How to run fantastic franchise conferences

An annual conference is a feature of most successful franchise networks, and for astute franchise buyers still researching their choice of franchise, the existence and nature of franchise conferences can be a selection criteria that helps distinguish one franchise brand above another. Conferences are one of the single most visible activities that franchisors deliver to their franchisees, yet they are often poorly planned, poorly executed, and miss many valuable opportunities to add real value to a network.

 A bad conference can even cause senior franchisor management to question the benefit or need for future conferences, while other franchisors might altogether avoid holding a conference because of concerns over cost and perceived benefit.

 In general terms, the reasons for and against franchise conferences from the perspectives of both franchisors and franchisees can be summarised in the table below.

 

 

Franchisor

Franchisee

For

Alignment

Engagement

Against

Avoidance

Disengagement

 

Table 1: Reasons for and against franchise conferences from franchisor & franchisee perspectives.

  

For conferences: The franchisor perspective of alignment

In modern franchising language, “alignment” has replaced “compliance” as the word which best describes a franchisor’s desire to have all its franchisees operating in conformance with the system. While it may be impossible to ever achieve 100% alignment 100% of the time, franchisors should not be discouraged from attempting to achieve true alignment of their franchisees with the brand’s objectives.

 

 

Franchisor

Franchisee

For

Alignment

Engagement

Against

Avoidance

Disengagement

 

From this perspective, franchise conferences are viewed as essential to achieve alignment for the following reasons:

 

1. To promote the corporate vision

An understanding of the corporate direction of the brand is important for all stakeholders, but especially for franchisees who are required to deliver the brand promise at the front line.  To have a corporate vision is an essential quality of franchisor management leadership. Conferences provide the ideal forum to communicate, promote, reinforce and bring to life the corporate vision.

 

2. To test or launch system innovations

Because of the ability to communicate simultaneously and in-person with all franchisees, conferences are ideal forums to test or launch new innovations in a franchise system. These innovations can range from new products or services to be trialled or introduced, to the introduction of new supply partners, marketing programs, franchisor business services for franchisees, and so on.

 

3. To invigorate brand commitment

Attending a franchise conference can refresh the enthusiasm franchisees have for their businesses. By learning from the formal conference program and informally from their fellow franchisees, a new level of commitment to the success of their business, and in turn the success of the brand as a whole, can be achieved.

 

4. To seed cultural change

The culture of an organisation rarely changes overnight, and is the sum of everything an organisation does and says. Conferences can help seed cultural change in a franchise network by introducing new ways of thinking and doing things, and accelerating the often slow pace of organisational change and cultural evolution.

 

5. To assess competencies

Some elements within a conference program can be used to assess franchisee and organisational competencies in technical or operational aspects of the business. This can effectively act as a training needs analysis for individual franchisees, or the system as a whole, and contribute toward the training and organisational plan for the system in the coming year.

 

6. To enhance learning

In conjunction with the issue of franchisee and organisational competencies above, conferences provide an ideal opportunity to quickly transfer or update knowledge and skills within a network. Appropriate learning activities in a conference program can rapidly enhance franchisee, and therefore organisational, capabilities.

 

7. To generate ideas and innovations

Many franchise networks will attempt to generate ideas and innovations for system improvement at head office level, or via formal structures such as franchise advisory councils, however conferences provide an ideal opportunity to generate lots of ideas from the network in a relatively short period of time. Like a group brainstorming session, the generation of ideas at a conference will foster creativity and innovation that can lead to improved organisational performance and competitive advantage.

 

8. To engage with suppliers and business partners

Key providers of goods and services to the franchise system can benefit from meeting franchisees in person through improved relationships, better understanding of franchisee requirements in relation to ordering and delivery cycles, and so on. In turn, franchisors and franchisees can also benefit from interacting with suppliers and improving their own knowledge of how the suppliers can best meet their needs. Many suppliers contribute to the cost of franchisor conferences through exhibition stands, product giveaways, and outright sponsorship for this very reason.

 

9. To facilitate social interaction and fellowship

One of the greatest benefits of investing in a franchise is the access it provides to other business owners who face the same challenges and issues on a daily basis. Franchisees at conferences often learn as much from each other as they do from the formal conference program itself. This informal learning among peers strengthens a sense of fellowship and camaraderie within the network.

 

10. To build relationships with franchisee spouses/partners

In many networks, the spouse or partner of the franchisee may not be involved with the business on a day-to-day basis, but still provides important administrative and moral support. Conferences provide an excellent opportunity for these key stakeholders – who have a huge amount of influence over the franchisee – to understand more about the business in which they are indirectly involved, and to better support their spouse or partner accordingly.

 

11. To present system awards

The culmination of most franchise conferences is the presentation of the system’s internal awards which recognise the efforts of outstanding achievers across a range of categories. Such awards might recognise highest gross sales, highest sales per product category or campaign, most effective local area marketing, best-presented franchise, most-improved franchisee, and so on. To be recognised for their achievements in front of their peers can be a terrific boost for a franchisee’s motivation and brand alignment.

 

12. As an organisational reward

Conferences are often viewed as a way of rewarding franchisees for their hard work. By bringing them together at a hotel, theme park or some other location different from their everyday working life, franchisees are given an opportunity to take time out from working in their business, to reflect on their own achievements, and to enjoy some time off.

 

13. To maximise meeting efficiencies

By bringing all franchisees together, the franchisor management team can meet with important franchisee sub-groups at the one place in a time and cost effective manner. These sub-groups can include the system’s Franchise Advisory Council (FAC), marketing committee/s, master franchisees, multiple-unit franchisees, purchasing committee, or any other important sub-group within the system.

 

14. To fulfil a contractual obligation

Many franchise agreements stipulate that franchisees must attend “the franchise conference” which implies an obligation on the franchisor to ensure that a franchise conference is actually held. Where such a clause exists in a franchise agreement, it is in a franchisor’s best interests to ensure that conferences are held accordingly.

 

 

Where alignment meets execution

While conferences provide the ideal opportunity for the 14 points listed above, they can backfire on the franchisor and brand if the conference is poorly conceived and managed. In this regard, execution is everything, and no detail should be too small to be checked or considered when organising such a high-profile event.

Future articles on the topic of franchise conferences will consider why franchisors avoid holding conferences, why franchisees do and don’t attend, as well as key tips to ensure a franchise conference runs smoothly and effectively.

 

 

Jason Gehrke is a director of the Franchise Advisory Centre and has been involved in franchising for 18 years at franchisee, franchisor and advisor level. He provides consulting services to both franchisors and franchisees, and conducts franchise education programs throughout Australia. He has been awarded for his franchise achievements, and publishes Franchise News & Events, Australia’s only fortnightly electronic news bulletin on franchising issues. In his spare time, Jason is a passionate collector of military antiques.

 

 

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