Garden State Legislators, Franchisees and Franchisors Came Together to Brainstorm Ways to Leverage FIFA’s Quadrennial Event
The International Franchise Association’s (IFA) Open for Opportunity Roadshow came to the Garden State this week, marking its 10th official stop around the country. Officially launched at IFA’s Annual Convention last year, Open for Opportunity was created to help people better understand franchising and its value to communities. “Franchisees are small-business owners, each with their own story. They are not a brand name,” said Jeff Hanscom, vice president of state and local government at IFA. “Our goal is to reshape the narrative about the franchise industry.”
World Cup 2026 Host City
The New Jersey Roadshow kicked off Thursday morning with a lively roundtable discussion at the New Jersey Restaurant & Hospitality Association in Trenton. The topic centered around the 2026 World Cup and the possibilities it presents to franchise business owners. The final match will be at MetLife Stadium in Rutherford, N.J. The meeting allowed franchisors and franchisees to talk with local legislators and share their struggles and stories.
The World Cup presents “an opportunity of great reward and risk for franchise owners,” said moderator Mark Bonamo, a New Jersey resident and editor of TAPInto Newark/NJ. “$500 million is projected to come into the economy from the World Cup. What can we do to take advantage?” he asked the group.
With an influx of people coming to the Garden State to experience the World Cup, community leaders and franchise business owners have a lot to think about. The group discussed staffing issues, transportation challenges and ways to entice visitors to stay (and spend) in New Jersey during the global soccer event. “Let’s make sure we don’t lose them to New York,” said NJ State Assemblymember Marilyn Piperno, who suggested creating packages to make it easy and desirable for visitors to patronize New Jersey’s franchised small businesses and tourist attractions while in the state.
New Jersey Franchisees Tell their Stories
Several New Jersey franchise owners participated in the roundtable discussion and shared their stories. Third-generation McDonald’s franchisee Kevin Smolar recalled how his grandfather started as a McDonald’s franchisee in 1960 and was recruited by founder Ray Kroc. His dad followed in his grandfather’s footsteps as a McDonald’s franchisee, and Smolar took the same path, initially working as a crew member when he was a teenager. Now leading the family business with his sister, he takes pride in making a difference for his employees and community.
“Smolar’s story is exactly the kind of narrative we want to share,” said Hanscom. “When people pass by a McDonald’s, they think big business and Golden Arches. They don’t think of small business owners or say to themselves ‘I wonder if that’s a third-generation family business,‘” he said.
FASTSIGNS franchisee Charles King also told his story at the roundtable. King, an immigrant from West Africa who came to the U.S. to escape civil unrest, spent years in corporate America before deciding to venture into franchise ownership. What King loves most about being a franchisee is the support and collaboration he receives from his franchisor. “During Covid, the FASTSIGNS system came together on a weekly video call to strategize ways to help local communities and each other through the pandemic. The ideas that came out of it were amazing. Being a franchisee has been an eye-opener. That collaboration and support is something mom-and-pops don’t get,” he said.
King told the group that his biggest challenge as a franchise owner has been staffing, and he wants to get ahead of it before the 2026 World Cup. “Franchise small businesses need more programs to obtain working capital so they can attract and retain good employees. When we put money into local businesses, we put money into communities. As local franchise businesses grow, so will New Jersey.”
Franchising Vital to N.J. Economy
State Rep. John DiMaio, Republican minority leader in the legislature, reinforced the impact of franchising on local economies and the state’s as a whole. “Small-business owners and entrepreneurs are proof that success can come from anywhere. If we improve New Jersey’s business climate by lowering taxes and cutting regulations, they will have more money and time to invest and grow businesses in New Jersey.”
Nearly 20,000 local franchise establishments in New Jersey provide more than 203,000 local jobs. In 2022, the sector provided $7.2 billion in payroll, generated more than $19 billion in economic output, and contributed $11.9 billion to New Jersey’s gross state product.
IFA Open For Opportunity Roadshow
The Open for Opportunity Roadshow idea was a collaborative brainchild of IFA staffers who wanted to tell the world about the value of franchising. Each trip features franchise owners who share their stories, roundtable discussions with community leaders, and tours of franchise locations. “But they have all been different in some way and have touched on different topics,” says Erica Farage, vice president at IFA.
For example, in March 2022, the first Open for Opportunity Roadshow focused on diversity, with discussions on encouraging minority franchise ownership. In January 2023, the Roadshow visited the Twin Cities, where Courtney Henry, a local McDonald’s owner, highlighted upward mobility in franchising. The next stop will be in Las Vegas, preceding the IFA’s Annual Convention.
Farage says Open for Opportunity has been great for all involved. “We learn something new from every visit and keep improving on these trips each time. It has been amazing,” she said.