Franchising appears to be getting a refresh, based on the conversations I had at the International Franchise Expo (IFE) 2012. Some 10,000 attendees gathered to meet about 300 exhibitors at the convention – a notably higher attendance and participation than has been seen in recent years. This was the first year the convention was held at the Javits Center in New York City, a switch from Washington, D.C.

The mood at IFE was upbeat, and franchisees and franchisors were optimistic about the state of the franchising industry and the performance of the retail market. Small business owners had positive outlooks as they discussed how small business loans are more readily available this year, allowing a new class of entrepreneurs to enter the market. Burger locations and self-serve frozen yogurt sites showed they are continuing to gain traction and are topping the list of hot new franchise opportunities in 2012.

In addition, the IFE conference program featured a host of seminars and symposiums that did great job focusing on the trends and issues impacting franchises today. There were six tracks customized to provide advice and information on various aspects of franchising for each audience segment. Tracks included buying a franchise; franchising your business; acquiring a master franchise; franchising for the Hispanic investor; franchisors seeking growth; and non-U.S. franchisors entering the U.S. market.

Kimco attended IFE this year to showcase our FastTrack Franchise program, which matches entrepreneurs to pre-approved franchise vacancies within our portfolio. We were the sole retail owner and landlord in attendance at the show. We used the opportunity to network and meet future and current franchise owners. Reception to FastTrack Franchise was favorable, and many entrepreneurs I talked to were excited about the program.

Did you attend IFE this year? What are your thoughts on the state of franchising? Let us know in the comments.