Carl Gerhardt

Carl Gerhardt

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.

Parting Words: Retire at 55—I Was Wrong!

As of this month, I am 100 percent retired, and this will be my last blog. I can say that I am enjoying this new phase of life, but what is right for one may not be right for another. I'd like to share the following checklist of things to consider when planning retirement at any age.

We Reap What We Sow – Honesty Rules

You may be familiar with one of several versions of the following story; the original author is unknown. It carries a powerful message that I want to share. Look for the employees like "Jim" in this message and you might find your successor and certainly employees that are keepers.

Celebrate Your Losses

Celebrate your wins, create a positive work environment and make your workplace fun. It makes good business sense and pays dividends. Don't ignore the losses either. We certainly don't want to celebrate them, but we should put plans in place to fix them.

War Stories: Your Best Marketing Tool

I think we can agree that positive word-of-mouth is one of the best marketing tools any business can have. To get this to work, you need what I like to call "war stories" that are affirming. These are customer experiences about doing business with you that are so compelling they want to share the story with their friends and colleagues.

It's OK to Spill a Little

Too often I find many small-business people to be too conservative. I don’t mean in the political sense. I mean they become too risk-adverse and afraid to take on new things because they are "too busy."

How to Hire and Keep a Dynamo Salesperson

I believe that there are many firms that are unable or unwilling to pay the price to hire and attract the caliber of person that can succeed in today’s marketplace. Many more sales hires fail than succeed. I set up an equity program for a young person and eventually sold the entire business to him. The entire process took about 15 years. He had no cash but lots of talent and willingness.

'This Is a Football.' Back to the Basics

There are many football and sports analogies that apply to business, but how does this one apply? In our fast-changing environment with all of the talk about diversification and "becoming marketing services providers," we often leave the basics to chance and assume they will take care of themselves. Not true. The fundamentals are something that must be constantly practiced and inspected.

Seven Words You Can’t Say

I’ve heard the following seven words a time or two when visiting our franchise members: "We have never done it that way." It’s human nature to continue doing the things we believe will work rather than something that requires taking a risk...or something suggested by a staff member, a fellow shop owner or business advisor.

Attacking Quotes Is Simple Business Sensibility

We often spend big money on sophisticated marketing plans to attract new customers. If we fall down on quick, professional response to quotes, we end up making this the weakest link in the marketing chain. We leave the low hanging fruit on the tree for a more aggressive competitor to pick.

More on M&A on Steroids

In the last blog, I talked about the “Deadly Law of Inflation” and the toll it has taken on our industry. In my opinion, it has also caused merger and acquisition activity to accelerate as though on steroids. The following list identifies the top 10 needs to ensure a successful purchase/sale and transition.

Shrinking Your Way to Prosperity

I have said often that I think there is more fun and opportunity in this industry now than when I started in 1985; it’s just different. You have a big advantage in owning your own business and understanding this market. It simply takes action, hard work and the willingness to get some help and to think differently than in the past.

The Best (and Necessary) Motto: Be Prepared

In recent months, I have been reminded a couple of times how disaster can strike our businesses. Over the holidays one of our franchise members had a break-in that caused a fire, burning the center to the ground. Disaster struck, but fortunately, the owner had good insurance coverage, a second location that allowed for minimal business interruption and a franchise network for support.

Volatility, Peaks and Valleys

Yogi Berra once said, “If you don’t know where you are going, you will end up somewhere else.” The need for planning was never greater, but planning for volatility has never been more difficult.