Franchisees are as unique and varied in personality and skill sets as the hundreds of different franchise brands they represent. Tracy Andrews falls very much into the ‘highly experienced, highly capable’ category that the best franchisors tend to fight over.
In 1996 Tracy took over her family’s business selling safety equipment into the construction industry. After 12 years at the helm, in which she more than doubled the size of the company, Tracy accepted a buy-out offer from a large competitor that she felt was too good to turn down.
The new owners invited Tracy to stay on and continue running the company and for six years she did just that, before finally acknowledging that what had essentially become a senior management role in a large corporate was no longer for her. It was time to move on and once again embrace the challenge of building up a business that was truly hers. Tracy looked around for opportunities that ticked the right boxes – should she start a new business in the same sector, a completely new sector or buy an existing business that would benefit from her drive and considerable experience?
By twist of fate, six months earlier Tracy’s husband Jeremy had embarked on a similar journey of his own deciding he wanted a new challenge outside of his previous career in hospitality. After deciding that franchising presented a fantastic opportunity to start a business in an unfamiliar sector, Jeremy had the opportunity to buy an existing Signarama business that needed new direction and leadership. Perhaps now, with different yet complementing skill sets, could they work together to create a new family business that would be even stronger as a partnership? The answer was yes and after a crash course in franchising from Jeremy, Tracy met with Signarama to take the new venture forward.
One of the greatest appeals of investing in a franchise is the training and support you get - two things conspicuously absent when you start your own business from scratch. Tracy spent a couple of weeks at Signarama’s global head office in Florida where she learned about every aspect of the sign industry from dedicated trainers and met with other Signarama owners who, in addition to formal support, shared their stories and gave her advice. On returning to the UK Tracy was able to spend an invaluable few days with the Signarama franchisee in Milton Keynes who was able to talk in great detail about the type of customers they had and the nature of the work they did for them.
Only a month or so before, signage was a brand new industry to Tracy, but now she was brimming with ideas for the business. She said: “The training was excellent. I was very comfortable with being able to run the business, but it was important to learn as much as I could about the industry – the products; the services; new technology; customer types; competitors; trends and potential. My time in Florida was very well spent and I left really encouraged and excited to get started.”
Tracy lost no time in building a great team around her and Jeremy. “We needed to bring certain skills in-house, like graphic design and production. Signarama provide incredible systems and procedures, but unless you’re from the industry yourself, you need to put the right people with the right technical expertise in place.”
Six years on and the business is thriving with a full-time team of six, with Tracy’s experience in corporate sales certainly proving a big advantage. She said: “There’s no question that being part of such a well-known global brand can open certain doors for you. Often the impression of size and national reach is very instrumental in larger clients trusting you with important and high value projects. We have some large construction companies as customers and being based in Birmingham we are particularly delighted to produce a lot of work for Land Rover.”
So what’s next for the business? “We are about to take delivery of a very large flatbed printer that will allow us to produce a lot of bespoke hoardings for our building clients. This sort of machinery is a major financial investment, but we have absolute confidence in our abilities and the best way to keep the business growing is to make ourselves as competitive and capable as possible so our customers have no need to look elsewhere!”
Is it still fun? “Yes absolutely! It’s been challenging of course and it’s been a steep learning curve at times, but we have the advantage of always knowing that there is support there whenever we need it. We can call on the Signarama franchise team for anything we need, whether that be for the latest industry knowledge or just simple advice on a project. We are also part of a large network of franchise owners who are more than happy to help each other out or even work together to deliver on national contracts.”
What sort of person would suit a Signarama franchise? “I think probably someone like me! You need to be lively and outgoing with the ability to get on with a wide range of customers from small local businesses to large corporates. You need to be both a team player and good leader, as you will need to manage your staff as well as remembering that you are part of a larger network that is strongest when it works together. There’s no escaping the hard work and long hours either, but I don’t think anyone expects to start a business and put their feet up.”
What about experience? “Well I’ve certainly put my previous business experience to good use here, but I honestly think that with the right attitude and work ethic, the training and support from Signarama could see anyone become successful without any industry experience or having run their own business before. That’s the beauty of franchising, isn’t it?!”
Would she do it all again? “No question. This was a great decision for us both!”