Business Sense & Sensibility

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.

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.

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 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.

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.

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."

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.

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