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2011 Sign Franchise Review Overview

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that several of the major sign franchises systems have connections to the printing franchise industry. Franchisees in both segments are small business people who deal in communications and digital technology. The similarities seem obvious.

SIGNARAMA, which claims to be the “world’s largest sign franchise”, was founded in 1986 by the father/son team of Roy and Ray Titus. Roy Titus was also the founder of the Minuteman Press print franchise system which boasts 926 franchisees worldwide, with 785 in North America. According to Entrepreneur, SIGNARAMA has more than 850 franchisees—519 in the United States, 47 in Canada, and 310 overseas. It is a traditional franchise operation with investment costs, franchise fees, royalties, and a 35-year franchise agreement.

Operating under the umbrella of the United Franchise Group (UFG), which claims 1,400 franchises in 50 countries, SIGNARAMA is one of five franchise operations in the group. Others include Billboard Connection, which is another sign-related franchise system that has 83 US, eight Canadian, and 20 overseas franchisees. The other members of the group include EmbroiderMe, Plan Ahead Events, and Transworld Business Advisors. SIGNARAMA is based in West Palm Beach, FL and, like the other members of UFG, is family owned and privately held. Ray Titus serves as UFG president while long-time company veteran Jim Tatem is president of the SIGNARAMA operation.

While its roots don’t stem from a printing franchise, FASTSIGNS recently tapped a long-time franchise print veteran to head up its operations. The franchise itself was founded by Gary Salomon and Robert Schanbaum after Salomon observed vinyl banners being printed at a computer store in Austin, TX. The two convinced the shop owner to train them in exchange for a promise not to open a competing business in that city. The first FASTSIGNS opened in Dallas, TX in 1986.

Today, FASTSIGNS has some 457 US and 81 international locations and operates as a privately held company. It is also a traditional franchise model. While Salomon remains with the company as Chairman of the Board, in 2008 FASTSIGNS brought Catherine Monson onboard as CEO. She had previously been president of PIP Printing and had also worked in the Sir Speedy franchise system in operations, franchise development, sales, training, and marketing communications. Monson has instituted a franchise conversion program and initiatives, including the introduction of QR codes into outdoor signage.

Signs Now was founded in 1983 and became a part of the Allegra Network in 2005. It has some 200 locations, with 170 in the US. Allegra Network is a print and graphics franchise network with some 550 locations in North America and abroad which operate under the Allegra Print & Imaging, American Speedy Printing, Instant Copy, Insty-Prints, Speedy Printing, and Zippy Print banners. Signs Now president Steve White also serves as the chief operating officer of Allegra Network, where he manages both the print and sign divisions, which both are heavily involved in conversion and merger programs. Recently White and the other members of the Signs Now executive team moved from the former Signs Now headquarters to the new 67,000-sqft Allegra facility in Plymouth, MI. The new headquarters features a training facility, research and development center, and corporate offices. Allegra is a privately held company.

Another sign-related franchise with roots in the graphic arts is Speedpro USA, with some 65 locations in the US. Speedpro also has 46 locations in Canada, where the initial concept was created in 1992. The franchise specializes in large-format digital graphics such as vehicle wraps, floor graphics, photographic murals, and trade show booth displays. The franchise was founded in Canada by Blair Gran who had worked for many years in the graphics industry. In 2003 the concept was introduced to the US with the first location in Dallas, TX.

Of course there are other sign franchise systems with traditional models and no ties to the print franchise world. Signs By Tomorrow, which was founded by Joe McGuinness in 1986, has 170 locations in the US according to Entrepreneur. Located in Columbia, MD, it is a privately held company and McGuiness serves as chairman of the board with Ramon L. Palmer as president.

Non-Traditional Operations

Sign Biz was established in 1989 and is a network of some 200 independently owned digital sign “partnerships” that operate without a royalty structure, although there are startup fees. The company bills itself as “the largest non-franchise chain of sign companies in the world.” Operating out of its headquarters in Dana Point, CA, Sign Biz specializes in digital print and branding and identity products. CEO and president Teresa Young was a former sign shop owner and trainer before taking over the company.

Signworld was founded in 1988 by Ken Kindt, a former financial planner. It bills itself as a “licensing opportunity” and claims 239 licensees. With headquarters in Kona, HI, Signworld touts itself as having no royalties and no rules. According to Signworld: “A business opportunity charges an upfront fee that is comparable to an up-front franchise fee.” There are no ongoing fees charged, the company says.

ASI Sign Systems was founded in 1977 and has some 40 franchisees in the US. Each franchisee operated in a “SignCenter” that provides a visual backdrop and a hands-on opportunity for customers to examine the various product offerings manufactured by ASI. The company had its roots in architectural signage and now offers interior, exterior, and digital custom and modular signage.

Another fairly novel concept is Magnetsigns, which has 97 Canadian and 14 US franchisees. Founded in 1996 by Magnetsigns Advertising, the franchise was the offshoot of an idea by two inventors who “saw an opportunity to cut letters, symbols, and graphics from sheets of magnetic material and fluorescent vinyl and attach the shapes to a metal sign to provide changeable outdoor advertising.” Magnetsigns sells the signs and graphic materials to the franchisee who uses computerized equipment to produce the graphics and letters for signs that are then rented to local customers on a weekly or monthly basis.

Of course, there are several other sign-related franchise systems in North America ranging from six to two or three dozen franchisees. Unlike the franchise printing market where the number of franchise systems has shrunk from 23 to six in the past 20 years, the sign franchise segment has yet to that sort of thorough consolidation. If the past history of print franchising is any indication, such consolidation will eventually come to pass in the sign franchise industry as well.