Catherine Monson, CEO, FASTSIGNS
Why do you think your franchisees rate your leadership team so high?
Our company is led by a seasoned team of leaders I’ve assembled, each with extensive franchising experience, who are focused on implementing the best practices of franchising.
We are focused on Unit Level Economics, working on many levels to increase the profitability of our franchisees. In fact, our 2017 Financial Benchmark Survey which is included in our 2018 FDD revealed that those franchisees who participated in the Survey achieved—and actually exceeded— one of our key strategic objectives, set in mid 2009, to increase franchisees’ profitability by 50% (more about our 4 key strategic objectives later); our new profitability objective is to “further increase franchisee profitability by 25%”.
We are committed to another best practice of franchising: outstanding franchisee-franchisor relationships. We accomplish this in many ways, including working with franchisee advisory councils (we currently have 4) to ensure franchisee involvement in decision making; consistent and ongoing franchisee satisfaction surveys (utilizing three 3rd party organizations each year to survey our franchisees, plus mini surveys after each visit by our business consultant team and marketing services team to a franchisee’s location or a call to our various support teams); having our leadership team and middle management team spend considerable time in the field, face-to-face with franchisees with the objective of asking what we can do better and how we can improve (as an example, I have personally visited over 400 of our 685 locations); a focus on open and consistent communication (including our weekly FASTBrief newsletter, every 6 to 8 week Connect with Catherine Conference Calls, and transparent communication with positive or negative news); and ensuring all of our leadership team is accessible to our franchisees.
We focus on providing outstanding world-class leadership and support to our franchisees. We provide training and support in business and financial management, marketing and sales management, production management and share best practices in employee management. We have specific team members and groups to provide our franchisees support in real estate, lease negotiations, construction, workflow, the technical aspects of signage design, sign production and installation, digital signage, business management, supply chain and vendor relationships, pricing, our point of sale system, local marketing, outside sales and sales management, advertising, digital marketing, SEO and PPC marketing, and new products and services. We have a robust Support Site and Learning Management System available to our franchisees and their employees 24/7. We have 117 team members supporting our 600 franchisees that operate the 685 FASTSIGNS locations currently open. That’s a support ratio of 1:6, the highest ratio of corporate staff to franchisee of any sign franchise, and most franchisors in any industry.
We have created a corporate culture of empowerment, growth, accountability and commitment to excellence. Our team understands that if our franchisees are successful, we are successful, ensuring alignment. We have 4 key strategic objectives and every team member understands their role in achieving them and spending their time doing so. I established these strategic objectives in mid 2009, several months after I joined the FASTSIGNS International team:
- Increase franchisee profitability by 50%
- Increase average center sales to $1,000,000 per year
- Increase the value of the FASTSIGNS brand
- Further increase already high franchisee satisfaction
Now, based on the results of our 2017 Financial Benchmark Survey, having achieved our first objective, we have replaced it with “Further increase franchisee profitability by 25%."(1)
We are open and transparent in our franchise sales process. We are in the small minority of franchisors that include a financial performance representation in Item 19 of our Franchise Disclosure Document all the way down to EBITDA.
New franchisees have access to our online Learning Management System—which includes over 400 courses on all aspects of the FASTSIGNS business—from day 1. We give each franchisee a recommended list of the foundational training classes to complete online even before we find a location for their center. New franchisees receive pre-opening support, including site selection and build-out, four weeks of in-person training—one week in a FASTSIGNS center, two weeks at our Dallas headquarters, and one week onsite in the new center—a pre-opening and post-opening marketing blitz, grand opening support and guidance, an ongoing Franchisee Mentor Program and ongoing on-site and telephone support from our team.
All of this results on our franchisees knowing that we are sincerely devoted to their success.
What traits do you look for in a franchisee?
