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Posted on Aug 23, 2011

Franchising Meetings & Conventions - More than a Great Party

Planning and staging a dynamic franchise convention that motivates franchise owners requires expert planning, flawless execution and the support of your entire franchise organization. We talked to experts in the industry to get some meeting planning tips that will result in top-notch franchise conventions.

Service Brands Franchise Conventions Hit the Mark

An important ingredient for planning and executing well-organized franchise conventions is a professional meeting planner. Unfortunately, only the largest franchise organizations can afford to have an experienced meeting planner on staff. Franchise conventions are normally held once a year, so the franchisor's meeting planner typically wears other hats. Service Brands International, the umbrella organization for Molly Maid, Mr. Handyman, 1-800-DryClean, and Certified Restoration Drycleaning Network, is able to leverage their meeting planner over their four franchise brands.

Kelly Beattie is the Director of Training for Service Brands International but puts on her meeting planner hat about 12 to 15 months before a scheduled event. "The process begins by sitting down with the decision makers and considering destinations. Because our owners are throughout the US and Canada, we try to mix it up, west coast, central and east coast," states Beattie. With time and travel the two largest variable expenses of franchise owners attending the convention, rotating the location geographically provides a way to even this out.

In an expanding franchise organization like Service Brands International, it is not unusual that the franchise convention destination will have franchise owners in the market area. These owners have no travel costs to get to the convention and have a unique perspective about the event. "Actually owners are very excited about hosting the franchise convention in their hometown. For our event in San Antonio the franchise owner called me to see what he could do to help. The local franchise owner can be a great resource for local information and they really have a sense of pride about their business and their market," says Beattie.

Beattie reports that planning franchise conventions on weekends is important for franchises that conduct business Monday through Friday. "Three day franchise conventions seem to be the right amount of time. Having the event on the weekend will take the franchise owners away from their business for only a day and a half. It's important to minimize the disruption to the business when owners are away," states Beattie.

Relax, Unwind and Recharge at Franchise Conventions

Beattie has a checklist of requirements when selecting the city to host a franchise convention. Accessibility and climate are critical components. The destination must have a special appeal with an airport that can get busy franchise owners to the event. Franchise conventions provide an opportunity for owners to relax, unwind, and recharge their batteries. Many franchise owners tie a personal vacation to the franchise convention so the destination should provide other tourist or vacation opportunities. According to Beattie, the cities that their franchise owners would like to visit again include San Antonio, South Beach in Miami and New Orleans.

A subject which is discussed among the Service Brands franchises is combining forces to have one large combined franchise event. "There would be many benefits by combining conventions for our brands. It would be extremely convenient from a corporate standpoint, but I don't know if that is really what the owners would want. From the owners perspective they like to be with their own group," states Beattie.

Franchise conventions are best known for their speeches, meetings, awards banquets, networking and team building although many franchisors include a vendor trade show with their franchise convention. A trade show gives franchise owners an opportunity to meet with strategic suppliers. Depending on the vendor and their relationship with the franchisor, the cost of a franchise convention can be substantially reduced through vendor participation. "Vendors are not a major part of our franchise conventions. For Mr. Handyman we had eleven vendors. It is significant enough that our owners seek out the vendors and meet with them but it doesn't overshadow the main purpose of the convention," reports Beattie.

Structured Free Time

The challenge of any franchise meeting planner is getting franchise owners to attend the convention. Many of the factors that impact participation are beyond the control of the meeting planner. Beattie credits Todd Recknagle, President of Mr. Handyman, with achieving 82% participation at the recent Mr. Handyman convention. "Todd puts on a great show! Mr. Handyman really does a great job of tapping into things that the owners need, plus they hosted a very fun dinner cruise on a 150 foot yacht in Biscayne Bay. That's one of those touches that make the owners feel special. I call it structured free time. It's a nice activity where they are networking with other owners but also able to relax and have a good time," reports Beattie.

Franchise conventions normally conclude with a formal awards banquet that recognizes franchise owners for their accomplishments. "Many franchise owners may have the attitude that they got into franchising so they didn't have to wear a tie. Our philosophy is that our awards banquet is very important. We recognize owners for some amazing accomplishments, and that's worth getting dressed up for. We had 30% of the Mr. Handyman group in tuxedos and the rest in suit and tie, and only a handful in casual clothing," reports Beattie.

If having a great party was the only factor for franchise convention turnout, then it would be easy to get well attended events. Beattie believes that it is critical to set the expectation very early that attendance at the franchise convention is very important. She suggests franchise convention attendance should be discussed at Discovery Day with franchise candidates before there's a signed franchise agreement. The current climate and culture within the franchise also impacts attendance. Disgruntled franchise owners often choose not to attend franchise conventions even if it provides an opportunity to air grievances.

'Little Things' Important to Big Events

Big name motivational speakers are often brought in to pump up owners. But Beattie reports that it's the little things that often make an event special. "We had neck and shoulder massages during a breakout that we called 'owners relaxation station'. You can do a lot of neat things that do not require a lot of money. We had ice cream in the afternoon for a break that the owners raved about," reports Beattie.

Having clearly defined goals for a franchise convention is important to Service Brands International franchise conventions. "The two main goals for our event are to get owners excited again about their business and to provide a forum for communication. Franchise conventions are a great way to introduce new programs that help build the brand and their business," says Beattie. An underlying goal of franchise conventions is team building. Fostering and growing the franchising win-win relationship between franchisor and franchisee is the goal; the challenge to the meeting planner is coming up with fun and interesting events that accomplish this goal.

