Executive Q&A: Catherine Monson, CEO, FASTSIGNS International

FASTSIGNS International CEO Catherine Monson was interviewed by QP editor Karen Hall. Contact Monson at Catherine.Monson@fastsigns.com. For franchise information, contact Mark Jameson at mark.jameson@fastsigns.com or 214-346-5679) or visit www.MyPRINTResource.com/10054488.

QP: Tell us a bit about FASTSIGNS. How big is your network and what services do you offer?

Monson: FASTSIGNS has over 530 locations operating in eight countries. We operate under the FASTSIGNS brand name in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, United Kingdom, Grand Cayman Islands, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In Australia, we operate under the brand name SIGNWAVE.

Our franchisees specialize in selling, marketing, producing, and installing visual communications, including signs (both non-electrical and electrical), graphics, banners, flags, vehicle graphics, vehicle wraps, ADA and other compliance signage, way finding signage, dimensional letters, dimensional signage, ready-to-apply lettering, exhibits and displays, decals and labels, exhibits, trade show and other displays, large-format and grand-format digital printing, advertising and promotional products (including wearables), electronic and digital signage, logo/artwork design and illustration, product wraps and other related graphics, marketing services, and complementary products and services. Our franchisees pride themselves on being “more than fast and more than signs”; assisting their customers in increasing their business visibility, reaching more customers, and accomplishing more than they ever thought possible. 

QP: That’s quite a variety of products and services. Please explain how the new co-branding program for small commercial printers works.

Monson: Our FASTSIGNS Co-Brand opportunity offers reprographic companies, photo labs, trophy and awards businesses, embroidery companies, printers, and other related businesses an effective way of diversifying and generating new, higher-margin revenue streams to their organization.

With the consolidation and decline in the print industry, printers are looking for new, viable ways to grow their business. Signage and visual graphics is one of the most logical choices of new, expanded, high-margin revenue streams. Many of the same digital images and content used for commercial printing can be re-purposed for the customers’ signage and visual graphics.

FASTSIGNS has over 25 years of experience in the marketing, selling, producing, and installing of signage and visual graphics, and we offer our training, best practices, and knowledge to appropriate existing independent printing company owners who want to become a FASTSIGNS center as a way to successfully diversify their product offering.

QP: Does this create competition issues for existing FASTSIGNS franchisees?

Monson: Our new Co-Brand franchise offering allows appropriate printers (as well as reprographic businesses, photographic labs, etc.) to join the FASTSIGNS franchise system and house their FASTSIGNS location either in or next door to their existing print business. The printer has to meet our standard full criteria, which includes having an appropriate location situated outside an existing FASTSIGNS franchisee's protected territory and having a significant sales volume—a minimum of $1 million annually—as we are looking to partner with successful business owners. The printer is allowed to maintain his printing business—brand name and all—and also owns and operates a FASTSIGNS out of the same location or next door. The FASTSIGNS would have its own exterior signage and showroom that meets our brand standards; signage production equipment would be added to the existing production space that the print company has. Of course, we will provide our expertise on equipment and software selection, workflow processes, production efficiencies, and more.

QP: What are the advantages to adding sign-making capabilities to a commercial printing operation?

Monson: No matter what print industry publication you read or print-oriented conference or trade show you attend—or have read or attended over the past decade—the need for printing companies to diversify and provide new, value-added products and services has been a primary topic. Commercial print sales continue to decline and margins continue to get squeezed. Successfully marketing, selling, producing, and delivering new high-margin, value-added products and services is essential for a print company's long term success.

Signage and visual graphics are a natural extension of a print company’s existing products and services. For instance, many (but not all) of the decision makers are the same, it is a similar B2B marketing and selling process, and much of the artwork used for printing can be used for signage and visual graphics.

QP: What are the requirements as far as the space, equipment, training, and other considerations that are needed to add sign-making services?

Monson: Good placement for the exterior signage is required. A minimum of 400 square feet dedicated to the FASTSIGNS showroom is required, along with space for production equipment, which typically would be located in the area that their current existing business’ production equipment is placed. All FASTSIGNS branding criteria must be followed. Specific minimum production equipment is required as well. Most printers who have already signed franchise agreements with us had much of this equipment already.

We provide an initial four weeks training (one week in an existing FASTSIGNS location, two weeks in our corporate training facility, followed by a week in their new co-brand location) on how to market, sell, produce, and install signs and visual graphics, and then ongoing training from then on.

Our complete training suite includes an extensive online training library, an annual convention, an annual Outside Sales Summit, regional meetings, and one-on-one training with your business consultant and marketing services manager.

QP: If a printer wants to add sign-making services, why do you think they should they join the FASTSIGNS co-branding program rather than doing so on their own?

Monson: We make it easy to do by providing the necessary tools, systems, training, and support. Through our co-branding program, independent print shop owners have the opportunity to grow new, profitable revenue streams by diversifying with signage and visual graphics services, while still retaining their original business identity. Through the program, independent operators have access to our proven track record and business model, including ongoing training and support provided by FASTSIGNS.

One of the challenges of getting into signage and visual graphics on your own is understanding signage regulations, the best substrates and manufacturing methods for specific sign types, workflow efficiencies, and installation techniques and efficiencies. We provide all the sales, marketing, production, and installation training and expertise, allowing for quick success in the signage and visual graphics market space.

As a co-branded partner, FASTSIGNS offers effective local and national marketing, improved buying power and relationships with vendors, access to national accounts, and up-to-date technology and digital services among other benefits from being part of a franchise network with business owners nationwide. The FASTSIGNS brand is strong, has outstanding name awareness, and provides great value in the market and allows the co-brand franchisee to benefit from the FASTSIGNS brand recognition from day one. Our brand truly positions them as a provider in the wide-format, signage, and visual graphics space. Plus, the business customer is the same for their current, existing business and FASTSIGNS, which results in added value to both operations.

The new co-branding program allows independent print shop owners to add a FASTSIGNS center within their existing business and gain ongoing training and support from the franchise for as little as a $10,000 initial investment as well as reduced franchise and royalty fees.