We are looking for people more senior in their careers that are interested in owning their own business. Many of our franchisees come from sales, marketing, customer service and IT/technical management careers. No experience is needed in the signage or visual graphics industry. Our best franchisees have a passion for excellence in following our systems and leading their team. Our franchisees must have a desire to become a contributing member of their business community by exercising their sense of innovation to help clients solve marketing challenges. Our franchisees come from very diverse backgrounds, but they all share these common traits. Ours is an owner-operator model rather than an absentee-owner model.
How would you describe your brand’s culture?
Part of what makes FASTSIGNS so remarkable is the level of care and commitment we have toward creating a positive environment and inspiring company culture. As a pillar of our corporate culture, we pride ourselves on five core values of Being Open and Positive, Acting with Passion, Doing the Right Thing, Doing What You Say, and Making It Great! As a visual reinforcement of the company’s culture, our corporate office is anchored by “Inspiration Hall,” a long hallway in the center of the building filled with over 150 quotes about positive mental attitude, goal-directed behavior, self motivation, perseverance, and continual learning. I’ve heard corporate employees say that when they’re facing a challenge, they invest some time in Inspiration Hall and it helps re-motivate themselves and recharge their spirit. And franchisees have loved it so much that they’ve started filling their production areas with inspiring quotes. It’s really taken off within FASTSIGNS. Additionally, in an effort to further enhance the lives and well being of the team, I have strived to put an emphasis on health and wellness, implementing a comprehensive wellness program, healthier snack options, and rewarding exercise, as well as standing desks and workstations.
What advice would you give to other franchise leaders?
Focusing on the best practices of franchising is critically important. If strong unit level economics, high franchisee satisfaction and providing world-class leadership and support are not among your top priorities, they should be. Consistently implementing these best practices will lead to outstanding franchisee satisfaction. When I came to FASTSIGNS in 2009, we had good franchisee satisfaction ratings and with the improvements we have brought since then, we now have some of the highest franchisee satisfaction ratings in all of franchising. FASTSIGNS has been recognized for its outstanding franchisee satisfaction by being named a World Class Franchise by the Franchise Research Institute for five consecutive years and being inducted in Franchise Business Review’s Hall of Fame as one of the "Best of the Best" for franchisee satisfaction for the last 10 years. Additionally, FASTSIGNS also was named to Franchise Business Review's "Innovative Franchises" list in 2017 and a "Best-in-Category" franchise by Franchise Business Review in 2018. The Canadian Franchise Association (CFA) recently recognized FASTSIGNS with a special six-year Franchisees' Choice designation for its strong relationship with Canadian franchisees, as well as extensive franchisee training and support.
Include a Financial Performance Representation in your FDD’s Item 19 all the way down to EBITDA.
Culture is also incredibly important. I encourage every franchise leader to develop a positive culture and motivating environment where people know and understand the company’s objectives and how what they do each day contributes to achieving those goals. People are more motivated when they are well-trained, have the tools they need, can share their ideas openly, take chances, and innovate or improve processes. Develop a team that is accessible, genuine and has empathy.
Finally, recruit people who are smarter than you and more knowledgeable in their areas of expertise than you are. Then develop them to make them even better than they already are. That’s how you build a high-performance team—by acquiring and developing outstanding people to build the talent pool your company needs.
Who/what inspires you as a leader?
I am inspired by making a difference in people’s lives. I get to do that every day in franchising, helping our franchisees achieve the dream of business ownership, allowing them to take control of their own destiny, build wealth for their families, create jobs, and drive economic output. Our franchisees motivate me to be the best I can be.
I love franchising and the franchise business model because of this.
(1) The 2017 Financial Benchmark Survey included a survey of financial results for the 2017 calendar year for the 308 franchised FASTSIGNS Centers who provided data for the survey. The average profitability of those reporting FASTSIGNS Centers was $180,766, of which 128 reporting FASTSIGNS Centers met or exceeded that average. A new franchisee’s results may differ. See item 19 of current FDD for further details.