WHY I CHOSE TO INVEST IN THE SIGNS AND GRAPHICS INDUSTRY
By Clint Ehlers, FASTSIGNS
Everyone has a “why” when they choose to do something big, and mine was a lot like the thousands that went before me who took the leap into franchising — I wanted freedom to work for myself. But it certainly wasn’t as simple as that.
There are thousands of franchises available and choosing the right one is essential to being successful. Experience, money and quality of life are all things to consider, but my reasons to pick which brand to invest in had to be much deeper.
I had spent 18 years in the advertising world, working for large ad agencies managing strategy and communications for some amazing brands. I was passionate about brand building and I knew that it had to be near the top of my list. I also wanted to be able to grow in an industry that was ever-changing, rooted in technology, creative, people-oriented, profit-driven and fun. And I wanted to be able to have my weekends with my family. But most importantly, I wanted to join a family of owners who were smart, driven, curious and growth-minded, and I wanted the corporate leaders to be the same. I wasn’t looking for promises — I was looking for opportunity.
After spending three months researching what seemed like every franchise brand out there, I decided that the signs and graphics industry checked all my big boxes. It was a growing industry, widely in demand by every small and large business. It was creative and technologically driven, and most importantly had good profit margins. It was the merger of my background in advertising and the construction world I grew up in.
I spent several weeks looking at each sign and graphics franchise system available, talking to various franchise owners in different markets and states, and visiting and talking with the corporate leadership teams of the three brands I narrowed my search down to (Discovery Days). In talking to different franchisees within the top three brands, I got to hear their “why” in choosing the brands they did and while some matched my own — many did not. Some wanted complete autonomy in operating their sign business and profit and guidance was further down their list of priorities. Some wanted complete hand holding in every aspect of operating their business. Both of these were not for me.
Yes, I wanted autonomy in being my own boss, but I wanted a corporate leadership team fully dedicated to my success — bringing me opportunities and technological guidance and training to make me stronger. I wanted some hand holding, but I wanted the freedom to operate my location in my unique market allowing me to become a local business weaved into the fabric of my community.
To give you an example — before I even chose which sign franchise to invest in, I found the exact location I knew I wanted to operate my new venture in. It was perfect — on a very busy road, perfect size and had a fairly decent lease structure (at least for Los Angeles). And obviously, it was in an open market area of all three brands. When I sent the location to each of them I got three very different responses.
The first franchisor told me to stop looking at locations — they would tell me where to go when the time came. Definitely not the response I was looking for and they were quickly eliminated as a brand I wanted to invest in. After all, they never even asked me why that location was important to me. The second franchisor told me they really liked the location, but required at least three options to review before approving which location to open up in. This told me that they respected my choice but they also wanted to make sure I was looking at every opportunity before making that final decision. And the third franchisor simply said the location was perfect and supported whatever I wanted to do. Again, not the best answer — I was looking for some guidance and for someone to challenge me more than just agreeing with me.
While I had many criteria to think about before making my decision, I have to say the most important box that needed to be checked was that I was looking to join a system where the franchisor had a partnership mindset with the franchisees. Afterall, I was going to invest in them, and I needed them to invest in me. I wanted a system where the corporate leadership team listened to their network of franchisees and made their success and profitability their main priority.
We opened our first FASTSIGNS in Culver City, CA in 2007, in the exact location I had picked weeks before. It was apparent from the beginning that FASTSIGNS was invested in our success. The training, leadership and advice we received from the network (franchisor and franchisees) was instrumental in the growth and success of our first year and through the financial crisis that began in 2008. Not only were we Rookie of the Year winners, we experienced double digit growth through the crisis that saw many businesses close.
We have now been FASTSIGNS franchisees for over 16 years and have owned a total of four locations. The brand continues to check all my boxes for wanting to be in business with them. They are not perfect, no one is. But the network of owners are an amazing and dedicated group of men and women who truly want to make this brand the best it can be. The leadership team at corporate continues to work hard towards our success knowing that if we are successful, then they are successful. If we are profitable, they are profitable. It truly is a win-win.
Clint Ehlers is a FASTSIGNS franchisee. For more information about IFA franchisor member FASTSIGNS, please visit franchise.org/franchise-opportunities/fastsigns.