For almost quarter of a century, distributor of greeting cards, The Original Poster Company (OPC), has been operating an international franchise network. Our franchisees sell the OPC high-profit margin, quality product through a wide variety of convenience stores – both independent and members of national groups. In the UK, that includes groups like Costcutter, Booker and Spar, etc.
All our home-based, management franchise opportunities are established profitable businesses which include stock, cash flow and customers so you can start earning an income from day one and achieve that very desirable work/life balance.
With the IGD and the GCA reporting that both the greeting cards and convenience sector industries are growing, you not only benefit from this continued growth but also from proven and simple business model. We operate using the sale or return (consignment) method – a very attractive offer to your retailers as the retailer only pays for what they have sold!
As you are purchasing an existing business, we provide an initial comprehensive training program that focusses on the practical aspect of running your franchise so that continuity is ensured in your franchise and with your retailers.
Continued training and support is then offered by both our UK-based support office and your dedicated regional business development manager (BDM) to help you grow your business and achieve those great profit margins whilst keeping your overheads low.
Our franchisees are trained to prepare for each day, whether it be prospecting for new business or installing our card racks or spinners in store (free on loan to the retailer). They are given the tools to plan how to stock the displays with our fast selling, diverse ranges and how to replenish them monthly with new designs and existing best-sellers.
Many of our franchisees operate their OPC franchise from home and use a family-sized car to service their retailers and our franchisees agree that our home-based system gives them the flexibility to enjoy family life.
On hearing that Original Poster Company (OPC) franchisee Liz Cooper was considering putting her Stoke-on-Trent territory up for resale, fellow OPC franchisees Steve Evans and Angela Wilkinson (Crewe/Chester) decided to take the opportunity to expand their business.
Steve and Angela had been successfully operating their territory since 2007 so it was an obvious choice on realising the vast potential of Liz’s area, to purchase this 2nd territory and build on their ongoing success.
Prior to buying their first OPC franchise, Steve had been working for his father in general haulage for more than 20 years and had subsequently moved into trailer manufacturing, delivering and collecting trailers across the country. Angela was running a silk and dried flower farm-type shop with her mother but sadly, the downturn in the economy was affecting both these income sources and they knew the time had come for a change.
That change came in the form of one of the product lines Angela sold alongside her flowers which was OPC greetings cards – and when Steve and Angela heard that the local OPC territory was up for resale, they decided to investigate further.
It was after meeting everyone at OPC’s support office in Walton-on-Thames and going out on subsequent field visits learning about the business that they decided to purchase their first territory, Crewe/Chester.
Some of OPC’s franchisees are currently selling their existing territories as they retire or move on to new business opportunities. So, when Steve and Angela found out that the Stoke on Trent territory was going on resale, they snapped it up before it was even advertised!
Steve and Angela plan to build up their 2nd territory just as they have the first. There are some differences between the territories, with the 2nd territory having loads of potential stores to service. “There’s almost a shop on every corner!” commented Steve.
Sean Muff, business development manager for the North, will continue to provide regular ongoing field support for Steve and Angela in particular as they continue to grow their sales and keep overheads low, whilst achieving great profit margins in both of their territories.
Steve says, “We’re focusing on national accounts first – that’s the most important – a sure and steady start. We’re still doing our rounds in the new area, checking out the potential, but we’re very excited about this opportunity and ready to build long-lasting relationships with the retailers as we’ve done in our current territory.”
Ongoing support is what attracted Penny Scott, OPC Cambridge, to franchising.
Penny originally worked for the police force as a forensic scientist. She relocated overseas and launched a greeting card company that produced bespoke cards to customers’ requirements and designs, but the element of designing and creating the cards was very time-consuming. On moving back to the UK, Penny decided she wanted to continue working with greeting cards and after seeing all the back-up and support OPC could offer her, she decided to purchase the Cambridge territory.
