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IFA Sponsored Expo West Blindsided by Colorado Beer Fest

West Franchise Expo in Denver
Franchisors sell to an empty room at Franchise Expo West

The International Franchise Association, franchising's largest worldwide trade organization, came away from MFV Expositions' Franchise Expo West's three-day event last weekend confounded and disappointed in Denver, Colorado's Convention Center site.

After researching the location for over a year, MFV determined that Denver's strong economy, explosive population and job growth were major factors in bringing 200 franchisors into the Mile High City for its largest franchising convention in the western United States. The firm invested big bucks in radio, television advertising and a Denver Post four-page promotion section prior to the expo.

MFV Expositions, producer of major franchise shows, IFA and some of their exhibitors closed up the franchise expo event on October 6 with little to show for it.

What was the problem? The West Franchise Expo had to compete with Denver's Great American Beer Festival for all three days of its event, right next door, bringing in 65,000 beer-drinking aficionados to the convention center. After identification checks and passing through metal detectors, the crowds pushed their way into the beer festivities to take advantage of "the largest collection of U.S. beer ever served in a public tasting event," all at an advertised price of $80 a ticket. As beer festival spots sold out, scalpers sold tickets for as much as $120, Blue MauMau sources stated.

MFV Expositions president Tom Portesy said it was no secret that he was disappointed in the attendance numbers at this year's Franchise Expo West, formerly branded as the West Coast Expo while it was in Southern California. He was also chagrined at the way they were treated by the Colorado Convention Center and the City of Denver. "I've been putting on these shows for 30 years and I do not feel we, or anyone else I know in the trade show industry, have ever been misled to the degree that we were in terms of the venue and what was happening." He didn't stop there. In regard to the first-time event for the franchise expo in Denver, Portesy exclaimed, "For the convention visitor bureau in Denver not to disclose to MFV the magnitude of the Great American Beer Festival event, what it does, what happens at the convention center building, and what happens in the downtown during the Beer Fest was just atrocious. It resulted in our show getting half of what we and the exhibitors expected."

Escalator to Beer Fest is consistently filled

​Portesy emphasized that the City of Denver and the convention center had the opportunity to shine in front of 200 franchisors, all of which put on their own annual conventions. He said Denver can now forget about that business. "They really blew it," he said, explaining, "We don't know where the breakdown was in planning our event. We go through a certain process a year-and-a-half before the expositions to find out what's going on in the city and the surrounding area. For Denver officials not to tell us that this is not just a beer fest, this is the largest beer fest in the United States, bringing in 65,000 people from around the world. And everyone in Denver knows it. That's the bad part of what happened," Portesy said.

Portesy told how they had spent a lot of dollars locally, after national and regional advertising on television and radio. But he said most people in the city knew, with this beer festival going on, to stay away from downtown Denver. "So, it's very disappointing. We're disappointed in the numbers, in the building, in the hurdles the exhibitors had to get through to get into the convention center building. And we're disappointed with the reaction to the building onsite. It was horrible for them to mislead us the way they did. It's worse for them to be tone deaf onsite. They were asking attendees for badges while they were trying to make their way to our registration booths."

The MFV president said that was the bad part of what happened at the event last week, but there was a very positive side. Many of the exhibitors came up to him during the franchise show to say while there were less people than they expected, and less than they wanted, they had some very qualified candidates. "Considering the hurdles they cleared and the effort they made to get down to our event is indicative of their seriousness. This sentiment was made over and over…so our hope and expectation is that the conversions will be even higher than at one of our other events," he stated.

The Franchise Expo West is already booked for Denver next year, but Portesy is still in conversations with the convention center representatives. He said he can't imagine that the people for the event venue would do these things intentionally. "I hope they didn't put us and our exhibitors and our industry in this situation knowingly for the cost of the Denver convention venue. This type of thing just doesn't happen. The convention business bureau in every city I have been to in my 30 years of doing this are always transparent. They want everybody leaving their conventions with a good taste, for obvious reasons."

Portesy said, "Knowing what we know now, if we decide to do it again in Denver, we are going to have to feel very, very comfortable prior to the expo. We are not going to put our exhibitors in a situation again that we can't control. But if it happens again, then shame on us."

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About Janet Sparks

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Public Profile

Janet Sparks is the former publisher of the Continental Franchise Review, an industry newsletter that covered the franchise community for over 30 years. She has also been a columnist for a leading franchise magazine for the past 13 years. Today she is an independent journalist who engages in investigative reporting, tackling complex issues that impact the franchise industry.

Janet can be reached at jsparks@bluemaumau.org or at 303-799-7398.