By Patrick O’Halloran
On January 1, 2015, I opened Canada’s first Image360 sign and graphics franchise. Unlike most shops in the system, however, it’s not a new buildout or a conversion of an independent print shop. Instead, I’ve expanded my successful Allegra Marketing Print Mail franchise in Windsor, Ont., into signage, displays and graphics, creating a one-stop marketing shop for my clients. And so far, there’s been a nice synergy between the two sister brands.
Assuming a leadership role
I was born in Windsor and have always lived in this area, spending some of my time in nearby Tecumseh and Sarnia, Ont. I’m the oldest of five siblings and was a typical child of the 1980s, outside all day and playing lots of baseball. At school, I was a straight-A student. I especially enjoyed math, science and drama. Baseball always continued to be my main sport.
My father was the manager of a Zehrs grocery store in the suburb of LaSalle, Ont. My mother was a banker with Canada Trust, then started working at the Casino Windsor when it opened in 1994.
When I was 14, I started to work at Zehrs, too. Back then, minimum wage was less than $3 an hour, so it was great to have a real job where I was making $10 an hour!
Even though I was just stocking shelves on a Friday night, I took a leadership role at the store, as I wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps. My work ethic and business acumen come from him. He had grown up in Essex, Ont., and worked at an independent grocery store, where he’d learned a lot about what it took to be a business owner. He always ran his store as if it were his own. I’ve done the same in my career.
I worked for Zehrs for five years and went straight into the workforce after high school. I spent six years as a store manager for Taco Bell, overseeing costs, labour and human resources (HR). The company went through some major corporate shifts during that time, with the local offices changing from international to domestic in scope, followed by the franchising of previously corporate-run stores.
A speedy opportunity
I’d gotten married at 23 to my wife Teresa and we’d started to have kids immediately. After leaving Taco Bell, I interviewed at other restaurants and found a good opportunity with Swiss Chalet, but it meant we would have to move out of town. We lived close to my in-laws, who did a lot of babysitting for us, so I didn’t want to have to relocate.
Then, a more local opportunity came up with the business now known as Allegra Marketing Print Mail. Two co-franchisees, George Kummer and Joseph Haddad, had opened a Speedy Printing Centre in Windsor in 1987 and they were looking for a store manager.
I had no clue at that point about the company; I thought it was just a copy shop. I had been working right next door and sometimes used their photocopying and faxing services, so it seemed to me like that was all they did. I was just looking for a job to support my growing family.
They interviewed me along with others and sent us for profile testing. After going through this to see if I was a good fit, I got the job.
Taking it was the best decision I’ve ever made. George and Joe were great people whom I liked right away. I joined them in 1994 and managed their business for 10 years.
When I started, the shop was very walk-in-oriented, selling business cards and providing services like photocopying. The location I’m still at today was their production hub, while prepress services were handled at a separate location and sales at yet another.
In 1998, our branding transitioned from Speedy to Allegra Print & Imaging. The name change better reflected what we were providing for our clients.
Then, in 2004, Allegra added marketing to our product mix, which is when the name was modified to Allegra Marketing Print Mail. We still put ink on paper, but now the nature of the message and the tactics we used to market it were far more important to compete in an expanding marketplace. That is to say, how you get your message out and to whom is far more important than just the printing of that message.
At that time, I changed my focus to direct sales for the organization. With the programs, training and my previous business acumen, I made the top 10 in direct sales across the Allegra system and helped our franchise become one of the top locations in the network.
I also learned a great deal from George and Joe, who always kept on the cutting edge of technology. We were the first colour-connected printing company in southwestern Ontario, using a raster image processor (RIP) to manage colour copies. More than that, though, we weren’t just printers; we also developed and implemented marketing plans for our clients, across a wide range of industries, from retailers to non-profit organizations, from banks to hospitals.
Today, we continue to take pride in developing campaigns that help our clients succeed. We develop relationships with them, not just products for them. And when they succeed, we all succeed.