Penny managed to raise the finance for the franchise from her own funds and started off her franchise with OPC’s initial comprehensive training programme where, amongst others, Penny was taught the techniques involved in opening new accounts. Orientation, paperwork and stock ordering were also initially done via Penny’s dedicated business development manager (BDM) until Penny was confident enough to carry out these tasks on her own safe in the knowledge that if she had any questions, her BDM was only a phone call away.
Penny’s day starts early, usually packing stock for the routes she will be merchandising. Within the day she will try to merchandise five to ten shops on a four-week cycle. “I talk to shop owners while merchandising, asking them about business and their families, often trying to acquire more space and show owners new designs,” says Penny. In the evening she will spend time unpacking cards, preparing for the next day and completing any outstanding administration work.
Penny’s main challenge was organising routes for merchandising so they are efficient. When opening new accounts these calls have to be integrated into this structure which results in some merchandising being allocated to another day. Penny manages her time carefully in order to balance her workload yet ensuring her working days are productive and efficient.
Opening new accounts via prospecting can be quite a challenge so Penny and her husband, Richard, prospect as a team. Penny’s BDM also spends time assisting the couple with prospecting as and when required.
With an ever-changing retail environment and shoppers returning to the convenience sector, Penny is now finding that she is acquiring more space in existing shops just by talking to owners or via word of mouth.
On asked if franchising has changed her life, Penny replied: “Yes, it has changed my life. I am now in charge, can make decisions and direct my future success to include the expansion of my franchise. Knowing I can ask advice when required gives me the confidence that I will make the correct positive decision.”
Penny makes good use of the comprehensive sales tools OPC provides to the network. With awareness a key factor to her success, she uses the professionally designed leaflets, samples and brochures provided by the OPC design team to show off new designs and developments. Penny also adds photographs of spinners and racks in her other accounts to further illustrate the services available to her retailers.
Verbal communication with owners about what she can do for them and explaining the whole set-up, cards and any costs and potential profit margins involved helps Penny sell her service and product into stores. “Owners always want to make money, which is understandable. I often make comparisons to other accounts I have in the area,” says Penny.
Penny believes that having the autonomy to make decisions to direct her business in the direction she wants, working with friendly and supportive staff at OPC’s support office and a simple stock ordering system that has a wide range of cards compared to other competitors, is what sets her franchise apart.
“A successful franchisee for me is someone who is approachable, adaptable and can communicate efficiently. If you can understand that this franchise requires you to have good planning skills and time management, which is developed as you develop in your franchise, then you will enjoy success,” advises Penny.
Research, research and more research is Penny’s mantra for those wishing to go into franchising.
She says: “Ask questions, go and meet the franchisor. Discuss profits, stock ordering, hours required and other commitments such as children and family. Then investigate finance and loans and meet with your bank and their business advisors.
“Finally, make sure you are totally comfortable and feel at ease with everything, including the people, before you invest.”
Penny’s main and immediate target is to expand ranges in existing shops. She feels that many shop owners have redundant space in their shops that she knows she can utilise with more ranges and stock. One method of achieving this is to use the business relationships she has nurtured and developed over the years with shop owners.
Her future goal is to expand and develop new accounts in suitable areas within her exclusive territory with the assistance of her BDM.
Asked if she would do it all again, Penny replied: “Certainly, being a franchise owner is a great experience. It has developed my understanding of business methodology, from stock ordering, finance, communications, planning, problem-solving and what is required to develop a successful business.”
Franchisees Michael and Claire Welham jumped at the opportunity to expand their Original Poster Company (OPC) business recently. They have been operating the Twickenham/Kingston territory since 2010 and decided to build on the success from their first OPC franchise by buying the neighbouring territory when it became available for resale.
Prior to buying their first OPC franchise, Michael and Claire had become the proud parents of little Daniel, so they were both looking for an opportunity that would not only capitalise on their skills but also give them a great work-life balance. Claire had previously worked in fashion retail management and Michael had been working in the motor industry for many years as dealer principal, most recently for Land Rover.
