Knowledge is priceless


By John O’Brien, founder & CEO
Thursday, 21 March, 2019

Knowledge is priceless

I first attended the International Franchise Association (IFA) Convention in the USA in 1996 when there were four Australians among the thousands there. This year there were 50 of us, mingling with over 4000 delegates and more than 400 exhibitors. This represents growth over a quarter-century of just two additional Australian attendees per year, which, given the presence of well more than a thousand franchise systems in Oz, I find odd.

Which begs the question, it is worthwhile? It’s a huge financial investment — call it $5000–$10,000 per person, dependent on how you choose to do it, and then there’s the time and distraction.

On the other hand I attribute a great measure of Poolwerx’ success to the tips I have picked up at IFA Conventions. Every year, I attend with my mind and ears wide open. You never know what gems might drop from the sky, and time and again they have. But these days, I also show up with very specific questions in mind, and every year I get a lot more than $10K worth of answers.

Because nowadays (in US measurement) I choose one or two inch-wide categories and go for the miles of depth available over a few days in that one place.

Say I am curious about something like techniques in social media. Or maybe something even more niched like text marketing. Poolwerx has Marketing and IT departments and PR and advertising agencies responsible for knowing about and fitting these elements into our mix. But as CEO I’m still finding my feet in areas dominated by young minds hell-bent on whatever disruption they can cause. I have these people in our support offices, but ultimately decisions re investment and weight of attention fall at my own feet, so I need to get a grip.

The remarkable thing about the IFA event is that you have all these systems sharing information surprisingly willingly. I suppose this is because franchising is a way of doing business rather than about the competitive mechanics or trade secrets of any particular retail/service operation. Fred from The Burger Shed is not going to reveal his secret herbs and spices, but will happily share what makes his franchise community work. So there is little direct threat of leeching intellectual property at a consumer coalface level. It’s a lot less about what you actually do than the way you systemise it.

And the scale is huge. In Oz our systems might have 20 or 50 or even 100-or-more franchise partners but some of these folks in the USA have thousands. If there’s a trend, problem or opportunity, it’s a fair bet they have come across it and they’re happy to share their experiences.

So say I have a yarn about digital presence with a fellow CEO and they say, “Oh, I know very little about that; let me introduce you to our marketing manager,” who introduces me to the digital manager, who introduces me to the content manager, who might introduce me to a couple of favoured suppliers re the tech. And drilling down like this eventually gets you to that ‘got it’ moment. I am not ever going to be doing any of these jobs but the understanding I gain means I am less likely to be wrong-footed when it comes time for me to assess and approve direction, process and budget.

The IFA Convention is a great example of a sector creating standards and selflessly sharing experiences so that all of us can become strong links in the chain. It’s in our mutual interest (and in the interests of the thousands of small businesspeople who depend on us).

Might I encourage emerging, and for that matter, emerged, Australian franchisors to make the IFA convention a must-attend in 2020? It’s scale — incredible scale. And you won’t believe what genius is shared, free of charge.

Main image caption: (L-R): John O’Brien, Helen O’Brien, Rebecca Barnes, Steve Halls.

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