Does the rise of virtual franchising events herald a new era for the franchising sector?
Since the start of the global pandemic & first UK lockdown in March 2020 the franchising sector, like many sectors had to adapt to the challenge & embrace new technology. But is this something that’s been created by the pandemic of just merely speeded up the process?
Types of virtual franchising events
Firstly let’s look at some of the type of virtual events that have grown rapidly during this period:
There has been a huge increase in webinars within the franchising sector during the pandemic. These webinars have provided support to franchise networks & franchisors. The Quality Franchise Association, a not for profit trade association for example has run dozens of support webinars during the pandemic. These webinars have included support covering topics such as Job Retention Scheme ( JRS ) claims, CBIL & bounce back loans plus support covering financial & legal issues created by the pandemic. Some of these include whether or not a franchisor should alter or stop charging franchise fees when franchisees have been unable to trade & the rise in force majeure claims within the sector for the same reason.
Virtual Franchise Exhibitions
Many did not even consider you could run a virtual franchise exhibition before COVID-19 but for some it was obvious the trend to research online would extend eventually to events & the creation of the virtual franchise expo. For example according to the Quality Franchise Association ( QFA ) that was founded in 2018 they were already planning virtual events including webinars & a virtual franchise exhibition almost 18 months before COVID-19. This led to a partnership with CBO Group that launched the UK’s first virtual franchise exhibition, The Virtual Franchise & Business Opportunity Show.
The QFA secured exclusive headline sponsorship for the show & the first ever UK virtual show was launch in April 2020 in the middle of the first lockdown. CBO Group has run an even bigger show in November 2020 & have recently announced their 3rd show since the pandemic in May 2021 with past exhibitors including brand such as Barclays & Amazon.
Virtual Franchising Awards
The growth in everything virtual has also extended to franchising awards with the launch of the UK’s first ever Virtual Franchising Awards 2021 sponsored by Barclays. The awards were devised by the QFA to promote franchising on a much larger scale to traditional face to face awards. To achieve this the awards would be completely virtual, increasing reach & lowering costs. The awards were also the UK’s first awards to be fully inclusive & open to all within the franchising sector, not just members.
The inaugural awards were a huge success attracting over 170 entries plus hundreds of thousands of website & social media views & engagements.
What are the advantages of virtual franchising events?
According to the Quality Franchise Association they have been planning virtual events long before the COVID-19 pandemic, some of the reasons they state for this include;
- Lower costs – Virtual events cost less than face to face events at large venues. This provides access to them to many more businesses within the sector with greater changes of a good Return On Investment ( ROI ).
- Sustainable – The pandemic has shown just how vulnerable the events & hospitality sector can be to this type of threat. Virtual events are guaranteed to run regardless of any future restrictions.
- Better for the environment – With global lockdowns it has been reported that there have been many benefits to both the environment & nature. Face to face events are often international so involve a huge amount of travel increasing carbon emissions.
- No physical restraints – Virtual events can be local, national or international
- Trending – Just looking at the trends over the last 10 years or so there has been a huge increase in people searching online for information on anything, including franchising. This has seen a significant fall in footfall over the last few years for face to face franchise exhibitions & events which as been accelerated with the pandemic.
What is the future of franchising exhibitions & events?
We all hope that the restrictions will be removed as outlined recently by the UK government but there are still a lot of doubts regarding face to face events. For example on the government website it states that even after restrictions are lifted people may have to wear face masks and/or have restrictions of numbers to indoor events. There is also the social factor to consider. Millions of people have been used to doing things differently. Online shopping, working from home & using video platforms such as Zoom to communicate, this for many now is the new normal. I think many will also think very carefully before attending any mass gathering as we learn to live with COVID over the coming years.
The franchising community has been extremely tenacious throughout the pandemic with many embracing the challenges with the use of new technology. The franchising sector has with this adaptation to change also learned to do things differently via virtual events & further expansion of virtual events seems extremely likely.