Hopeful Outlook Shines Through at Franchise Gathering

Going to conventions and conferences can be a crapshoot. They can be a waste of time and money, or you can come away completely reenergized armed with new knowledge, insights, ideas, and connections. This past weekend I attended just such a conference, the International Franchise Association’s (IFA) 49th Annual Convention, where I got some great advice from the top.

The highlight was a speech by former President Bill Clinton. Clinton was bullish on our future, twice declaring, “Anyone who bets against America is going to lose money in the long run.” He reminded the packed room full of franchisors that our world has forever changed. “The first fact of the 21st century world,” Clinton said, “is our interdependence and shared future. We need to build a world with shared benefits, opportunities, and responsibilities.”

Clinton explained his view on why we’re immersed in this current economic nightmare and how the stimulus bill just signed by President Obama is going to help us out of it. We all know that one of the problems we’re experiencing is the lack of jobs. Clinton attributed this to the fact that we don’t have “a source of new jobs, and we need a new source every five to eight years.” (About 23 million new jobs were created when Clinton was in office.) He believes that a new source of jobs could, and should, be generated from a commitment to attaining energy independence.

Clinton is convinced that the banks will be “forced” to start lending money and that we will recover from this “economic emergency” in no less than 15 and no more than 24 months.

Moving on to another president, I had a conversation with Fred DeLuca, co-founder, co-owner, and president of Subway, the largest franchise in the U.S. and the #1 franchise on the new AllBusiness AllStar Franchise ranking. DeLuca started Subway when he was 17 with a $1,000 loan from a family friend (who remains the company’s co-owner) and built it into an $11 billion+ chain. Subway is doing well during the recession because the company was quick to adjust its offerings and started advertising $5 foot-long sandwiches, which has boosted revenues and foot traffic into the stores. There’s a lesson here for all entrepreneurs: Americans are still spending, but they’re looking for value. If you offer that to them, they will come.

As successful as DeLuca is, he confided that “I still don’t think I can go as far as I want,” but added that he, like all entrepreneurs, “needs to have a big vision of what’s possible.”

And while the country has yet to elect a female president, the IFA just installed the second woman, Dina Dwyer-Owens, into its top spot. Dwyer-Owens is also chairwoman and CEO of The Dwyer Group, which consists of six different franchise concepts expected to reach $880 million in sales this year.

“Respecting the customer” is the number one mantra at The Dwyer Group, and Dwyer-Owens believes that kind of attitude can help business owners survive these tough times. She also believes in having fun. Her dad (Dwyer Group founder Don Dwyer) died fairly young from a sudden heart attack and that instilled in Dwyer-Owens a sense that “life’s too short” and that while you should “love what you do,” you need to maintain a sense of balance.

While attendance at this year’s IFA show was down, the franchisors seemed to be feeling fairly positive, at least about their own futures. Everyone I talked to was hopeful and concentrating on meeting the demands of today’s money-strapped consumers. The IFA itself pointed out how franchising performed well during previous economic downturns.

Driving home from San Diego through heavy rain, I was reminded of something else Fred DeLuca told me: “There’s never a single ‘I see the future’ moment. You have to have limited vision to move ahead. You just need to know where you’re going and keep plugging along, headed in the right direction.”

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