franchisors starting out with little or no budget can create a convention with a wow with careful planning and thought.
Here are ten things for a franchisor to consider when planning their annual franchise get-together :
Many franchisors I speak to report difficulties in gaining full attendance from franchisees. Taking time away from the business is one objection usually put forward, time and travel another (more below). If franchisees are unhappy or not fully engaged for whatever reason then they are less likely to see any need for them to attend. What’s the answer? The key is in setting out expectations around franchisee attendance at the convention at the very outset, at the stage of discovery discussions with a potential franchisee. It should be made clear that attendance is expected and is not to be viewed as an optional event. It’s also a great idea to get event ambassadors on board from within the franchise team – franchisee advocates who can get a buzz going throughout the rest of the network and highlight the real tangible benefits they’ve gained through attending in previous years.
2. Location and timing
When franchisees are spread across a large geographical area, choosing a location for the annual convention can prove a challenge. Time and travel are always reported barriers to attendance by franchisees. It will never be possible to keep everyone happy, and rotating the location each year is likely to be the easiest solution to keep things even. Ease of transport access and accommodation are also obvious points to consider. Look at the time of year that you plan to schedule your convention and how that will fit in with your franchisee’s busiest periods. Is a weekend or a weekday convention preferable? That depends on your brand and your business. It’s also important to plan well in advance – most franchisors I know announce the date of the next annual conference at the close of the event. That way no one can say they haven’t had enough notice to schedule it in.
3. Clear message and theme
The easiest and most effective way to build an impactful convention program is to start with the convention theme. Start at the end – what key message do you want franchisees to take away from the event? Make sure that everything scheduled into your program ties back into this message and theme – from promotional materials and team building activities, to keynote speakers and workshop content.
4. Create fun and memorable moments
All work and no play is not the recipe for an engaging franchise convention. Even within the more “serious” corporate brands, elements of fun such as team-building games and photo booths will not only break the ice among team members who may not know each other well, if at all, but also create great photo opportunities and opportunities for social engagement – brilliant for marketing out to potential new franchisee recruits.
5. Structure your program carefully
It’s important to make sure that the conference program is balanced, whether it an event that last just one day or several. Make sure that the schedule includes sufficient breaks for rest between learning so that franchisees remain energized and engaged throughout the event. Remember that franchisees are likely to want to check their emails and switch their phones on at times during the day. Build in time for relaxation and general chat and networking between franchisees – this can be as important to team members as time spent in the conference room.
6. Create excitement
A franchise convention is the perfect opportunity to launch something new. Whether that be a new product or service, a new system to make franchisee’s lives easier, perhaps a rebrand – its your ideal opportunity to engage everyone, provide any necessary face to face training and to get everyone on board. And as franchisors, we all know that that’s the key to successfully rolling out any changes – getting everyone as enthused and on board. Introducing something new also means that franchisees leave feeling as they really are returning home with something that will have a practical and postitive impact on their business.
For franchisees to feel as if there’s real tangible benefit for them and for their businesses in making the effort to attend the convention, there needs to be a significant element of learning during the event. The size of your franchise network and the nature of your business will dictate how the learning elements of your convention will be delivered, whether that be through expert speakers and trainers or hands-on practical workshops. Savvy franchisors will gain input far ahead of the event from the franchise network as to what they would like to see in terms of additional training and developmentat the event.
8. Get franchisees involved
When gathering feedback following my own franchisee conventions, the replies always highlight the value that attendees have gained from hearing from other franchisees. Longer standing members of the franchise team have a wealth of experience to share and most are only too pleased (and flattered) to be invited to be part of a panel discussion or to take to the floor in some other way. Those real life stories are far more relevant and inspirational than any motivational speaker.
9. Celebrate achievements
The jury’s out on franchise network awards. Some franchisors I know favor them, whilst others do not. In my own brand we recognize long service and whole team achievements rather than hand out individual performance related awards but I see the merits of both approaches. Whatever, it’s great to end the event on a high with a gala celebration of some sort. It provides motivation and inspiration to other team members.
10. Gain feedback
After the event, and as immediately as possible, ensure that you gain feedback from attendees. Which parts of the convention did they enjoy the most? Which speakers or workshops added most value to them and their business? What would they like to see from next year’s event? All of this will help as you begin to plan what next year’s annual convention will look like.
Do it right and a well planned and executed franchise convention can have a huge impact on your franchise network and your brand overall. Not only does it reignite passion in your brand, but it can also significantly improve franchisee bottom lines through streamlining processes and increasing productivity and profit. But ultimately, a great franchise convention is a reminder to your franchise network of what being part of your brand is really all about – being part of a team.