Taking over the business
Teresa, my wife, was an early childhood education (ECE) teacher when we got married. Once we started to have kids, we both decided she would stay home with them as much as possible. Our son Carom was born in 1992, followed by our daughters Desirée in 1993, Jasmine in 1995 and Arianna in 2004. Teresa began working part-time at my dad’s Zehrs store in LaSalle after Desirée was born. She’s still there now and everyone loves her. She opens and closes the store, trains staff and works in the office as a clerk.
Raising kids is expensive, especially today when I have three of them in university. So, when George and Joe eventually looked to move on from their centre after more than 27 years, we talked about the opportunity for me to become the franchisee.
I wasn’t worried about the competition in this field. We’d strived to get in front of our clients and find out what their needs were. And the shop had landed a lot of very long-term clients since 1987. When you’re well-entrenched with your customers, it doesn’t really matter what your competition is doing. That’s not to say you don’t need to know who your competition is, but the key is to be valued by your clients for what you do. At the end of the day, it is about the relationships you develop.
I had met a lot of successful franchisees over the course of my career, so I was keen for the opportunity to take over the business and continue to develop it further. That’s the other key to not worrying about the competition; you have to evolve to make sure you can meet your customers’ changing needs, not just their old ones.
We’ve done that by diversifying. Traditional printing remains in our sales mix, but we’ve also added promotional products to our offerings, like customized apparel, pens and Universal Serial Bus (USB) keys. We’ve also gotten better at landing sales through the web.
In 2013, George was named vice-president (VP) and Joe executive vice-president (EVP) of centre operations for Allegra Network’s corporate operations division. That was a great recognition of their experience and success as franchisees in the ever-changing print and visual communications industry. George and Joe were Allegra’s first international franchisees, starting in Windsor and eventually opening three locations, all of which have consistently ranked as some of the system’s top sales performers. They have won multiple awards and continue to be industry leaders today.
The 360 revolution
Allegra acquired Signs Now in 2005 and created Sign & Graphics Operations (SGO) to acquire Signs By Tomorrow in 2012. Today, Alliance Franchise Brands, the parent company of both Allegra and SGO, links nearly 600 marketing and visual communications offices across North America and the U.K.
SGO introduced the Image360 brand to the sign division in early 2013. The concept was to escape the fast-turnaround and sign-centric perception created by their longstanding brands in favour of a broader roster of products and services and a more consultative approach to customer service. Many of the Image360 franchises will be new builds, but conversions are also an option.
In addition to the technology used by the sign division centres, many of the Allegra franchises also already housed some signmaking equipment. We purchased a Roland eco-solvent inkjet printer years ago, for instance, to help make signs and banners now and then for our customers. So, we were a good fit to add the Image360 model to our existing business. Today, we have a Summa plotter, a new HP latex printer and a lot of other innovative equipment to operate our signmaking centre.