AlphaGraphics Continues to Redefine the Franchisee With W2P, Other Offerings
The pages of this publication often relate the tales of commercial printing behemoths, some of which register eight, nine, even 10 figures on the annual revenue scale. These powerhouse printers have capital expenditure plans that routinely exceed $1 million. That might be your tale, but chances are, it’s not.
Even a more modest $20 million performer is not a general reflection of the typical printing establishment. Making a firm of this nature the standard for all printers is like judging beauty by the models we see on the covers of Cosmopolitan or GQ.
Unfortunately, there are not enough pages in Printing Impressions to recognize the success stories of the printing industry’s midsection, the $1+ million per year company that, despite its size, has resisted the urge to sell on price alone. These firms establish ongoing relationships with customers, keep abreast of technology shifts and make critical investments commensurate with their balance sheets.
If this description is more reflective of your printing establishment, chances are you might want to pick up the phone. AlphaGraphics is looking for you.
The Salt Lake City-based franchisor may be approaching the age of 50, but it shows no signs of slowing down. It posted system-wide sales of $298.7 million in its most recent fiscal year, an average of just under $1.1 million for each of its 279 global locations.
Not Just Typical Commercial Offerings
AlphaGraphics provides one of the broadest arrays of products and services among the printing industry franchisor set. Aside from commercial work (books, annual reports, brochures, business cards, letterhead, etc.), its offerings include wide-format digital printing, signage (agSigns), trade show materials and promotional products. The network also extends a wide variety of marketing resources to its franchisees, from direct marketing (list acquisition, personalized URLs, strategic consulting, copywriting) to online tools (Search Engine Optimization, social media and Web design) and mobile (SMS, QR codes/MS tags and mobile apps).
At the helm of the AlphaGraphics ship is President Aaron Grohs. Before taking the reigns in February of 2015, Grohs spent 11 years as an executive VP of sales and marketing at a former industry consolidation firm. Also on Grohs’ executive team is Ryan Farris, AlphaGraphics’ chief technology officer who has worked alongside Grohs for many years.
The significance of the leadership’s background lies in a somewhat shared philosophy. Groh’s former firm had long preached the value of member companies leveraging and cross-selling the capabilities of the entire network. In AlphaGraphics, Grohs sees the strength of the franchisor’s core providing a roadmap for successful companies to take the next step in their development.
“There are fewer options today for independent printers who want to enter the next phase, to either improve their business or exit it,” Grohs observes. “We can provide a path for them. We have the purchasing power, the technology, the MIS, the marketing and business development support, the training — all of the things that are difficult for an independent printer to develop on its own. Whether the owner is looking for an exit strategy or for a way to take the business to the next level, we can provide that avenue.”
The avenue to engage AlphaGraphics actually crosses three lanes. Printers can convert their independent businesses into AlphaGraphics franchises; sell their companies and exit the industry; or provide investment opportunities for people who want to enter the printing industry as an owner.
The buy-in tier features investors from many walks of life: longtime executives from other companies who want to sail their own ship, corporate exiles looking for a change of pace, and high-energy candidates who like being in the middle of everything.
The seller of an indepedent print shop’s most common tale is the lack of a succession plan. They either lack an heir apparent or a family member interested in continuing the printing legacy. These owners seek to cash out for a well-earned retirement or career shift.
Testing the Network Waters First
Then there’s the independent print shop owner who wishes to join the AlphaGraphics network. The candidates who meet the initial criteria attend a monthly workshop in Salt Lake City called Discovery Day. It’s a two-way interview process, with both candidates and AlphaGraphics learning about one another during a four-day workshop. Both sides have the opportunity to see if there is a mutual fit.
Dave Buzza, chief development officer at AlphaGraphics, notes the organization is “extremely selective” as to whom it welcomes aboard. The franchisor is not a silver bullet to aid printing companies in need of a turnaround. Rather, it is a stepping-stone for printing establishments that have enjoyed success, but require a boost in the aforementioned areas.
“Reputation is critically important; candidates need to have a history of being an upstanding owner with high levels of customer satisfaction,” Buzza says. “We have systemwide standards that we maintain within the network and they have to be able to meet them. The standards run from the front door to the back door. It’s not just about equipment; it’s hardware, software, staffing and their location. They have to either meet AlphaGraphics’ standards or be willing to invest in their businesses in order to meet them.”
So why convert over to AlphaGraphics as opposed to another franchisee network? Grohs points out that AlphaGraphics fills that critical niche between the retail walk-in store and the bigger commercial printers with a lot of capacity. The network boasts sheetfed offset, digital, wide-format signage printing (a growth area) and marketing services, possessing the firepower of a much larger profile printer, but enjoying the benefits that come with operating on a local level.
While other organizations are framed as certain types of printers, such as a sign shop or a digital copier specialist, members of the AlphaGraphics family are not pigeonholed by the name. Rather, as the macro needs of customers continue to evolve, AlphaGraphics has massaged its platform to maintain relevancy.
“We have a long history of remaining on the cutting edge within our industry segment,” notes Trent Lensch, VP of franchise relations. “Quite frankly, we have the best owners of any network. We keep our standards extremely high on the front end of the development process. We’re attracting and engaging high-quality business people to our brand.
“They have the ability to leverage the power of our network for instituting industry best practices. AlphaGraphics has been, and will continue to be, the clear choice for independent printers who believe in what the brand can bring to their businesses.”
The struggle for many independent printers is having the ability to vet, review, implement and maintain the latest technology, Farris points out. AlphaGraphics provides added value with its investments in MIS infrastructure, with an eye toward integration with related tools such as Web-to-print (W2P) and online ordering capabilities.
AG Online is the franchise’s new W2P platform, which the executives feel is the most powerful, complete and robust online storefront solution in the printing industry — and hence a lethal weapon for owners of $1 million franchises to have in their hands. Franchise owners can use it for a monthly fee. By comparsion, independent print shops of similar size would likely find the six-figure capital outlay for such a solution cost-prohibitive, when obtained on their own.
“We’ve made substantial investments to upgrade the online ordering platform,” Farris says. “This gives them a tool that’s ready to integrate into their MIS and, ultimately, integrate into their workflow for any type of product capabilities that they need. The investments we’ve made and expertise we offer provide a big win for independent printers looking to make a change.
“We also provide marketing tools for their website, marketing collateral capabilities, and ordering tools for prospecting and maintaining their business,” he adds. “And we take care of the back office systems, such as email, and managing their ability to procure materials, inventory and goods.”
Another value proposition augmenting the franchisees is the organization’s national purchasing program. Grohs and his team work closely with a wide array of the industry suppliers to secure pricing that enables franchisees to obtain gear and software at optimum rates.
“It is a tremendous advantage to our franchisees to leverage that kind of buying power,” according to Grohs.
Moving forward, AlphaGraphics will continue to focus on the tools at its franchisees’ disposal, like the purchasing program and its training initiatives (including marketing and sales), while at the same time continuing to fortify the national brand. AG Online walks hand-in-hand with the multichannel marketing suite, and the agSigns large-format division — bolstered by more esoteric offerings, such as window clings, floor graphics and trade show displays — underscores the notion that AlphaGraphics’ overall arsenal challenges the traditional menu of a franchise player.
“We want to make sure we’re providing value-added services that help our franchisees improve their top and bottom lines,” Grohs says. “If we’re doing that, we’re growing together.” PI