What started as a family-run FASTSIGNS franchise in 2005 — with husband-and-wife team Kim and Judy Gilpin and their son, Michael — has grown into a successful sign, graphics and visual-display business in Grand Rapids, Michigan, with 15 employees. The couple and Michael brought a wealth of marketing, sales and organizational experience to the table — Kim was a marketing executive with furniture company Steelcase, Michael worked for a small manufacturer, and Judy was a nurse. They admit, though, that the signage business was new to them.
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They chose FASTSIGNS, Kim said, because the founders of the franchise — who have since sold the business — never made them feel that they would be just another store. "We contacted at least a dozen franchise partners across the country to discuss their relationship with FASTSIGNS," he recalled. "Not only did they provide positive feedback and reviews, they were more than willing to give up their time to help us understand the business."
The parent brand has been instrumental in helping the Gilpins grow their business to nearly $3 million in annual sales by providing technical support and new offerings. Among the more effective tools has been 30-second to 1-minute marketing videos that allow them to show potential customers all the different products and services they offer. "The videos are industry-specific, so if we're talking to a health-care company or a retailer, we'll use the marketing video that applies to that industry," Kim said. "Getting these from the parent company is a huge help. If we had to make all these videos, it would have cost us thousands and thousands of dollars."
For others interested in purchasing a franchise, Kim said, "reach out to other owners and ask tough questions. Ask how hands-on the business is, and talk to other established franchisees about whether the start-up costs the franchisor estimates are actually realistic. You want to make sure there is a good match between your interests and the investment you're about to make."
"Reach out to other owners and ask tough questions. You want to make sure there is a good match between your interests and the investment you’re about to make."