During my 20 plus years in this industry I think I have heard about every argument imaginable for and against the benefits of joining a franchise. This was especially prevalent during the years I was active in NAQP and on the board, as about the only franchise member. The arguments against are always the cost and lack of “independence,” and the arguments for are always related to having more success, particularly in the areas of marketing and sales growth. For start-up operations or people without industry experience, the arguments were strongly in favor, given the need for strong support during the learning phase.
More recently, I have observed that the times have changed, with a lot less negative and more positive talk about belonging to a franchise. Even industry pundits like Frank Romano, Dr. Joe Web, and Dave Fellman have gone on record saying that it might be time for independent printers to consider the benefits of a franchise. You would most likely not have heard these industry experts make these comments a few years ago.
Why is this? Have the times changed? Certainly the times have changed, but what do franchises offer that is relatively more important now? Consider the following:
- The natural growth that the industry enjoyed for many years—especially coming out of recessions—went away at the start of this recession and is not coming back. To counteract this dynamic, printers must become marketing and sales machines or face continuous downsizing. As noted above, sales and marketing support has always been a strength of franchises.
- Sales and marketing alone are not enough to buck the declining trend in print sales. It also requires diversifying into other products and services. Again, this is where marketing expertise is helpful, since moving into marketing/communications services is the most talked about area of diversification. Barb Pellow, group director of InfoTrends and a cross media expert, has commented that very few printers are making the transition to multimedia services successfully. They need help and that help is generally not available. Some franchises are providing this assistance very successfully and can help with that transition.
- The rapid change in technology requires constant evaluation and investment in order for a printing company to remain competitive. One bad decision can wreck even a well run company. Again, some franchises have strong relationships with technology suppliers and provide this support.
- Many independent shop owners are approaching their retirement years. Plotting an exit strategy can be difficult in an industry going through the structural shifts ours is experiencing. Franchises are always recruiting new members and can provide an exit strategy. The new owner wants and appreciates the benefits of franchise support.
I have observed that if one wants to find and justify the benefits of franchise membership, they will find it. If they don’t want to find those benefits, they probably won’t. It’s not for everyone, but the times truly have changed.
I am obviously biased about belonging to a franchise, but I honestly believe the time has come for the vast majority of independents of all sizes to take a fresh look at franchise membership. The cost is usually the value of about one good employee. It’s not hard at all to find that much benefit. All franchises are not created equal, so you should take a deep dive into what each offers. More importantly, talk to their current franchise members and hear what they have to say. You might be surprised to learn how happy and successful they are.