“After having our son I mainly worked on a part-time basis and when Michael was made redundant at the start of the recession we were both looking for a new challenge,” said Claire. “I was working as a merchandiser for OPC in the Twickenham/Kingston area at the time and I could see the potential in the area I was working in.
“After having a look into it we both saw it as a great opportunity to utilise my merchandising and his commercial skills. It also appealed to us that we would be in charge of our own destiny and decided this was the right next step for us.”
Some of OPC’s franchisees are currently selling their existing territories as they retire or move on to new business opportunities. So, when Michael and Claire found out that the south west London territory was available for resale they seized the opportunity.
Claire explains: “The south west London territory has a lot of development potential and it has a really big border with our current territory in Kingston. So it made a lot of sense for both of us to buy the territory to further expand our business. We can reach a lot more businesses but we don’t have to drive more, allowing us to also continue to grow the area we already have.”
Michael and Claire receive regular ongoing field support from a dedicated business development manager (BDM) who provides them with all the support they need to grow their sales and keep overheads low, whilst achieving great profit margins in both of their territories.
Claire says this support has been crucial: “OPC helped us with the new stock purchases and the development plan for the new territory, which was really valuable to us. With our new territory it’s now all about building relationships and trust with the national account managers in the area to start stocking our cards in more stores.
“We now know what we are doing so we don’t need the hands-on support we received when we bought our first franchise, but we know that if we need any help our BDM is just a phone call away.”
Mark offers his advice as he renews his agreement and takes on a second resale territory
Before purchasing the Huddersfield greeting card franchise territory from The Original Poster Company (OPC) in 2009, Mark Quinlan had been in retail management for over 20 years working in fast food, supermarkets and department stores.
Here he shares his story on how he came to join OPC, what life as a franchisee is like and what his plans are for the future – now that he’s not only renewed his franchise agreement for another 5 years, but also purchased a second resale territory complete with customers, stock and cash flow.
“During my 20s I worked as a store manager for McDonald's and it was during my time at the Wakefield branch that this restaurant became a franchise. It was this spell working in someone else’s franchise, coupled with my desire to be my own boss, that made me chose this route some years later. Franchising gives you the freedom to be your own boss but with the peace of mind that you have plenty of back up and experience at your disposal when you need it.
“Choosing OPC was easy, it was the perfect combination of affordability and a ready-made business with income from day one and that I could run from home. The people I met at OPC were much friendlier and more straightforward than at every other franchise I met with and they concentrated on what they could do for me and how they would help me develop, whereas most others just seemed to talk about how good they were and what they had done in the past.
“I was fortunate in that savings and borrowing from family funded my purchase. I started out on a two-day training course at OPC’s support office in Walton on Thames. From there, the-then regional BDM Paul Butler did a series of one-to-one development days covering prospecting, time-planning and various other topics, initially providing guidance with my business plan, the set-up of my home stockroom and with my ordering.
“My main issue early on was a lack of confidence when prospecting and the BDMs have helped greatly in this area. Without them my business would not have grown at the rate it has and my confidence in talking to potential new customers would still be low.
“We meet monthly and the days are always based on what I feel my development needs are at the time. Paul was always available for help and support and my new BDM Sean is exactly the same.
“Merchandising obviously takes up the bulk of my time. Time in store is precious to me as it’s so much more than just putting some stock in and taking some different stock out. The time in store is the only time you get to find out what people think so I try to use it wisely. I enjoy banter with owners, staff and customers alike. If you don’t ask owners how they are doing, what they are thinking of changing or simply what they think of the cards then you don’t know if you have missed any opportunities. Often the staff have the best idea of what customers are asking for so it may be you can change your ranges or titles so that sales can be gained. Feeding this back to the owners is vital so they know you care, again a good way to increase space in stores.
“During the day there may be time to pop into that shop you always drive by but think might do well. I generally prospect on full days, separate to merchandising days, as I need to “build myself up for it” but either works and there’s no black and white. In a way though there isn’t such a thing as a typical day as all merchandising calls are different and you have days prospecting, delivery days or days with BDMs to mix things up.”
