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Carl Gerhardt

Business Sense & Sensibility

By Carl Gerhardt

About Carl

Carl Gerhardt is the chairman of Alliance Franchise Brands LLC, the parent company of Allegra Network LLC and Sign & Graphics Operations LCC, and a world leader in marketing, visual and graphics communications, linking more than 600 locations in the United States, Canada and United Kingdom. The company’s Marketing & Print Division, headquartered in Plymouth, MI, is comprised of Allegra, American Speedy Printing, Insty-Prints, Speedy Printing and Zippy Print brands of marketing, printing, mailing and Web services providers. Its Sign & Graphics Division, headquartered in Columbia, MD, is comprised of Image360, Signs By Tomorrow and Signs Now brands of sign and graphics communications providers.

Carl and his wife, Judy, owned and operated their own successful Allegra franchise for nearly 20 years before selling the $2.3 million operation in 2003. He is a PrintImage International/NAQP Honorary Lifetime Member and was inducted into NAPL’s prestigious Soderstrom Society in 2010 in recognition of his contribution to the industry.


I Want to Retire at 55! Why?

Many small-business owners, including owners of graphic firms, think they want to retire early. I find that many, if not most, of these people have not really thought it through. There are two very important questions that must answered:

1) Have you prepared properly for it to be possible?

2) Have you really thought about what would happen if you did retire?

Why should you care?
A mentor of mine often used the phrase, “The day you should begin planning to sell your business is the day you start it.” Sooner or later, every business is sold or closes, so planning for that reality should be an important part of owning your own business.  Few small-business owners actually do it.

I have consulted with many owners who are in their 50s who say they want to sell their businesses. However, when they get up to that line, they have trouble crossing it for any number of reasons:
  • They have not planned properly to handle the financial realities.
  • The sale of the business will not provide the financial return they expected/need.
  • They realize that they don’t have anything else they want to do.
  • Medical insurance has been a real issue, because they’re not old enough for Medicare. Insurance is expense if you can get it on your own. 

Still want to retire early? Well, the reality is that unless you win the lottery, you may have no choice but to continue working. So, continue working and also put together a plan to solve the exit challenges. Put together a logical plan with the help of your financial advisor and others you respect.

If you participate in a peer group, its members can be of great help. At Allegra Network, many of these issues are worked out in what we call Performance Groups. Exit strategy planning is something we work hard on with our franchise members.

We also have helped many independent printers sell their businesses through our MatchMaker program. We recently sold a printing firm that had been working with us for over two years to position his business for sale and the new owner is now a member of our network.

So first, determine what is realistic and what you really can and want to do. Then develop a realistic plan to make it happen.

In the meantime, have fun running your business and be glad you have one to run. You really did “build that”—so be proud of it and enjoy it. Success is a journey, not a destination.

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