Franchise expo reflects renewed optimism for industry growth

Four hours after the ribbon-cutting to open the 21st Annual International Franchise Expo, several thousand of tomorrow’s would-be franchisees had already walked through the doors of the Jacod K. Javits Convention Center on the west side of Manhattan, exceeding foot traffic at last year’s expo in Washington, D.C. That is a staggering fact that combined with a near-record 347 exhibitors, reflected a heightened sense of optimism felt by industry executives.

“This is what these shows felt like in 2005,” said Jerry Crawford, President of Jani-King International, who was attending his first franchise expo in years. “Moving the show to New York was a tremendous success,” he said while pointing a swarm of attendees at his booth.

Franchisors pay several thousand dollars to exhibit at the three-day expo, and many said they were pleased with not only the number of attendees at the show, but the quality and seriousness of many prospective franchise investors.

“I was processing 10 leads per hour at the height of the show’s traffic,” said one franchisor in the personal services business line who preferred to speak anonymously.

“There seems to be some pent-up demand for growth by both franchise investors and franchisors,” said IFA Chairman Jon Luther. “There is a shift in the small business landscape, which reflects a growing awareness of franchising as a way to control your own destiny in a still challenging economic environment.”

Luther told FOX Business in a segment on June 14 that the industry is poised for growth of about 12,000 new establishments this year, which would create 177,000 new jobs, according to IFA’s midyear economic forecast. “While not back to pre-recession growth rates, we are forecasting growth across all business lines in the industry for 2012,” said Luther.

Some franchisors said they were using the show as a means to achieve aggressive growth plans they have set forth for this year.

“The IFE was a huge success for us this year,” said John Twist, Vice President of franchise and business development for Batteries Plus. “We were able to connect with multiple candidates who own cell phone stores, hardware stores and restaurants all looking for the next lucrative opportunity to invest in. For most people, the show was their first exposure to our brand and concept, and the reception was extremely positive. We walked away with some solid leads that most definitely will translate into sales.”

 

Others franchise executives used this year’s IFE to gauge the marketplace for future growth plans and get a sense for the type of franchise investors who are out there looking to buy concepts in the current economy.

“When we sell any franchises, especially the first or second one, it needs to be the absolute perfect fit,” said Cheeseboy Founder and President Michael Inwald, who has eight corporate locations in the Northeast and has been testing the waters as his “grilled-cheese to go” concept plans its franchising strategy.