The quick print industry - the copy shop - has been established for many years. The sector is worth in excess of a £1 billion and is still growing. But how is it able to do this in the era of the paperless office and increasing home design?
There are two key factors. Keeping one step ahead of technology is vital and the industry is constantly reinventing itself to meet advancing technology. The other factor is listening to what the customer wants. Quick print companies have started to move away from the high street towards the business to business side - a burgeoning sector.
Reinvention has not meant abandoning the traditional side of printing, though. When electronic media first emerged, some businesses found that the idea of a paperless virtual office was impractical, so print centres continue to be in demand for brochures, catalogues and advertising. The difference now is that this is done alongside printing and website design that can be distributed round the world. Businesses are increasingly interested in combining old and new.
Prontaprint is the oldest and largest franchisor of the three we are featuring here. It's almost 30 years old, and franchisees benefit from a large support network. The company has recently undergone an image revamp to mark the increasing move towards business to business. Kall Kwik is also aggressively attacking this new market and its centres are highly visible within business communities.
By contrast, since its UK launch in 1988, AlphaGraphics has focused purely on the business market. Its franchises are so carefully placed and therefore its public profile is lower because of its specialisation.
Print centres used to be called copy shops. The name changed as the level and range of service advanced. Print centres now offer traditional and digital printing, colour copying, presentations, binding and collating, and assistance in designing from scratch, as well as reworking designs.
Walk-in business is virtually dead so the franchisee will need to create contracts with local businesses. It will be up to you to make contact with those businesses to sell the centre's services.
As Kall Kwik and Prontaprint have almost reached franchisee capacity for the UK, you probably won't be able to take on a brand new franchise. Most of the vacancies will be resales, where franchisees have decided to move on.
So your first job will be learning how to manage an existing team. They will be the ones running the centre while you are out meeting prospective customers, so delegation is an important part of your job - and trust is key from the start.
AlphaGraphics' franchises tend to be new startups. The franchisor is looking to expand tentatively and in specific environments. David Holliday, franchise development manager at AlphaGraphics, explains:
"We always match the profile of the company to the area. It's based on the number - around 2,500 - of businesses in the area rather than the head of population or the postcode. We have to make sure they are close to the commercial centre."
For all three franchisors, location is very important, so you are unlikely to have much say in the matter. This is a moot point if you are purchasing an existing centre but there is still little room for manoeuvre when it comes to a new site. Prontaprint, for example, now has good national coverage and it is only interested in out of town areas that are ripe for development, or where the company is not already represented.
National advertising is handled centrally as part of the franchise fee. This generally accounts for 4% of the total. However, one franchisee in East Anglia felt his 4% wasn't well spent. "Advertising in Liverpool Street Station isn't much good to me in East Anglia is it?" Local advertising is up to you. This might be in the press or with direct mailing.
Customer feedback is vital. Bruce Shepherd jointly owns the Salford Quays Kall Kwik with his wife Elaine. He stresses the importance of annual customer surveys. When such a large part of the business is not conducted face to face it could be the only way to find out what your customers really think.
"Originally in this industry lots of business was won by waiting for people to walk in the door. Since we started this centre 18 months ago, I think we've only had one customer just come in."
Shepherd asks for opinions on telephone response, attitude of staff, quality of the product and whether pricing is competitive. "A fair response to these types of questions helps us strive for perfection," he says.