Image360: Transcending the Traditional Sign Company

As Signs Now and Signs By Tomorrow franchisees gathered at the Westin Resort in Savannah, GA, February 13-16 for their first ever joint convention, a storm was brewing. The charming host city has seen its share of hurricanes, but this storm posed no threat to the shoreline. Nor did it bring snow drifts or torrential rains. This was a storm of interest, curiosity, and anticipation as Sign & Graphics Operations (SGO) introduced a completely new franchise brand called Image360.

The concept behind Image360 is to offer franchisees a pathway to transcend the outdated fast turnaround sign company perception and bring a fresh, updated persona to the marketplace. According to the company: “While building on the success of the traditional signage and graphic market segments, the new brand, Image360, will offer an all-encompassing product and service base with a consultative, problem-solving style to customer service and creative management.”

The brand introduction was accompanied by a restructuring of the parent organization. SGO is part of the same group that owns Allegra Network and president Ray Palmer explained the way the new business will be structured. Previously, there were two separate holding companies; Sign and Graphics Holdings and Allegra Holdings. The two are being combined to form a single umbrella organization called Alliance Franchise Brands. It’s governing body and major stakeholders are Mike Marcantonio, Bob Milroy, Ray Palmer, Andrew Akers, Harry Silverman, Laura Pierce-Marutz, Brian Tyll, and Mario Grech.

While this move was no doubt conceived and executed at the corporate level, it was not done without significant research and input from franchisees. Palmer pointed out that Signs By Tomorrow has 160 locations and Signs Now has 180 locations. Virtually all franchisees who responded to a recent internal survey indicated that they would prefer to be part of a group of 340 than a group of either 160 or 180.

Bounty of New Benefits

The emergence of Image360 brings with it a host of new support services that will benefit all sign franchise owners, whether they choose to adopt the new branding or not. Among them are a new point of sale system, development of brand standards, a new marketing program, and increased R&D on new equipment.

A new Product Services Department will also be created in order to help franchisees share resources. This is at the core of a cooperative program designed to ensure that owners will never have to say no to their customers. If they do not have the resources or equipment to produce a specific type of job, someone else in the system does. With a call to headquarters, they will be matched with the colleague who can help them fulfill the order.

A new Sales & Marketing Department will also help owners develop new skills and techniques that will enable them to communicate more effectively with customers and prospects.

Another announcement that was received with much enthusiasm is a new tech support system that will allow owners to call the franchisor with equipment problems. This eliminates the need to call the equipment manufacturers. It also means that if the franchise sees a pattern of recurring issues, it can communicate directly with the manufacturers from a position of strength in order to gain a satisfactory resolution.

After the announcement, a mock-up of an Image360 lobby was unveiled for the owners to explore. They were also presented with shirts and other promotional items bearing the new Image360 logo. Initial reaction appeared to be positive and well-received.

To Be or Not to Be

While the parent company will certainly encourage Signs By Tomorrow and Signs Now owners to adopt the new Image360 brand, they will not be forced to do so or penalized if they opt to retain their current company name. The parent company says it will continue to fully support all three franchise brands.

And now for a bit of personal commentary. Some owners may wonder if that last bit is true or if it is just a nice story the franchisor is telling to keep them from rebelling. Please allow me share my observations with you. I have seen this group do the exact same thing before, and I believe the company leaders are true to their word.

I have been tracking the small commercial printing franchise segment for more than 20 years. About 18 years ago, Allegra Network was formed when it bought the American Speedy, Insty-Prints, and Zippy Print franchise systems. Those franchise owners had the exact same questions that the sign franchise owners are asking today. I can tell you that, after 18 years, there are still plenty of American Speedy and Insty-Prints operations in the Allegra Network. To my knowledge, they receive the same services and level of support as the Allegra branded operations. I’ve talked with many of those owners over the years and no one has ever indicated that they had experienced any hint of favoritism or discrimination.

While I’m editorializing, let me share one more observation I brought away from the Allegra transition. The companies that were early adopters of the then-new Allegra Network identity tended to be quite successful. I tend to think this is because owners who readily embrace change probably tend to be more progressive thinkers who are more open to implementing new business practices. But if the same pattern holds true for the Image360 brand, I believe the oncoming storm will lead to many bright tomorrows.