Asked what other challenges he’s had to face in his new venture, Mark said: “For me, the main challenges were time planning and sales. I have never had a business before so it’s one thing knowing how much work you have to do but it’s quite another knowing how long it takes and how best to structure it. You learn on the job quickly though.
“To begin with you may get home early having done everything you planned in record time or you may get home late having not got everything done. It’s OK, you are your own boss. Don’t feel guilty - just tweak those days next time the shops come around to even the days out.
“Gaining new business was, and still is, the most daunting part of my job. Talking to busy shop owners who see plenty of reps walk in off the street every day can be difficult and the rejection can get you down but you’ve got to remember it isn’t personal - try and remember the massive sense of achievement you get when you are successful! New accounts are the life blood of my franchise and thanks to the BDMs I am less daunted by prospecting than I was.”
Mark’s franchise has changed his life completely. He explains: “As a retail manager I was doing a 70-hour week, more often 80, and it was getting me down. I was seeing very little of my son and wife except when I was tired and grumpy. I still work hard but because the stockroom is at home I can break off when I want. We actually have meals as a family again and my son was able to join the local junior football team with his mates as I am at home weekends rather than being at work. Even five years on I still wake up with a smile on my face Bank Holiday mornings.
“The quality of the cards, the regular change of designs and I hope the quality and regularity of my service sets me aside from our competitors. If you want to be successful in this franchise, you’ve got to be the kind of person who’s not afraid of hard work, is persistent, friendly, dedicated, committed, a good communicator, has great motivation and someone who is never satisfied and wants to strive to continually improve.”
If you are considering joining the OPC greeting card franchise, Mark advises: “Do it! Take the plunge and you will wonder why you didn’t do it years ago. Don’t however expect something for nothing. It’s great having the support of OPC but remember it’s your business and it’s down to you to drive it. Enjoy it and build a good working relationship with the shop owners, the more fun you have the bigger your business will grow.”
Asked if he would do it all again, Mark responds: “Yes, I would! I plan to work on making the Huddersfield area a Top 10 OPC area, and now I’ve purchased West Yorkshire – well, who knows from there, the sky’s the limit!”
It started towards the end of 2011.
I had been a deputy head teacher of a large comprehensive school for many years. The school was affected by reduced pupil numbers and, consequently, a reduced budget for the third consecutive year. I had the unenviable task of identifying further staff reductions to balance the books. After much pondering during half term I thought ‘what about me?’ and the search began to ‘scratch an itch’ that had been there for many years – could I be my own boss and take control of my own life?
Internet research led me to franchising. With absolutely no previous business experience, did I have transferable skills and the ability to ‘take control’? Franchising ticked the boxes I wanted for my future, could I take the next step and make this move? I learnt very quickly just how large the industry is and the vast range of options available to consider. Research brought OPC and greeting cards to my attention and the Swansea franchise area was up for sale – my old home patch!
Contact with the company was easy, warm and welcoming. The MD was easily accessible and very willing to give time to answer my questions. My day at Elephant House was impressive, total openness and painting a clear picture.
After the Christmas break it was time for me to arrange the financial resources to purchase and grow the Swansea area (a virgin territory at the time). After a few weeks, agreement was reached and the purchase of Swansea happened on 1 May 2012. Over the next two years an account base of over 40 stores was achieved and profits were re-invested into the business to enable growth.
During the second year I became aware that the Cardiff franchise was going on resale (where I lived). My partner Michelle and I decided that, if I could sell Swansea, then we wanted to purchase Cardiff and run it jointly. At that time Michelle was a teacher of Welsh and also wanted a new future. We liked the idea of working together, a joint venture and challenge, with only ourselves to be working for and accountable to.
This was a big change for Michelle but she was aware, from the Swansea experience, of what this would entail – freedom, flexibility, challenge, transferable skills, hard work – but most of all, ‘control of our futures’.