Franchise conventions should have an overall theme that ties the goals of the event to speeches, meetings and workshops. Beattie relies on marketing and public relations professionals to help develop the theme for each event. "The theme usually stems from the location of the event. We had 'Blazing Trails and Driving Sales' for our franchise convention in San Antonio. From that theme we developed a successful team building event where teams of franchise owners designed and built a teepee that could hold their entire team," states Beattie.

With nine major Service Brands International events under her belt, Beattie is equipped to offer some good advice to novice meeting planners. "Be organized and know your program. Have a sense of humor, things are going to happen and there will be a hiccup in your program but 99% of the time owners don't know what is supposed to happen. Take a minute and breathe, it will all work out," advises Beattie.

Time for Franchise Convention Partnering

Franchise executives often have a love--hate relationship with franchise conventions. They love getting franchise owners re-energized about their businesses and the opportunity to further develop the franchisor/franchisee relationship in a relaxed convention setting. But they hate to devote the manpower to planning and executing the event and then writing the check for the franchise convention. Franchise Times offers a solution to franchisors that can save time and money.

Franchise Times Corporation, originally Restaurant Finance Corp., is the publisher of the popular industry magazine, Franchise Times, Restaurant Finance Monitor, and Foodservice News, and produces the Restaurant Finance & Development Conference, Franchise Finance & Development Conference, and Franchise Convention Week. Offering convention and meeting services to franchisors is a natural progression for the company as they have gained recognition over the years in hosting their own specialty conferences.

The service called Franchise Convention Week is geared to franchisors and allows several franchise groups to host their franchise meeting during the same time frame as Franchise Times' Franchise Finance Conference. "Combining franchise groups for franchise conventions is an awesome idea. The groups take advantage of a cooperative effort and end up saving money at the same time. They share breakfasts, luncheons and keynote speakers but hold their own private meetings," states Strawn.

Franchise Convention Week makes the entire convention process easier and cost effective for franchisors so they can concentrate on delivering an effective message to their franchisees. "Finding a suitable hotel for a franchise convention and negotiating rates is a task that many franchisors do not have experience with. That's already arranged with Franchise Convention Week. The event begins on a Saturday and ends on the following Wednesday, but each group can adjust their arrival and departure day within that time frame," says Strawn.

Meeting Planning an Adjunct to Publishing

Franchise Times has more than 15 years of convention planning experience with the Franchise Finance Conference and the annual Restaurant Finance & Development Conference, the top executive conference in the restaurant industry. As experienced meeting planners, they take care of all the organizational details of the convention including selecting the right foods and beverages. They also are on-site to assist with registering attendees, issuing nametags, and coordinating room setup and audio-visual needs. The "special touches" like gifts in the room, can all be coordinated by Franchise Times meeting planners.

Strawn reports that the convention format of group meals with speakers and private meetings works well. "After the group breakfast and speaker in the morning, each franchise group goes back to their private meetings. Groups then have their own dinner in the hotel or we can help them make arrangements for a restaurant. We have our planned program but groups have the opportunity to do their own thing. For instance, they might want to start early with a private breakfast in their room and skip the speaker," says Strawn. Groups are charged a modest per person program fee for Franchise Convention Week in addition to the cost of rooms and meals.

Franchise Convention Week can accommodate franchise groups of any size. "We can handle the larger groups but I feel we can do a lot for the sometimes forgotten smaller groups. Our largest group so far has been 200 people, but it would be nice to have even larger groups. We find that most franchisors do not have professional meeting planners so the event just lands on somebody's desk. The extremely large franchisors that may have a meeting planner still look at Franchise Convention Week as a way to make their job easier," reports Strawn.

Small Groups Reap Big Benefits

Smaller groups get much better room rates with the buying power of the Franchise Convention Week rather than negotiating on their own. According to Strawn, another advantage is obtaining big name motivational speakers on a small group budget. Because the costs of the speakers are part of the program fee, smaller groups can hear top-notch talent that they otherwise could not afford. The speakers that deliver the motivational messages come from all walks of life. They can be athletes, successful business or political leaders and war veterans, to name a few.

Las Vegas has been home to many of Franchise Times' conventions. Strawn feels Las Vegas is a great place to host meetings because it has so much to offer. "People love Vegas. As a franchisor you can concentrate on your meeting and then turn your group loose. It's not necessary to arrange entertainment. They will find their own entertainment in Las Vegas with shows, restaurants and gaming," states Strawn.

Having the Franchise Convention Week in conjunction with the Franchise Finance Conference also gives franchise owners admission to the exhibit hall at no charge. "Convention Week attendees receive free admission to the Conference which is a $650 value. This provides a great networking opportunity for franchise owners to meet with lenders, investment people, and real estate professionals," reports Strawn.

According to Strawn, Franchise Convention Week has been all about business. "I expected when we started Franchise Convention Week that the private meetings would be more social, but it is mostly business. The groups come in, conduct their meetings and head back out. This year we are coordinating an event for a group that simulates the TV show Amazing Race and should be a lot of fun. Teams will run around Las Vegas and take pictures of certain sites to prove they visited the location and then meet at a restaurant for dinner," says Strawn.

Strawn says that she is always learning something new with each event she plans. Her advice to novice meeting planners is to expect the unexpected. "You will never have a conference go without a hitch. Know the hotel as best you can and know the 'go to' people that can help you when you get in a pinch. Check, recheck and triple check the details, and you will have a great event," states Strawn.

Before you make a big investment in your next franchise convention, you'll want to read these helpful tips from a premiere convention production company.

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