How One Band of Business Owners Came Together to Thrive During the Pandemic
To say the least, the COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging for small businesses. Almost everyone has had to abruptly shift focus from growth to survival. But, even in the toughest times, business owners come together to protect each other.
One example of this is the business owners who form the nucleus of AlphaGraphics, a leading franchisor of printing and marketing solutions, that I represent. Over the past few months, the company’s corporate office and its network of business owners have come together to help each other, as well as independent print shops.
This is how AlphaGraphics, both the corporate team and the individual franchise owners, operates: by offering guidance and helping creating a light at the end of the tunnel for struggling business owners, said Bill McPherson, AlphaGraphics VP — franchise development.
“In the blink of an eye, sales went from normal and growing to falling off a cliff, and we knew we couldn’t stand by without helping,” McPherson said. “Our company remains acutely vigilant about COVID-19 and continues to work closely with our network to protect employees, franchisees, all of our centers and their employees.”
For Jeff Schwarz, who converted his New England-based print shop into an AlphaGraphics location, the support of network has helped him continue growing, even in the middle of the pandemic.
“We had a great homegrown printing system that had some scaling issues,” Schwarz said. “And so, when we're looking at technological solutions, we found that AlphaGraphics offered a vetted text system. And when we looked closer at it, we realized the potential of their system, which is a complete Web-to-print solution with workflow automation.
Schwarz has been in the printing business for 15 years and says they are reenergized and excited to join the AlphaGraphics family.
“With the insight of the corporate team and the support of fellow shop owners, we have better growth opportunities than ever before and are tapping into a proven system that's going to allow us to do that,” he said.
Butch Clarke, owner of AlphaGraphics of Rockwall, Texas, praised the company’s response to the difficulties of the pandemic. “We really felt the home office team’s care and concern for our owners,” he said. “When the pandemic hit, they quickly rolled out a couple of different programs to help us with finances and to guide us through applying for aid from the U.S. government’s PPP lending program.”
The best ideas from the network of business owners were pulled together and shared to help owners across the country, Clarke said.
“They were honest and said, hey, here's what we're doing across the network. Some areas have been hit harder than others, and this is what we're doing to try to remedy that as much as possible,” said Clarke “The team helped all of us see that there are growth opportunities within this new normal and how to pivot toward that goal. It was incredible, the speed at which we had to pivot and start offering the solutions that our customers need during this time.”
In response to the pandemic, AlphaGraphics also added several financial and operational incentives into their 2020 Franchise Agreement (FDD). For qualified new franchisees, the incentives amount to thousands of dollars in savings on up-front and ongoing franchise expenses.
“We have been working hard to help out struggling business owners,” McPherson said. “We needed to react quickly to the current pandemic. Our initiatives range from offering a reduced initial franchise fee with flexible deferment and payment options, reducing ongoing royalties, and allowing extended time to open a new location or convert an existing business.”
Another example of the company’s flexibility is the execution of its recent annual conference held in early August. To accommodate health and safety concerns, the team retooled the annual conference, which usually brings hundreds of franchisees, staff, vendors, and suppliers together, into five-day virtual conference.
In response to COVID-19, the company also developed hundreds of virtual training offerings that focused on pandemic issues. The company’s extensive learning platform, agLearn, already housed more than 700 online training courses, but the brand added scores of COVID-related courses and repurposed existing content to help franchisees during temporary closures or abbreviated operating hours. From March through May alone, it hosted more than 70 webinar training sessions with a total attendance of over 3,400 and has seen more than 15,000 course enrollments in the agLearn program.
Once the pandemic began taking hold across the U.S., the AlphaGraphics home office and franchise owners increased the level of collaboration. “When you have other owners sharing their experiences with each other – good and bad – it can help, more than anything, business owners navigate the crisis,” McPherson said. “I highly encourage business owners to find networks or if part of a franchise system, engage diligently with other franchisees and the franchisor. Together, you will get through and even grow during tough times.”
Heather Ripley is CEO of Ripley PR, a global public relations agency specializing in franchising. Orange Orchard, a division of Ripley PR, champions franchisors that cater to environmentally-conscious consumers. For additional information, visit www.ripleypr.com or www.orangeorchardpr.com.
Heather Ripley is CEO of Ripley PR, a global public relations agency specializing in franchising. Orange Orchard, a division of Ripley PR, champions franchisors that cater to environmentally-conscious consumers. For additional information, visit ripleypr.com or orangeorchardpr.com.