We could utilise our skills of communication, planning, target setting and customer service (all tools used in our lives within the teaching profession).
We knew that Cardiff would be a big challenge, but were excited by the potential and support that we knew we would get from OPC and our BDM. We were in absolutely no doubt that, with OPC’s backing, we could take control of our future and reap the rewards for our efforts.
We got the go ahead and set out on the path to our future. Now the serious business lay ahead!
We were about to work together in a totally different way, running a business of our own, knowing that you only get out what you put in. We were to become equal partners, each bringing our own experiences, skills and talents to a whole new world. Cardiff was very different from Swansea being a well-established franchise. There were many ‘pot holes’ in the road ahead as we were to find out and our communication skills and personalities were going to become very important in the successful implementation of our plans.
We both knew the three steps that we needed to establish: Where are we now? Where do we want to be? How are we going to get there?
Now to the planning! The plan was based on three, four-month sectors during our first year with the rewards becoming apparent during the third sector if we got phases 1 and 2 right.
We reviewed Cardiff’s large account base (visiting several stores before purchase) and found a number of aspects needing to be addressed, enabling phase 2/3 to proceed. These included creating and maintaining retailer relationships with good customer service, updating the quality of their displays and cards, and analysing the sales data in order to move forward. We were not overly worried about immediate figures and stats, it was about laying the foundations for the future.
We soon learnt how much we enjoyed working together. It was enjoyable and relaxed rather than being a commitment or chore. This has become a major factor in our success and our vision for the future.
The first four months now completed we seamlessly moved on to the second phase – continuing to improve our stores and moving towards ‘How we are going to manage the area?’ and learning from any problems encountered along the way. The records and data created led us to a complete overhaul of merchandising rounds.
Phase 3 was the implementation of the new routes, frequency of calls, new accounts being ‘happy’ and the sorting of pricing which would improve our financial base and sales and perhaps, more importantly, make national account arrangements more attractive to stores.
The test for phase 3 was to see how our sales compared with the corresponding figures for the previous year. If our plans were working then the data would confirm it. Performance improvement started early with December showing a 25% increase, followed by 28%/27% in January/February respectively, 77% in March and 73% in April.
None of this would have been achieved without the support of staff at OPC and, particularly Colin, our BDM. On our part, a lot of hard work, often long hours, loads of fun and great customer relations. We now have a very clear idea of next year’s ambitions - better accounts and higher sales will take our business to the next level. We know that more ‘quality’ accounts and continued learning with the support of OPC and the BFA are key to future improvement.
Developing our relationships with the Buying Groups and our intention to be at the top end with our sales and service are also high priorities.
Do we regret the career change? Absolutely not!
Do we want more? Definitely yes!
Are we grateful for all the help and support from OPC staff which has led to this very successful year? Definitely yes!
Have we enjoyed working together? Definitely yes!
Given our respective professional backgrounds we would have no reservation advocating and advising others to seriously consider franchising as a career.
David purchased his Banbury franchise in 2012. We catch up with David 18 monthson.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I started my working life as an apprentice printer where I first heard of and printed OPC cards. I later moved into Print and Design Management and now have over 30 years’ experience in this field. I’m married to Sue and we have two grown-up daughters.
How did you come to be in franchising?
After becoming disillusioned with being an employee in print I looked at various opportunities where I could do something on my own. I had looked at various options for start-up businesses, none of which seemed to fit with what I wanted. I started looking into buying an existing business and contacted an ex work colleague of mine who had run a card franchise. After looking further into franchising I decided it was the way to go for me.
Why did you choose OPC?
I looked at a few card franchise companies. I chose OPC after visiting Elephant House and seeing for myself the product which was different from the rest and the support system that was in place. I felt this was superior to the other companies I had looked at.
What was your initial training and support like?
My initial training and support was excellent from both head office and from my Business Development Manager Dawn. Dawn showed me everything about the business until I was comfortable to work alone, even now she is always only a call away when any issues crop up.
