A lengthy career in the newspaper industry may seem an unusual way to enter the greetings cards business, yet for Ian Hinton it seemed the natural progression. Ian is the Plan-it Cards franchisee for the West Midlands, covering Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Coventry and all the surrounding suburbs.
“When I left school the only thing I was certain of was that I wanted to be in sales. A visit to the youth employment centre led me to an interview and subsequent job with WH Smith & Son working within their wholesale news and book business,” explained Ian. “I spent four years here learning the business from the grass roots and gaining several promotions, eventually becoming one of their first book van sales representatives. In 1977 I was approached by the local newspaper group and offered a job as a newspaper sales representative.
“Many promotions followed and in 1997 I achieved my proudest goal, I became the sales & marketing director for The Birmingham Post & Mail Ltd, then the country’s largest independent publishing centre. This was a massive role, over 200 staff and responsibility for a huge revenue and expenditure budget.
“I was devastated to be made redundant on 31st December 1999. I doubt if anyone anywhere enjoyed a job more than I enjoyed this one. With newspapers in decline I had to make a new career for myself. I tried a few things but my passion remained in sales and with the only people I had ever worked with, the independent retailer.”
In May 2001 Ian purchased a franchise which covered the Walsall/Wolverhampton area. A virgin territory, he found opening shops easy and opened one hundred accounts in his first month!
Over the years he has added to his territory and developed his shops and today he looks after in excess of 250 outlets and is kept very busy.
“There’s something very special about growing your own business, and I still get a huge buzz out of seeing my sales grow,” Ian comments.
As do an increasing number of Plan-it Cards franchisees, Ian has based his business away from his home and rents a small office.
He explains: “I was never comfortable working from home. The culture I had been used to was very much office-based and I have been happier since replicating it within my own business – although the rent is a cost that is not essential and I know the garage at home would more than suffice.”
A normal day sees Ian leaving home at 7.30am to head for the office. He does all his own merchandising and therefore the first task of the day is to prepare packs for the ten to fifteen calls he does each day. He says: “I have developed some very large accounts with several displays up to two metres in length and with several hundreds of cards displayed. There is something very special when you grow an account to the extent that the owner depends upon your service, and of course it’s always nice at the end of the month to present a large invoice!
“Despite the fact that I am almost at full stretch I still try to open at least one new account per week as I believe my business needs to continue to develop and can’t stand still.”
Like many franchisees, Ian uses a small van to carry out his daily business. “Although not as comfortable as a car, it is so much easier to work from. Stands, however big, are much easier to transport and it does help greatly when you are looking to develop accounts. I can also do more calls in a day.”
Ian also sees the benefits in the on-going new products developed by Plan-it Cards: “New seasonal products introduced for the Spring Seasons and Christmas have been hugely successful and have opened up new areas for discussion with a lot of my existing accounts.”
Ian knows the value of developing the sale: “I have accounts that sold a few cards a month in the early days and are now some of my largest accounts.
“It takes time to build an account but you have to be prepared and continue to look for the opportunities to develop and promote all of the product lines you have at your disposal.”
He sees a bright future: “I have opened 22 sites in the last 5 months. All of them referrals. I have not had to go looking for the extra business. Yes times are tough and retailers are finding it hard. But the good ones will survive and I must be doing something right. We can offer them a first class service with no initial outlay from themselves. We just have to get that message out there!”