So what made you want to be your own boss?
I’ve held senior management positions for a number of years but ultimately wanted to secure my own future by running my own business.
And why Signs Express?
I was manager of the Norwich centre from 2000-2008 but left to pursue a career as a general manager in a completely different business sector. When the opportunity arose to become a franchisee with Signs Express rather than employee, I was very excited about the proposition as my experience meant I was fully aware of the business model, support structure and profit potential of the business. Plus, this trade is something I really enjoy being a part of with the dynamic day to day opportunities and how often does someone get the chance to return to an environment they loved but this time being the owner?
The strong brand presence, support and opportunity to earn from day one from buying an established business were a real attraction to me rather than starting my own business from scratch.
How did your family feel when you talked about the opportunity?
I have two children and I was the main wage earner so naturally we had to think carefully about my decision to leave the security of a regular salary paid position. However, the benefit of knowing the company and learning how positively things had been going in the six years since I had left meant that we were confident in both my ability and the business performance and its future capability
What skills do you think are most important as a franchisee?
You need to be able to manage your staff effectively and love the challenge of juggling tasks as no two days are ever the same. You need to be organised, comfortable delegating to your team and speaking with customers but above all, you do need focus, empathy and commitment to your goals.
How do you market yourself?
As an already established business, we have the benefit of being well known in the area, however you cannot rest on your laurels and so we have continued to be very proactive in marketing to help drive business. We have our own Signs Express branded black cab, we sponsor a local youth football team and we have supplied banners for the local ale festival which means our logo appears across the city. We are also key supporters of local charities, causes and events which give something to the community and also raise awareness of our brand.
This year, we’ve also taken the step to sponsor a GoGoDragon!, one of 80 dragons which will appear in an interactive arts trail across the city in aid of the charity Break. By working with the charity and promoting our association with other sponsors, it has more than paid for itself.
We’re also able to benefit from a very proactive website and e-marketing campaigns organised by the franchise headquarters along with our own high profile social media activity and of course customer referrals.
What sort of customers do you work with?
The nature of our business means that any organisation is a potential customer and it is this breadth and flexibility which makes our industry so interesting.
Over the past year I’ve maintained accounts established during the previous manager’s tenure with increased business from the University of East Anglia, ITV Text Santa and the Diocese of Norwich academy school roll-out.
I’ve been delighted to win new business from large customers such as the two shopping malls in the city centre and several marketing agencies who act as resellers of our services. We’ve also developed a good working relationship with Abellio Greater Anglia railway.
How do you win business against your competition?
There are strong competitors in the area with many other smaller sign makers present.
My quote winning formula is simple; we agree a plan, assist the customer with the specification, understand a customer’s needs and deliver. I accept that there are always alternatives that cost less, but they are not always the most cost-effective and we work to build trust and add value in our liaisons which in turn, benefits the customer further.
People buy from people and they want a reliable, quality service they can trust. Signs Express has a positive reputation, working systems and processes in place to stand out from the competition.
Any advice for someone starting out?
As with all business opportunities you need to make sure it is right for you. Will you enjoy it? Will it make you the return you’re looking for? Does it have a sustainable business model? In my opinion Signs Express has all these credits.
Training and ongoing support is really important so even if you don’t have industry experience (as 95% of Signs Express franchisees don’t have when they join) you can feel reassured that there are the processes and a support team in place to help you in every step of the way. It’s like having an experienced member of staff in all areas of the business on hand.
How has the past year been?
Initially, it was naturally an intense time. I was eager to get stuck in and having an established team in place as part of a resale meant that I was soon able to get myself integrated into the business and its day to day workings. My business plan allowed for the time to adapt and I am delighted to say that we’ve been able to exceed all expectations and we’ve consistently been over target. This means that I have been able to reward my staff, move forward my growth plans and look at new investment, thereby building the core strengths of the business.
As cheesy as it sounds, getting an email from a delighted customer or a mention on twitter makes you feel valued. We’re able to supply products which help create business for our customers and there is no better feeling than someone saying ‘we have people saying how good our vehicle looks’ when we’ve just done their vehicle graphics.
Having staff go the extra mile – for example an out of hours install at a shopping centre, and then my ability to reward them as the business owner is a proud moment.
It’s definitely a full time job at the moment but if I want a long weekend or to leave early one day, then it is just myself to answer to.
Plans for the future?
I’m indeed very positive about the future. We’re currently recruiting for a trainee sign maker and an experienced sign maker to allow us to cope with demand and grow the business. I’m also building on what is already a great business by expanding our customer base further. After being ahead of budget consistently this year, new targets have been set and I have ambitious plans for 50% growth in the next 2 years – no mean feat for such a well-established franchise but one which we will all work to achieve.
Looking further forward, I want to give the business and myself options. With options, you have flexibility and breadth to expand whilst continually providing a remarkable and sustainable service.