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Women in Franchising: Catherine Monson is shaking up the sign business

On pursuing new objectives
To help achieve our goals, one of the main changes we made was launching an outside sales initiative in 2010. We started with 10 outside sales representatives in our network before expanding the initiative. Today, our franchisees directly employ nearly 500 outside reps, all trained on our selling system.

In 2012, we repositioned our brand as: “More than fast. More than signs.” We had already laid a lot of the groundwork, by educating our franchisees and their inside and outside sales reps, to become more involved in their customers’ projects earlier in the process and to provide marketing-savvy concepts, serving as a ‘visual ideas’ company.

That same year, I appeared on an episode of Undercover Boss, which continues to run in syndication and provide value to us. I didn’t think the producers could disguise me well enough, because our franchisees had already seen me all around, but after donning a black wig, black nail polish and fake tattoos, not even my brother recognized me!

Always on the go, Monson even uses a treadmill desk at FastSigns’ corporate headquarters (HQ).

We filmed that episode for 10 hours a day over 10 days in different cities. The experience taught me about the need for better communications with our franchisees and their employees. I saw a need for more specific training, for example, to handle larger outdoor signage projects.

We’ve certainly made major progress toward our objectives. Our franchises’ average annual sales volume is $729,000 in the U.S. and $727,400 in Canada. We have 524 locations in the U.S. and 30 in Canada. I know we can get up to 75 in Canada, where we’re actively looking for franchisee candidates in 41 markets. And we are very proud of our reputation for franchisee satisfaction in 
all countries.

On finding franchisees
We currently offer five business models: new startups, conversions, co-brandings, international master franchises and international area developer opportunities. In terms of those opportunities most relevant to the Canadian market, in addition to startups, conversions and co-brandings, we are currently seeking a master franchisee for Quebec.

For a new startup franchise, it is beneficial to have experience in sales, marketing and management. It’s not the same as back in 1985—you need to be ready to serve midsize to large corporate customers in a multitude of industries who want to deal with one provider for everything from signs and digital printing to trade show booths.

The conversion model provides an opportunity for an existing, independent sign shop to achieve greater growth and profit by taking on the FastSigns brand. The co-branding model, on the other hand, targets owners of independent photography, embroidery, printing and other graphic-oriented businesses who want to diversify their existing offerings by adding a FastSigns showroom and equipment. By offering a broader product and service portfolio to their existing customer base, they can expand their sales and reach. To be considered for the co-branding program, the existing business must have already have at least $1 million in annual sales.

So far, one of our Canadian franchises is a conversion and three are co-branded. There is still a lot of opportunity.

There are many advantages to our business model over those in other franchised industries. Our centres are open during normal working hours, i.e. from 8 or 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Your staff may comprise five to seven people, whereas a food-service franchise, for example, can easily need 10 times as many employees. And finally, our profit margins are higher than average than the majority of industries.

On loving her job
This job is different every day. I get to meet so many different and interesting people, many of whom become lifelong associates.

Most of all, I truly love getting to help people achieve the dream of owning their own business and building wealth and opportunity for themselves and their families. That will never cease to 
motivate me.

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One comment on “Women in Franchising: Catherine Monson is shaking up the sign business”

  1. Superb article. We followed Catherine’s lead for many years at Pip Printing.

    We are now happily retired.

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