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Melbourne, Australia

Interview with Evan Foster, United Franchise Group

An Australian Franchisor Interview


Franchisors name: Evan Foster

Name of franchise: Signarama, EmbroidMe and Plan Ahead Events (all under the United Franchise Group)

When and by whom was United Franchise Group established? What was the motivation behind setting up the United Franchise Group business?
All of our brands were established by our CEO, Ray Titus. Our first Signarama store was established by Ray in 1986, and was really the first full-service sign centre where you could go for all of your signage needs. Previously you had to go to 3-4 different companies for different types of signs.

EmbroidMe was launched in 2000 with a pilot store in West Palm Beach, Florida and franchising started in 2001. The EmbroidMe concept was similar to Signarama in that for the first time we could house uniforms, promotional materials and on-site production under the one roof.

Plan Ahead Events is one of our newer brands and was established in 2008. After years of running our own franchise conferences, we used a professional company for the first time in 2007. Seeing how successful they were, we adopted their model (with this company as our first franchisees) and launched the Plan Ahead Events brand under our banner.

Our focus has always been in the B2B space. That’s our background and our strength and we understand what it takes to build successful businesses in that area.

What made Ray decide to go down the franchise route?
Our CEO, Ray Titus, has had franchising in his blood since before he was in high school. His father, Roy, established a printing franchise in the early 1970’s and Ray had franchising in his blood ever since. Our franchises were always going to be franchise systems for the long term.

What have been the company’s biggest achievements/successes to date so far?
Australia has undoubtedly been the success story for the company. We will hit 100 stores for Signarama in 2014 and we’ll celebrate that hard. We’ve had 10 Australian franchisees accepted into the respective brands’ Hall of Fame, which is extremely satisfying and pleasing for us and for those franchisees.

Beyond that, we’ve built brands that dominate their space in the Australian market and have become synonymous with our industries.

What challenges have you had to overcome?
In Australia, we’ve been pretty lucky. We entered the market at the right time and took advantage of a real spike in interest in franchising in the late 1990’s. Signarama was off to a flying start and we’ve never looked back since, with now almost 100 locations across the country.

EmbroidMe was much the same, with the added advantage that, by the time we started franchising our second brand in Australia, we already had an infrastructure from our first to help us support our franchisees immediately.

What marketing/promotional tools do you use to grow your franchise?
We’re always looking to grow and it’s a matter of providing the right materials that will help our franchisees separate from the crowd.

We like to think that we’re thought leaders within our industry and do more than just provide signs, or embroider shirts. We’ve created some nice pieces that our franchisees can use – both electronically and hard copy – to show our customers that we’re a partner, not just a supplier.

Of course the internet is fast becoming the first place that customers will go to do any research on a purchase like ours, so we need to continually work on our web presence – it’s a never-ending challenge.

What makes United Franchise Group stand out from the competition?
For starters our size and scope makes a difference. We’re the only brands in our respective industries that have locations all across the country to satisfy clients of all shapes and sizes.

We also have the experience and network of franchise owners to help support new franchisees. While our franchise support team is always available, it is the additional support and mentoring from other franchisees that really separates us.

In your opinion, what makes a successful United Franchise Group franchisee?
In short, if a franchisee doesn’t work hard or doesn’t follow the system, they won’t be successful in our industries. There’s no silver bullet – our best guys focus on growth first, build a team around them, engage with the brand and deliver a quality product.

There is a large element of repeat business in our industries, so customer service is critical. We spend a lot of time training franchisees on excellent customer service.

What changes have you seen in your industry over recent year? And how have you adapted to them?
New technologies are always being introduced in our industry, and for us it is a matter of staying in front so that we can have a better product offering to our customers.

Many of our franchisees have expanded with new equipment and services that they can provide in-house at better margins. We’ll see more of our franchisees doing this as the entry-level of these technologies inevitably decreases.

We’re also seeing independent operators from complimentary industries looking to expand into our space and approaching us to help them do so. We’ve seen growth in our brand from people outside of the network wanting to join Signarama and/or EmbroidMe to help them launch into our profitable industries.

What is the future of the industries in which you operate?
We know that there will always be a market for our products. Signs are still the most cost-effective way to advertise; companies want to create a ‘culture’ by offering branded apparel and promotional products; and events are still the best form of networking for businesses.

We’re still seeing growth in all industries and expect that this will be the case for many years to come.

What expansion plans have you got nationally and internationally?
We’re always growing – with Signarama we are now in over 50 countries including many in South East Asia. We have recently awarded new Master Franchises in Indonesia and the Philippines and will continue to expand our global reach in 2014 and beyond.

We also have other brands under the United Franchise Group banner that we’ll be bringing to Australia either in 2014 or 2015.

What advice would you give to someone considering franchising their business?
Work as hard as you can to get to critical mass quickly. You need to get the franchise to more than 10 units (depending on the industry) to be able to build a support team around growth. It’s important for franchisees, as well as your own staff, to see others buying into the model and growing with you.

If you had to do it all again, what would you do differently?
I would probably be a bit tighter in some compliance areas – who knew what the internet was going to become back in 1998 eh? Ensuring control over marketing and promotional pieces is critical to maintain consistency within the brand. We’ve managed to claw this back in the past few years, but we still have some legacy issues.

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