Left to right: Longtime friends and mentors Doc Cohen and Don DeBolt with Scott Lehr, who is retiring from the IFA after 29 years.
“I’ve pretty much have done everything at IFA except being a lobbyist,” says Scott Lehr as he reflects on his nearly three decades with the International Franchise Association. Hired in 1990 as the director of advertising, Lehr had five more titles during the ensuing 29 years before retiring after the IFA’s annual convention in February as executive vice president of development, marketing and conferences.
But, like so many in franchising, Lehr can’t quit the industry just yet. “I’m still on as a consultant with the IFA,” he says, and as for what’s next, “The likelihood of me doing something in franchising is … very likely.”
“It’s been a really rewarding experience for me,” he continues. “So I’m even looking at becoming a franchisee or investing in a franchisor.”
Previously working as the associate publisher of the real estate-focused Expansion Management Magazine, Lehr joined the IFA to help it launch a consumer-facing magazine “to compete with the likes of Entrepreneur,” and work on the association’s Franchise Opportunities Guide and corresponding website. “Then the CEO at the time, Don DeBolt, asked me to head up membership, and so that’s been the last 22 years and then picking up all the revenue activity,” says Lehr.
The IFA’s budget back in 1990 was $6 million, recalls Lehr, “and now it’s about $18 million.”
“Our goal was always to make sure IFA had the revenue and resources to do what we do,” he says.
What the association does has changed over the years, adapting to what Lehr calls “the evolution and sophistication of franchising.”
“Thirty years ago, there were far fewer systems and far fewer industries represented,” says Lehr, noting the rise of multi-brand franchisors and multi-unit franchisees and the expansion that’s been fueled by access to capital, much of that from private equity firms.
In 1993 came “probably one of the big seismic shifts” for the organization, he says. That was the year the IFA opened membership to franchisees.
“It was not an easy decision,” says Lehr, recalling tough conversations at the board level. “But it was absolutely the best thing we did for the industry.”
Franchisees, he notes, “are the absolute best advocates of franchising,” and their involvement has been key to the association’s legislative and lobbying efforts.
Lehr’s been a familiar face at the IFA’s conventions, saying he’s only missed two during his tenure, first for the birth of his daughter and later his son. “I made 27, that’s pretty good,” he says of his convention track record. Plenty of memories were made at those events, says Lehr, and his work at the IFA has resulted in lifelong friendships.
“Doc Cohen, he and I were out on the road for two or three years to really build up our franchisee membership base,” remembers Lehr, and he and the former IFA chairman and longtime industry advocate “solidified a friendship that will go on for many years.”
And Lehr says he “personally recruited” Steve Greenbaum (now CEO of ComForCare) to the IFA when Greenbaum was building PostNet. “He’s another guy who I’ve been friends with for 25 years,” says Lehr. “It’s been great to make friends with someone like that who basically built their business through IFA … that stands out to me.”
While he’s not exactly sailing off into the sunset, more time on the water is in Lehr’s future. In addition to he and wife Jill spending more time at their vacation home in the Dominican Republic, “We’re big sailors,” he says, “so we have a chartered sailing trip planned with friends this summer.”
Will he be at the IFA’s convention next year in Orlando? “What I’ve learned is, no one in franchising retires,” he says.