By Peter Saunders
Pierre Lachapelle had more than 30 years’ experience in the visual communications field when he recently acquired the master franchising rights for Signarama in Quebec. Here, he explains why the franchise business model has been an ideal way to share his expertise with entrepreneurs and maximize profits.
Entering the industry
“My father worked for 42 years at Trans-Canada Signs, one of the most important national sign manufacturers at the time (which is now known as Transworld Signs), but he did not plan my path into the sign business. In 1979, Trans-Canada’s owner was looking to hire a junior representative to open a new sales office. I was 19 and waiting to start my university studies, but I decided to accept the challenge and join the company to acquire real-world work experience.
Without any prior knowledge of sales or the sign business, I was very fortunate to receive exhaustive training in Trans-Canada’s plant, from graphic design to installation. I spent 15 years with the company—1979 to 1994—and it was most rewarding, as I got to meet the best signmakers in the industry.
Over my last four years working with Trans-Canada, I had the opportunity as a national sales manager—working with my sales and research and development (R&D) teams—to develop and implement major sign programs for clients like Shell, Canada Post, the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), Couche-Tard and Metro, to name just a few.”
Keeping up with technology
“After my time with Trans-Canada, I sought opportunities to diversify my skills in the field of visual communications. In the spirit of seeking new methods and trends, I invested as a shareholder in one of Quebec’s earliest digital large-format printing operations. This new technology would go on to revolutionize the sign and graphics industry to this day, bringing with it a number of new applications, such as vehicle wraps, printed murals, large posters, window decals and floor graphics.
After I gained experience in large-format printing, I joined Groupe BO Concept in 1998. It had less than 10 employees at the time. By pairing my knowledge with the company’s expertise, we were able to work on signs and displays of all types, which allowed us to grow rapidly. We became a leader in visual communications for in-store marketing in a short period, with our sales volume increasing by five times.”
The call of franchising
“In the early 2000s, while I was travelling on business in Ontario and the U.S., I found myself attracted to the concept of franchising for the manufacturing of signs and displays. There was no franchise system of this type operating within Quebec at the time.
During this period, I visited many signmaking franchises, including Signarama, FastSigns International and Signs Now. I started a business plan to open my own franchise while still continuing my activities with Groupe BO Concept, which was still growing at a rapid pace.
Soon after I completed my business plan, Signarama opened its first Quebec franchise in 2008. Then, in 2011, I learned the franchisor for the Quebec territory was looking to sell the master franchise. This is how my role started.”
A difficult start
“While acquiring the master franchise for Quebec, I was still working for Group BO Concept. The owner had agreed to acquire the Quebec territory with me. We found the beginning of the process was difficult, as with many startup projects, and we encountered many surprises along the way.
The previous franchisor had opened a few franchises, but the results were not convincing. Even with our thorough knowledge of the sign business and the local market, we had to learn how to fulfil our new roles as franchisors and put forward new approaches for future development.
Conscious of the need to ensure profitability for each new franchise, we put the previous development plan on hold. Then we reviewed the business strategy with the assistance of the master franchisor, United Franchise Group (UFG), which holds the rights to the Signarama brand in more than 50 countries, overseeing more than 900 locations.”