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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.


‘Within 20 Minutes, I Referred 5 People’: Best Business Sense Story of the Year


For my last PI Blog of 2013, I couldn’t help but share a recent experience of our franchise member in Des Moines, IA. Owner Pat Rhoades and staff really hit it out of the park when a prospect searching online for business cards encountered their Allegra center. Here was a guy who had an immediate need and a typical request for most printers—but found the “solution” was anything but standard.

The prospect in this story consults with ophthalmologists and wrote about his business card experience in his blog. Everything that happened is enough to provide almost any printer, or any business for that matter, lessons in how to succeed in today’s competitive environment. This experience takes “Business Sense & Sensibility” to a whole new level.

Following is his blog post. Read, enjoy and Happy New Year!

3 New Patient Referral Lessons From A Print Shop

December 14, 2013

I had a rare experience last week. I was in a local print shop in my hometown of Des Moines, IA, just for looking business cards and experienced a truly “WOW” customer service moment.

As I’ve mentioned in my 80/20 guide, these moments are unfortunately rare. But when they do happen patients can’t help but to tell others. (Hence, as I’m telling you now.)

Below I describe the process and I’ll tie it back to how you can implement this experience into your practice to create “WOW” moments that generate even more new patient referrals.

Step 1. The (Google) Search Is On

I was looking for a new business card that was truly sharp. Raised ink, upgraded thick paper, etc. Something impressive. So I first went to Google and searched “print shop Des Moines,” and also “business cards Des Moines.”

I found tons of results and ended up calling five shops.

  • Out of those five, three didn’t answer and I left a voicemail.
  • One said they’d e-mail me a proposal.
  • And one answered, took my information and asked me detailed questions about what I was looking for. The sales rep called me back within the hour. The latter is the one I’m writing my experience about, called Allegra.

“WOW” Lesson: Be sure you’re found on the first page of Google in your local market for your top keywords. Example: if you’re looking for new LASIK patients, you ideally want to rank for the keywords, “LASIK + Your City.” Preferably it’s best to be in the top three of page one. Without this, I may have never found Allegra and had this incredible experience.

Step 2: Zig When Your Competitors Zag

The sales rep stated that based off my previous conversation with the front staff, she had some great ideas for what I was looking for. Then asked when would be a good time to stop in the office so she could discuss those ideas and show me some examples.

I was a little thrown off about the invite to the shop, since I was just looking for business cards. And in the past all other print shops just spoke to me over the phone. But I said the following day would work.

“WOW” Lesson: Zig when your competitors zag. Most patients expect a certain process when they’re calling around to ophthalmologists. Going above and beyond the call of duty in small ways to genuinely serve the patient better can make a big impact.

Step 3: How To Knock The Crucial First Impression Out Of The Park

The next day I went to the shop. They share their front office with their physical printing area. So from the outside it looked like a drab, industrial-type building. I figured it was just another print shop, so no big deal.

I walked in and there were vibrant colors on the walls, contemporary furniture and elegant artwork. I thought I had walked into a trendy Web design firm by mistake.

I was immediately swarmed by two associates that came out from their offices and shook my hand to introduce themselves.

They brought me into a conference room where, to my delight, they had these waiting for me:

Allegra Photo
[+] click to enlarge

A box of fresh chocolate chip cookies for me to take for the road. Since it’s not January and I haven’t started my New Year’s workout regimen yet, I gladly accepted.

After they showed me a ton of great examples, they said they would put together a proposal based off my desires and have it ready for me the following week. They then offered me a tour of their printing facilities, but I was short on time and had to run.

“WOW” Lesson: When a new patient comes into your practice for the very first time, have your reception staff do the following:

  1. Stand up. Come out from around your front desk.
  2. Reach out to shake their hand, greet the patient by their last name. Example, “Hi, Mr. Jones welcome to Smith Eye Care.” (Using “Mr.” “Mrs.” or “Ms.” is a universal sign of respect)
  3. Then have your staff offer the patient coffee or tea. Ideally you already have a Keurig in your office. If not, use what you have.
  4. If they accept your offer, have your staff make the drink for them while they wait.

I’m willing to bet Mr. Jones hasn’t experienced such service in a long time and will definitely tell others.

Within 20 Minutes, I Referred five People

This rare experience floored me. In fact, I had to leave Allegra’s office early to have lunch with five other entrepreneurs in Des Moines. I raved to those business owners about the experience I just had. I even brought the cookies to the restaurant where we had them for dessert. You can bet the farm that when those guys need a print job, they’ll at least be giving Allegra a call.

Keep in mind this was all “just” for a business card job. However, Allegra understands that I’m much more than just a business card. I’m other print or design jobs I may need in the future (advertising, direct mailers, brochures, etc. etc.) They also understand that by treating me like this, they’ve now created an Allegra fanboy that will refer every single person I know in Des Moines who needs a print job.

Overall “WOW” Lesson: Provide a truly “WOW” new patient experience. Creating raving fans that can’t help but to refer others to you. You’ll 10x your #1 new patient source and boost your bottom line profits, dramatically.

To your practice,


PS – Here’s an update after one week on how my initial print search has gone:

  • Print Shop 1: Left a message, never called back.
  • Print Shop 2: Filled out a “contact us” form on their Website. Still haven’t heard from them.
  • Print Shop 3: Uploaded my business card design in a form on their Website. They just now called me back. Over a week later. (I purposely didn’t answer.)
  • Print Shop 4: E-mailed me a proposal
  • Print Shop 5: Allegra “WOW”ed me, given me a proposal and ready to pull the trigger.

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