IFA 2019: A First-Timer’s Perspective on the Franchise Industry’s Largest Conference

I had the opportunity to attend the 2019 IFA Conference last month in Las Vegas. Let me start off by saying that I went into the conference as a brand new employee (1-month) at Bunker, a start up in Madison, WI, which has a limited presence within the franchising industry. However, we do have a software platform, insurance products and a vision of how we can substantially lessen the insurance and compliance burden for both the franchisor and franchisee. So, here I am, a new employee at a new company poised to enter a new industry, and I was tasked with initial reconnaissance.

When I arrived at the event, I was nearly certain I had never spoken to any of the attendees before in my life. To make things more difficult, it was very apparent the other 4000+ attendees were part of tight knit communities of longtime friends, clients, vendors and peers. To say that I was overwhelmed would be an understatement.

That first day, I tried to network as much as I could via roundtable discussions and, as casually as I could, forcing myself into conversations around the coffee tables with limited success. I was starting to think my foray into the franchise world would be a failure – and I still had three days to go! Then, I bumped into a familiar face, John Francis (or as people in the industry call him, “Johnny Franchise”). Acting like we had been friends for years, John took me under his wing and started making intro after intro after intro. I was suddenly immersed into the “inner workings” of the franchise industry. I attended the VIP after-parties, an invite-only Top Golf event and various other social gatherings. The conference was now turning into an experience I wouldn’t soon forget!

After my second day, I started to realize the veteran attendees were great, down to earth people who took a lot of pride in networking with the first-time attendees to make it as great of an experience for them as they could. They were new and overwhelmed once too, so I guess they understand what it can be like. It didn’t matter whether they were CEO’s of giant franchises or single store franchisees – everyone took the time to learn about what I/Bunker did, gave me advice and pointed me in the right direction to be successful with my new endeavor.

One of my biggest takeaways from the event was the common theme of how businesses are looking for ways to leverage technology to build efficiencies and automate tasks. There were a number a great exhibitors who are doing just that for the franchising industry. I spoke with many innovative and forward-thinking vendors/suppliers who are truly cutting edge in their respective industries. It will be interesting to see how they continue to grow throughout the years!

Overall, the conference was a great success!  I made a lot of contacts and developed numerous relationships I hope to grow over the coming years through this incredible event!  I am also convinced that Bunker provides great value in the industry and look forward to advancing our partnership efforts. Thank you to “Johnny Franchise” and all of the other people who took the time and made the effort to give me such a memorable first time IFA Conference experience! I am now an IFA Member and look forward to attending the 2020 Conference in Orlando, FL!