Allegra Network : Printer to Marketer MantraFebruary 2012 By Erik Cagle, Senior Editor
There is a strong case to be made for the idea that Mike Marcantonio was the perfect candidate to assume the reins of Allegra Network, the Plymouth, MI-based franchisor whose members provide printing and now marketing services to the small- and medium-size business (SMB) community.
After all, Marcantonio—the recently minted president and CEO—is also an investor in three other companies. Not only does Marcantonio understand the needs of the clientele who patronize Allegra Network’s 310 printing and 185 Signs Now franchisees, he is also aware of their frustrations and limitations.
“All of the changes occurring in technology today are also changing the marketing tactics needed by small- and medium-sized businesses,” Marcantonio observes. “But, as a small business owner, you can’t afford an ad agency, and they wouldn’t want to work with you anyway because your spending isn’t worth their while. So, you’re left to deal with a very fragmented industry of freelance marketing consultants.
“When you own a small business and you don’t know anybody or have a good referral, where do you turn for (marketing) help? For us, the answer became that ‘a-hah’ moment.”
The epiphany that Allegra Network’s membership is ultimately well-positioned to provide marketing tools and acumen on an appropriate scale to address their clients' needs served as the launching point for a five-year journey toward transitioning the franchisor into a marketing services provider. It was a natural progression undertaken at the height of an unnatural time—amid the worst economic slump since the Great Depression.
It was a move both bold and necessary but, then again, the company has a history of keeping its feet moving (and its address, as evidenced by a new 67,000-square-foot headquarters). In the last 10-plus years, Allegra changed hands—purchased by an investment group led by Marcantonio, Domino’s Pizza founder Tom Monaghan and its management team (including Chairman Carl Gerhardt and the Chairman Emeritus Bill McIntyre)—and also acquired Insty-Prints (2002) and Signs Now (2005).
The quintessential small printer franchisor, the Allegra Network (2011 sales of $291 million) has been undergoing fundamental changes. It launched the Matchmaker program in 2004, which paired unaffiliated printers looking for an exit strategy with buyers who would bring the business into the franchise. The program was a success, as upwards of 50 businesses came under the firm's umbrella.