IFA 2023: Thoughts from the Annual Franchise Industry Conference

The franchise industry makes up 3 percent of our nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Stop and think about that for a moment. That is truly amazing and a tribute to the thousands of individuals who saw franchising as an onramp to entrepreneurship. In 2022, it was estimated that there were more than 750,000 franchise organizations in the United States, with an economic output of roughly $827 billion, and the number of employees totaling almost 8.5 million people – serving an exponentially larger number of consumers.

According to recent reports, the top five fastest-growing franchise categories include wellness, home services, pets, senior care, and electronics. We have seen wellness brands such as Restore Hyper Wellness explode since they first started franchising just six years ago. Home service brands continue to grow and include many specialty brands such as Monster Tree Service, Mosquito Squad, and America’s Swimming Pool Company. Pets is another category that continues to attract aspiring entrepreneurs looking to own a business catered to our furry friends. Brands including petbar and DoodyCalls, for example, continue to expand into new markets.

In early March, more than 4,000 attendees representing 40+ countries gathered at the 2023 International Franchise Association convention, including many of these same emerging and fast-growing brands. The bustling event is a forum for franchisors and franchisees to share best practices and to chart what’s next from both a business and consumer standpoint.

One session that stood out posed the question, Should Franchise Development and Consumer Marketing be separate or together? It’s an interesting question. Consider this: The marketing team is responsible for connecting the brand with the customer to increase sales. The franchise development team is responsible for connecting the brand with aspiring entrepreneurs considering investing in a franchise. Two audiences with two different goals. One audience is a homeowner who needs a reputable, local tree service company to maintain the trees on their property. The other audience is the aspiring entrepreneur, an arborist who has the experience and education and is considering business ownership but wants to be assured they’re investing in a concept and organization with a successful track record, strong brand, and blueprint for growth in place.

As an agency executive who has worked with many franchise brands through the years, I offered perspective from both sides. I have had clients where marketing and fran dev are separate and siloed, and I have worked with brands where fran dev and marketing live together and report to the same marketing director. My feedback to the franchisors at my table: keep them together. Although it is two different audiences, and two different goals and metrics, it is important to maintain a consistent brand story, and there are efficiencies to be realized. In fact, one of the best things about the world of franchising are the founder stories and what makes their brand unique and special. That can help to compel entrepreneurs to sign on and consumers to become loyal customers.

One critical aspect of successful branding is making an emotional connection with the customer, and then delivering on that promise. The homeowner looking to hire a tree company not only wants to know cost, experience, reputation, and how quickly they can get an appointment. They also like to know the brand story – what makes the brand different. The aspiring entrepreneur will be attracted to a brand they can believe in and trust in. They too will place a great deal of focus on leadership and the founder story. To me, this brand message is vital and needs to be consistent.

We work with a number of franchise brands – both at the franchisor level and with franchisees. Personally, I have seen franchise concepts that took off right from day one and never looked back, and I have seen brands that seem to tread water and don’t understand why they are not growing more quickly. I have also participated in Discovery Days for various clients – the day when the franchisor presents “a day in the life” of a franchisee to potential franchisee candidates. Franchise brands that invest in and provide a strong marketing support package for franchisees tend to see greater success with these new owners.

Vince Powers is founder of Powers Brand Communications, a 360PR+ agency, where he serves as EVP and Managing Director of 360’s Philadelphia office. For more information, drop Vince an email at vpowers@360PR.plus or connect with him on LinkedIn.

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