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Allegra Network — A Match Made in Printing

November 2007 By Erik Cagle
Senior Editor
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LOVE MAY not exactly be in the air, but when it comes to a certain matchmaking service for the printing industry, you might say that letters of intent are in the mail.

No, Allegra Network isn’t setting up Kim, the sensitive, self-effacing 30-something graphic designer, on a date with Ted, the moody yet surprisingly attractive preflight operator with a heart of gold. Instead, the Northville, MI-based franchisor is seeking to connect printing company owners looking to sell with qualified franchisee buyers. In an age where corporate consolidation and venture capital dominate the printing industry’s transaction wire, it’s a refreshing twist to see smaller operations traded horizontally.

Known as the conversion program—and affectionately dubbed the matchmaker program or the “eHarmony of the printing industry,” according to Darryl Buchanan, vice president of franchise development—Allegra matches up quality buyers with motivated, yet particular, independent sellers. In the end, an outgoing owner gets his/her nest egg, a corporate exile gets a new lease on a career, and Allegra...well, the Allegra Print & Imaging chain grows by another franchise.

“We’re targeting businesses with sales from anywhere between $500,000 to $2.5 million,” Buchanan notes of the ideal Allegra franchise profile. “We currently have a pool of buyers that we’ve been working with over the last five to six years. We’ve completed 21 deals, and we have another 30 franchisees from around the country who are looking to get into the printing industry and have already signed an agreement with Allegra.”

The plan of attack makes a lot of sense to Allegra President Carl Gerhardt, himself a corporate “refugee” and former franchise owner from the 1980s. Given that the children of the nation’s so-called greatest generation are now in transition career-wise, the ratio should begin to shift away from buyers to sellers.

“A lot of the baby boomers enter-ed the printing industry between 20 and 30 years ago; it was a very rapid growth period in this industry,” Gerhardt says. “Now, the boomers need an exit strategy. If your annual sales are more than $5 million or $10 million a year, you might be a target to become consolidated by one of the bigger printing companies. But, if you do under $5 million in sales, you’re hardly on anybody’s radar screen. Those who might look at acquiring your business likely just want your accounts.”

As for Allegra’s buyer profile, a majority of those who sign franchise agreements are former corporate executives who have either lost their jobs due to downsizing or, after 15 to 20 years with the same company, are looking for a new challenge. There is an intriguing mix of skill sets seeking to become franchise proprietors.
 

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