Evan Foster, United Franchise Group
Evan has been involved in franchising for more than 10 years. With a marketing background, he was Marketing Manager at health food franchise ‘Healthy Life’ prior to joining United Franchise Group (parent franchisor of Signarama, EmbroidMe and Plan Ahead Events) in 2006.
Starting in a Field Support capacity, Evan quickly rose through the ranks at United Franchise Group and took on the role of National Director for UFG in 2010, a role that he still holds today.
The Australian team of 16 supports not just the Australian franchisees, but also Master Franchise partners in the Asia-Pacific, all overseen by Evan and his team.
1. What’s the story behind Signarama?
Signarama was launched by our CEO Ray Titus in 1986 with our first store in Farmingdale, New York. Ray grew up in his family franchise business and branched out on his own when he was just 23. Since then Signarama has grown to 850 locations in more than 70 countries worldwide.
The brand launched in Australia in 1998 and has gone from strength-to-strength ever since. Earlier in 2014, we opened our 100th store in Australia in Mosman, a proud day for everyone associated with the brand down here.
2. What made you decide to franchise?
You’d have to say it was always going to be that way. Ray jokes that he wrote his Eighth Grade Social Science paper on “How to start a franchise company.” Having grown up in the family business, franchising was always going to be the way to establish the business.
Ray saw a gap in the market back in the 1980’s for a full-service signage company. There were lots of sign companies that specialised in their own area, but none that provided the full solution. After running the pilot store in New York for 12 months and then opening a second location in Florida to test a different market, the company began franchising.
3. Tell us a little about the Signarama Market?
It’s an extremely fragmented market. There aren’t many name brands in our space – Signarama, we’re proud to say, is easily the leader in that space and probably the only recognised brand name in the signage industry.
I wouldn’t ever say that there is a thing such as a recession-proof industry, but signage comes relatively close. It is one of the cheapest forms of advertising that businesses can do, and every business needs and uses signs every day.
4. What have some of the challenges been in growing your franchise?
We’ve been pretty fortunate that we haven’t experienced too many periods where growth has been slow. We’re forever grateful to some of our pioneer franchisees who really took a punt on a new franchise concept and helped us grow to critical mass very quickly.
Like all franchisors, at times access to finance and good quality candidates can be a frustration, though certainly not at the moment. We’ve been attracting some high quality candidates of late and have great relationships with major lenders.
5. Who has been your greatest inspiration and why?
This is going to sound corny, but our CEO Ray Titus is just unbelievable. Aside from being an extraordinary entrepreneur, he has man-management skills that are second-to-none. After every meeting with him I feel ready to run through brick walls for the guy.
In the Australian franchising space, I’ve long admired Greg Nathan for his common-sense approach to franchise relationships. He always has such a back-home, easy-going way of explaining the nuts and bolts of franchisee/franchisor interaction. I read Profitable Partnerships once a year to get my equilibrium back.
6. What are some of the advantages in being a Signarama franchisee?
They’re not immediately apparent to people first doing research into franchising, but B2B in general and Signarama in particular has a lot of advantages.
We’re a low staffing model – typically a start-up will have 3 or 4 staff (including the owner/s). We’re also low inventory – we don’t keep masses of stock, which helps cash-flow. Being B2B, we’re Monday to Friday: no weekends, no 24/7. Also, because we’re a custom business, the gross margins on what we sell are high.
Finally, it’s a creative business – there’s a real product at the end to touch and feel and be proud of – and show off to your friends as you’re driving about town!
7. What advice do you have for someone looking to acquire a Franchise?
Find something that you can see yourself enjoying. If you can’t see yourself getting excited about coming in to your business each day, then don’t do it. Speaking personally, no amount of money would compensate for me coming to work miserable.
8. What’s one important lesson you have learnt from being in Business?
If you want to grow, you’ve got to go. We don’t sit behind our computers hoping for people to find us – and I’m speaking both as the franchisor and on behalf of our franchisees here.
You need to be very proactive in your approach to business – always looking for opportunities and getting face-to-face.
9. Where do you see Signarama in 10 years time?
Still growing, hopefully! The industry is changing so much in terms of technological advancements, so we know that processes will be more efficient, we’ll be able to provide more choices for customers and make our stores more profitable.
Our challenge is to keep developing our model to stay ahead of our competition, by adding new equipment and production processes to keep our nose in front.
10. In your opinion, why do you think that Signarama would be a great opportunity for someone?
It offers a great balance of lifestyle and a profitable business. We’ve attracted tons of candidates over the years due to our Monday-Friday business model, at the same time allowing them to build an asset and earn a good income.
We’re also in an industry that is still growing – we’ve had almost 17 years of continued growth and no end in sight. As the clear leader in our industry, we only see our market position strengthening in the future.