What has been the best benefit to being an OPC franchisee?
Freedom from being tied in 8am-6pm Monday to Friday. Although it is still fairly long hours, the times I work are determined by me!
What are your future plans with your franchise?
I am very pleased with my first 18 months. My sales are growing at a respectable rate in line with my initial plans. My future plans for my franchise are to consolidate what I have as well as to continue to gain new business year on year. I have no ceiling on how far I can take it - I'll just keep pushing!
With his elaborately sign-written vehicle sporting an H15 OPC private number plate, 37-year-old Chris Tranter is a man evidently committed to his Cornwall-based greeting card business. However, taking over the thriving area of one of the company's highest-performing franchisees, and improving on it, didn't exactly sound like a stroll along the beach. Yet within a year, Chris had boosted his new territory's turnover by 20 percent, and confesses to having loved every minute.
The best thing about running an OPC franchise is the lack of stress. As soon as I left school I started working in sales and sales management. Then I worked for a firm that sold conservatories for 15 years. I made it to the top of the company and was on an excellent salary. A multimillionaire investor bought the business, but despite a great deal of investment, drove it into ground. The experience of working for him, and trying to keep the morale of the employees up when I knew the company was going under, was incredibly stressful. But I stuck it out, and when the end did come I decided to take about eight months off, get my head together and decide where my future was heading.
During that time I found out from my partner's dad - who was friends with the previous franchisee - that the territory was up for sale. I'd been used to earning very good money and knew that, if I wanted to earn a similar income and remain in Cornwall, I would either have to start or buy my own business.
So I got in touch with Steve and ended up going out merchandising with him, every day, for about a month. I saw the money that the business could generate, I liked what was involved, and so I bought the franchise from him in June 2007.
Today, I work out of the loft doing everything from picking and packing to merchandising. The loft has about 12 metres of racking, four shelves high, all full of cards. I probably hold a lot more stock than other franchisees, but I think it's important to buy the new designs and ranges because that's what sets me apart from the competition. When I took over from Steve, a lot of the stock was old, and some of the display stands needed replacing, so I spent some money sprucing things up. Now it looks fresh, inviting and professional, which makes a good impression on my new customers and helps build up the initial trust with them. As a new franchisee, the first couple of times you visit a customer, you're really just getting to know them. After that, the reliability and consistency of service are critical factors; if your customers can't rely on you then they might rely on someone else, which isn't what you want when you're trying to develop a business.
The week I started, I took on 145 accounts. Today I have 149 but I have replaced any that have closed plus increased by four accounts. They are working much more efficiently, mainly because I've encouraged my existing customers to take on more ranges.The year before I bought the franchise, one chain of convenience stores was selling around 17,500 OPC cards in a year, which I have managed to increase to 15,000 cards in just my first five months of trading. By going in, building trust and expanding my ranges in their stores, I added value to the chain to the point where they began to remove competitors'cards to make room for mine! Another time, I put an eight-foot display stand with full card options into a shop, and sales went from 80 cards a month to over 400 -I now have to merchandise that store every two weeks instead of every four! It's taken a lot of effort and financial commitment to get to this stage, but once the foundations of the business are place, it's really just a case of monitoring your stock.
The great thing about my OPC business is that it's only as stressful as I want it to be. I can choose to put in 14 hours one day, and then give myself a day off. Or I can fit an entire week's work into two or three days. However, it's important not to develop bad habits.You still have to work on the business, which takes ongoing effort, and remember to make friends, have fun and build mutually beneficial relationships with everyone you meet. Personally, I love the interaction with the public when I'm out and about. I have real fun and get plenty of opportunities to promote my services face-to-face without being pushy. With OPC, you don't need to do any kind of hard selling; it's all about building good relationships with my customers and their customers and providing an excellent service and quality products, consistently well. In the next year or so, I'd like to get the business up to 200 shops. If I then get some of those shops selling 400 cards a month, then the money really starts to get serious.