International Franchise Association – 2017 Convention Recap

For the past eight years, I’ve attended the International Franchise Association’s annual conference as an exhibitor. But this year, I decided to take a different approach and chose to take in this great conference strictly as an attendee. As we continue to focus our efforts on providing the best digital solutions to our franchise clients at Location3, I wanted the freedom to branch out and see everything the event had to offer. And what I was really after was the opportunity to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the trends and topics currently dominating the minds of the franchise community.  In that sense, IFA 2017 could be considered nothing less than a success from my perspective.

If you’ve ever been to a large conference, you know it can be a hectic, disorienting experience. Throw Las Vegas into the equation, and you a have a formula for a disjointed record of events. So what I have here is my best effort to construct a linear description and analysis of my four days at IFA 2017.

Life as a Board Member

Sunday morning was my first Board Meeting as a new member of the IFA Membership Board. As a newcomer, I wanted to gain as much new information as I could about the role of the committee, and in doing so I also got the opportunity to experience the tight bond that has always existed among those in the franchise community. There are many vendors and suppliers that seek to make big splashes and sell to brands at the IFA Annual Convention, but unless you’ve truly shown a long term commitment to the franchise community, those sales simply aren’t possible.  It’s always nice to come back to this convention, where that tight bond is reinforced every year.

The committee also works with key mentors and ambassadors to ensure that all new members are comfortable and properly welcomed – especially during the overwhelming environment of the conference. It was all a very impressive display of culture, community and commitment. I left the meeting energized to bring new members into the IFA community and immediately thought of three clients that weren’t yet members. I will be calling them soon!

That afternoon left some time to take in some of the Las Vegas standards, including some first-class people-watching around the strip, a trip to the Bellagio fountains and an agonizing decision on whether to bet on the Falcons or Patriots.

On Sunday night, I also had dinner with our long-time partner, Chuck Kaylor, of FASTSIGNS. Chuck and I  got a chance to discuss trends in the digital world and the ever-changing franchise world, and we may have planned a Red Rocks concert visit along the way.

Digital Presence on the Rise

Monday morning was right in my marketing wheelhouse with 3-hour roundtable discussions around all of the latest developments in the digital marketing industry. As you can see, there were no shortage of topics to discuss, and the place was packed with people excited to talk about innovative ideas. Just five years ago, the digital presence at IFA was a much smaller blip on the franchise radar so it has been wonderful to see the progression over the years.

My top takeaways from these discussions:

  • Trust is an issue – it’s important to provide transparency and own your marketing performance.
  • This was the first of many discussions around voice search and smarter technology.
  • The questions we should be asking: What does Alexa and Google Home mean for marketing in general, and franchise businesses, going forward?

While I couldn’t logically make it to each of the 30 roundtable discussions, I was really glad I opted to catch the “FRANShark” competition. This was IFA’s spinoff of ABC’s hit show, Shark Tank, in which entrepreneurs pitch their business ideas to potential investors. FRANShark judges included Tony Valle, CFE, CEO of CollegePro, Dave Mortensen, President and Co-founder of Anytime Fitness, and John Rotche, CFE, CEO of Franworth. After the votes were cast, Jennifer Turliuk, founder of MakerKids, was named the grand prize winner and awarded $10,000 in cash. MakerKids is an educational enterprise that facilitates programs on robotics, coding and Minecraft for kids ages 8-12.

At the conclusion of FRANShark, I jumped over to another session and enjoyed lunch while listening to Tim Ferriss, author of New York Times best-seller, The 4-Hour Workweek. Ferriss’ talk was a fascinating look into efficiency, but he was quick to point out that only working four hours a week is not a sustainable strategy. His point remains: Working more efficiently can free you from the workaholic lifestyle that has become commonplace in the corporate world.

Anytime Fitness Steals the Show

The final morning keynote was delivered by Anytime Fitness co-founders Chuck Runyon and Dave Mortensen, who took the stage in kilts “because they can.” The two franchise giants gave an inspired presentation that focused on how they keep employees and customers engaged with their Anytime Fitness brand. Anytime Fitness’ commitment to putting people first has helped them become one of the fastest-growing franchises in the country. Runyon and Mortensen’s ability to promote growth within their company comes down to support at the local level for all of their franchisees – a principle that we genuinely appreciate at Location3.

The afternoon sessions consisted of another round of roundtable discussions, and with 99 active tables, the topics were as diverse and hotly contested as at the beginning of the conference. The hottest table in each time slot focused on generating franchise leads. New locations are the life blood of a franchise system, and the ability to generate quality leads is of utmost importance.

In Summary

It’s no secret that navigating the business of franchise marketing is extremely complicated, and the additional complexities that arise when trying to coordinate the goals of hundreds or thousands of small business owners can be overwhelming.  Even though franchisees may be part of a larger brand and franchise system, they remain committed to their local customers and communities.  Vendors and suppliers that fail to recognize that fact during their quest for new business are doomed to fail.  It’s our job as franchise digital partners to ensure brand strategy remains consistent throughout the web, and franchisees remain empowered with the strategies and technology that allow them to connect with more local customers.

Topics like joint employment, increasing the role of digital marketing in customer acquisition, and franchise lead generation were also some of the hottest topics that I observed during this whirlwind, 4-day event.  I’ve been a part of the IFA for nearly a decade with Location3, and every year I come to the annual convention I learn something new.  2017 was no exception.  I left IFA 2017 with a deeper understanding of the importance of franchise development, the opportunities that franchises represent to the economy of the United States as a whole, and the need for IFA members like myself to connect franchise constituents to events like this one so they can begin to develop the type of bonds that I’ve been fortunate enough to experience. Ultimately, I walked away from Las Vegas feeling more empowered, energized and more eager than ever before to expand my involvement in this great organization that is the International Franchise Association.


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