President Denise Spalding and VP Jennifer Eberle were among 22 finalists at the EY (Ernst & Young) Entrepreneur of the Year Awards for South Central Ohio and Kentucky this past May.
Owners Denise Spalding (left) and Jennifer Eberle.
Allegra Marketing Services in Louisville, KY, has grown by leaps and bounds thanks to a pair of owners who happily embrace change and don’t hesitate to shoot for the moon.
Partners Denise Spalding and Jennifer Eberle are expanding their company’s portfolio of services, adding cutting-edge technologies, and making great strides in taking their business to the next level. “We don’t just look in our backyard when we’re prospecting for clients,” Eberle noted. “We will go regionally and nationally, and have no fear of competing against larger corporations.”
While some view being small as a hindrance, she added, “we see it as an advantage. We can offer outstanding customer service, and we have the technological solutions to compete with the large global companies. We have been successful in winning some of these contracts and growing those relationships.”
The partners met while working at another printing firm. After a while, as Spalding recalls, “We came across a struggling franchise in Louisville that was doing $12,000 to $15,000 a month, and the rest is history. The owner told us, ‘You two girls are just what this business needs.’ He proposed owner financing, and we took second mortgages on our homes, borrowed money from our family members, and purchased the franchise. We doubled sales the first month. It’s been a great opportunity for us.”
It has, indeed. Earlier this year, the Allegra franchise was recognized by Quick Printing for having achieved the highest sales volume in the Alliance Franchise Brands network, something Spalding attributes to “growing existing relationships with clients and going in search of new ones.”
Allegra’s marketplace continues to expand along with its services. “We have really transformed ourselves into a direct-mail company,” said Eberle. “We are doing work with a segment of business with which we are doing a lot of variable-data, blind matching mailings, and that has turned into a significant portion of our business.”
Added Spalding, “We have roots as a manufacturing company, a printing company, and we were known for our design capabilities. But we have enhanced that segment of our services, and we’re doing more websites, e-marketing campaigns, digital work, that kind of thing.”
As Eberle pointed out, the pair has always been eager to embrace new technologies. “We went all digital. We’d actually sold our traditional four-color press and moved into the [Xerox] iGen space because of our increased work in the variable-data side. That was two years ago.”
The firm still handles four-color projects, of course, and avails itself of resources at the corporate center of its franchisor in Plymouth, MI. “We work together closely with them,” Eberle explained. “They’ve got the 40-inch press, we’ve got the iGen. We have traditional two-color presses still on the floor but again, the digital variable-data, one-to-one marketing is what we really specialize in.”
“We push (Alliance) from a technology perspective,” Spalding added. “We are working on a new MIS system. We’re working on more automation within the centers, more reporting capabilities, and more ability to aggregate our spending so that we can all work together and benefit from that.” Alliance also provides sales training, which Eberle said “has been an integral part in getting our sales team here better trained. It’s a different sell; it’s relationships, it’s solution-based. It’s a more complex business model now.” Of the firm’s 25 employees, five handle sales.
The company saw annual sales in 2013 rise from $3.3 million the previous year to $6.5 million. Projections call for sales to top off at close to $5 million this year. Spalding said 2014 is “shaping up to be a year full of opportunities; lots of new client marketing opportunities like new services and websites.”
Overall, Eberle expects the industry to continue to consolidate. “The strong that have survived might acquire each other. Some will be up and some will be down. Those who embrace change, who want to think outside the box and embrace new technology, will fare better than those who want to continue to bury their heads in the sand and do things as they’ve always done them.”
Among the many honors Allegra has earned was the Marketing Trailblazer Gold Award for the most innovative print, online or multichannel self-promotional campaign. Their winning campaign was a combination of its 21st anniversary celebration and a philanthropic fundraiser at the Kentucky Derby Museum that raised more than $7,500 for Kosair Children’s Hospital.
“We had a big build-up to our 21st birthday party,” Spalding recalled. “Every week we had a giveaway. We also did a YouTube video that related to the weekly contest. We had entries from all over the world, actually. People began following us because we really did some fun things with that whole 21st theme. To culminate the event we celebrated with our longtime clients, employees, families, friends. Our franchise staff up at corporate headquarters came down, too.”
Spalding said she and her partner love the printing business because “it is constantly changing. We love embracing the new technologies, the new communications opportunities, and the new services that have become available.”
For Allegra Louisville, there appears to be no end to the opportunities ahead.