In June I attended the summer board meeting of the International Franchise Association (IFA). This is one of three IFA board meetings held annually; it is my favorite one as it is held over three days and includes significant time for brainstorming. One morning was spent considering and evaluating the “Tectonic Changes Ahead in the Franchising Industry”. We discussed four topics during this brainstorming session; two of them apply to the wide-format industry: technology as a game changer and access to capital.
Technology as a Game Changer
Certainly, changes in the technology we use to produce signage and manage workflows will impact our industry. At FASTSIGNS, we expect innovation in inks and substrates to improve adhesion on UV printers and offer us a wider range of products we can produce while being kinder to the environment. We expect to see increased textile printing, whether using dye-sublimation, latex, or a new technology. We believe there will be a resurgence of interest in sustainable (green) technology and products. We look forward to increased efficiency with end-to-end workflow solutions combining JDF and PDF workflows and improved color management. Digital electronic signage will have an additional impact on our business; those who see it as a competitor will miss an opportunity to diversify and provide value to existing customers. These new technologies will provide opportunities to sell and produce expanded products and services.
Keeping up with technology is necessary in today’s competitive marketplace. The innovation new technology brings is multifold: bringing added value to customers, efficiencies in production providing better margins, and sustainable (green) opportunities.
Utilizing technology and seeking innovation allow you to become a more valuable partner to your clients. It comes down to the conversations you have with your customers: can you bring them more value, more ideas? Can you get involved with them earlier in the project, providing ideas and consultation—with more chance for upselling and cross selling? The earlier you get involved in the conversation, the more opportunity you have in addition to selling the sign. Can you manage their brand identity or consistency, handle the fulfillment, etc? Can you make the project more integrated or complex, locking out your competitors?
The objective is for the client to consider you as a value-added partner, bringing fresh ideas of how to build their business, solve their challenges, and improve their efficiency, rather than thinking of you only as a sign supplier. Clients are willing to pay more for “mind share” and valuable consultation.
If you can arm your outside salespeople with better technology and innovation, teach them get involved in the conversation earlier, and to think of ways to use the technology to solve the customers’ challenges, the ideas can become more important than the product itself. We need to be able to train our salespeople to think of innovative ways to solve customers’ challenges using technology.
Continuing advances in technology will drive improvements and innovations in business practices and processes. Integrating many (or all) company processes on one platform—or accessible on one platform (integrated browser-based solutions)—will increase employee productivity. FASTSIGNS is developing an integrated system to run and manage our franchise partners’ entire business: from lead generation, to customer relationship management (CRM), to order entry (including integrated e-commerce), scheduling, production, and installation/delivery, to business management and business intelligence. We believe business intelligence is key to driving sales and managing growth. This solution will give our franchise partners and our network comprehensive reporting and forecasting tools, providing business efficiency and stability. Our objective is to help our franchise partners find new customers more effectively, service and support existing customers more efficiently, produce and deliver our products in a timely manner with improved margins, combined with accurate, real-time business intelligence reporting.