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Franchisee on the fast track to success with FastSigns

Getting to the goal
There have really been three phases in the evolution of my franchise. The first few years, as mentioned, were very difficult, but at least the business was growing. When I opened, I had about five full-time staff, plus some on call.

In the second phase, from year three to about five or six, we absolutely had the business model figured out, I was paying all my bills and my staff grew to about 10 people, but I was not yet happy with my own working hours and pay. I had more ambitious goals.

In 2002, I attended a seminar about goal-setting that really motivated me. Afterwards, I wrote down my own goal of selling $1 million worth of signs and graphics by 2005.

There were only a few other FastSigns franchises operating at that level back then, but I came back to work and told my team we could do it. We just needed to increase our business a little each month, one increment at a time, and I offered them bonuses for doing so.

In the end, we did it. In 2005, we hit $1 million in sales for the first time. I went to the annual FastSigns franchisee convention and received a ring recognizing the accomplishment.

It had always been a fun business, but that’s when it became a financially rewarding one.

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When FastSigns was launched 25 years ago, it was a big deal that customers could come in, order a sign and pick it up the next day. The value proposition was all about speed, hence the name of the company.

Today, though, what we do is a lot more complex. There’s planning and engineering involved to ensure the graphics’ durability for our business clients’ needs. This is why the head office changed our tagline in 2012 to ‘More than fast. More than signs.’

And indeed, the franchisor is always suggesting new product lines. A while back, they added more trade show displays and banner stands. Now we’re even selling some ‘traditional’ printing to wholesalers, such as business cards, postcards and brochures. Some clients are very keen to have us serve as their one-stop shop this way. We’re really their printer, not just their sign supplier.

Awareness of the FastSigns brand has changed a lot over the past 18 years. We’ve been here long enough to build some of that awareness ourselves, but we also get people visiting from out of town and they already know who FastSigns is. It’s like I said about Hertz; I get to be part of a big, well-known brand to which new customers are already drawn.

There are now five other FastSigns franchises in British Columbia. We don’t market into each other’s turf, but B2B referrals can come from anywhere across the province—or beyond. The largest project we’ve done this year was a national program for a real estate company. They were rebranding and needed to change over their graphics all across Canada. You can only get those jobs when you’re a well-established, nationwide brand yourself.

Plenty of years left
I’m keen to keep growing. When I drive, I look at all of the signs around me and realize we didn’t produce most of them, so there’s still lots of business here to go after!

I probably won’t need to go multi-unit. We could handle twice as much volume here without needing any further square footage, by adding an evening shift.

The sign industry has changed so much since 1995 in terms of technology and applications, it feels like a different job than when I started, so I never get bored. My previous working life certainly made me very adaptable.

It also helped me gain perspective about what’s important. I don’t get upset about minor problems. I know what to freak out about and what not to.

I’ve got plenty of years left in me and no plans to get out of this franchise. Some 20 years from now, I’ll still be here, maybe delegating tasks more. It seems like the perfect business for me.

Paul LeBlanc is a Vancouver franchisee for FastSigns. For more information, contact him via e-mail at paul.leblanc@fastsigns.com.

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