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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.


When You Come to a Fork in the Road - Don’t Take It?

I have never witnessed a time during my 27 years in this industry when more printers (and other small-business owners) feel like they are at a fork in the road. They have, no doubt, faced similar divergent choices over the years, but this one is more agonizing.
  • One road takes them down the same path they have been on for many years—staying a traditional printer with basically the same type of customers.
  • The other road, or roads, leads down a new path of diversification into new markets, new customers and even new ways of running a business. Take your pick—there’s the most talked about path of becoming a marketing services provider or a sign business, packaging printer, promotional products provider, fulfillment house and a host of other options.

So what’s the message in this? Based on my observations, the above headline’s “don’t take it” kicker from one of my favorite philosophers, Yogi Berra, may be interesting—but confusing—advice. If you don’t pick one of the paths, can you successfully take another or follow multiple paths? Do you have the resources and staff to take more than one path successfully?

I read and hear stories about printers attempting to diversify into new services or markets only to fail and retreat to the old road most traveled. Too often, the attempt may have been made without devoting adequate resources to the venture or with poor strategy. This may be the time to call in outside resources to help evaluate the business directions that are open to printers. In the franchise world, this is what we do every day with our members. If you are not in this world, then it may be time to call in the outside consultants.

The other message I want to leave you with is this: Don’t forget to resurface and take care of the road you are on. Again, I have observed too many cases where people have tried the diversification programs, but lose focus on their current markets and customers. The result is a substantial loss of business while attempting to develop the new markets and customers. Don’t fall victim to this rocky road.

Even though many of us feel a lot of angst over the changes taking place in the industry, we are not alone. Many small-business owners are really conflicted about the status of the economy and government inaction.

I recently heard this advice: “Run to where the confusion is; that’s also where the opportunity lies.” I believe there is truth in that way of thinking, and there are plenty of exciting opportunities to be discovered, if we open our eyes. Going toward that opportunity with a positive attitude and willingness to take a measured amount of risk can and will yield success. Run to the new year with this in mind.

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