I wasn’t sure what to expect when I attended my first national franchise show in Toronto a couple of years ago. I already knew that as a woman franchisor, I would be in the minority among the vendors. However, I knew there would be many women in the room. The demographic statistics given by the Canadian Franchise Association said that about half the audience would be women. Perfect, since that is my target demographic (which doesn’t mean that we don’t have room for men in our company – we do!). Seems reasonable that on a weekend, couples would visit the show together to browse franchise opportunities.
Not to say that there were not single women, single men, or same-sex couples also checking out the show. Happily, we live in a time and place where there is less tolerance of discrimination, bigotry, and prejudice. Boundaries are blurring, and stereotyping is frowned upon.
So imagine my surprise when I saw this woman at one of the booths. She looked barely old enough to drink. She looks barely dressed for the crisp fall weather. Lots of thigh, lots of boob, lots of lipstick, lots of mascara. Among the crowds of 30-something and older people milling about in jeans and sweaters, it was impossible not to notice her. Which is, I imagine, exactly what the vendor intended.
If this was a booth for a Hooters franchise, it would make sense. Or perhaps for a chain of lingerie stores. Her extreme youth and skimpy clothing so sharply contrasted everything else in the room, that it seemed a deliberate ploy to promote the product or services being sold by the vendor.
But it wasn’t. I won’t reveal who it was. Suffice it to say that the vendor was a service which was being marketed to all the attendees, and to the franchisors also.
Why was I offended by this? If this woman had chosen her clothes that day because it’s what she usually wears to work events, then fine – that is her choice and I support her freedom to make it. However, it was hardly appropriate business dress, yet it was condoned by her employer. It is more likely that she was instructed to dress like that. I thought we had moved on from the days when women were hired in business on the basis of their sex appeal.
However, the larger issue for me is the assumption made when they chose to install a young babe with boobs in the booth. In business, you design your marketing to appeal to your target audience. Who would be attracted to a young pretty woman showing lots of skin? Heterosexual men. The implication is that straight women are not their target audience. Neither are gay men, for that matter.
Ok – fine. Targeting only straight men is smart if straight women and gay men would not be interested in your product or service. As an emerging franchisor, I was very interested in the services of this vendor. Anytime I walked by, the booth was buzzing with men of all sizes and shapes either trying to catch the eye of this woman, or openly leering at her. Based on the conversation I overheard, she was able to answer only the most basic questions about the company. She didn’t speak with the confidence of an experienced employee or a savvy salesperson.
To assume that women are not their target market is evidence that they believe women are not interested in their services. That women are not buying franchises in their own right. That women don’t have the purchasing power to make that decision. That women are not franchising their own companies.
As in all other aspects of business, franchising was originally the domain of men. As a woman, I am consistently in the minority at franchise conferences and in online franchise forums. Whoever put the boobalicious babe in the booth was certainly catering to straight men and didn’t give any consideration to me as a potential customer. Is franchising the last frontier of gender discrimination in business?