For years, I’ve shared with photo retailers—through this column and at industry conferences—innovative product and service leads to inspire growth and resilience.
Now I’m going to tell you why I’m so passionate about my brand-new cobranding sign venture with FastSigns and why I think it holds incredible opportunities for the photo industry.
Most businesses will see success if time and effort are put into driving sales, introducing themselves in their neighborhood and promoting their name and brand. What we experienced before we were open was nothing short of amazing.
Before FastSigns of Fullerton even opened its doors or put any energy into canvasing our surrounding areas, FastSigns International had already started marketing our new center. I received a call from a woman asking if her banners were ready before I had even set up our FS store e-mail account. This was the start of a wild ride that’s been our first two months.
Reaching local businesses is fantastic. What’s even more exciting is receiving inquiries from people around the country. One of the first inquiries we received was from the head chef of nationwide Holiday Inns. They were opening a restaurant 10 miles from us and somehow, although the customer is in Seattle, FastSigns of Fullerton came up first in his Google search.
He needed a 50-foot by 12-foot banner, much larger than I could produce in-house. The FastSigns support website is wonderful and provides us with any and all vendors we could ever need. So, finding a company to produce this banner was a breeze.
After giving me his logo, the chef asked me to create a panoramic banner from his square logo. With all the experience we have in the photo industry creating and customizing holiday cards and other creative products, designing a banner is right in our scope as designers, or for on-staff graphic artists.
We simply put what we already knew into use in “sign design.” We paired a modern, cool font with the chef’s “60s” inspired logo, and he loved it. Each and every order since then has been exciting and challenging, when we decipher what the clients’ needs are, what their style is and then deliver a quality product.
FastSigns provides valuable yet flexible guidelines. For example, they believe that around 85% of the work we do should be produced in-house to ensure maximum margins. As a new center, you might start with 15% in-house production and 85% outsourced until you fine-tune your workflow.
They’re there to assist you along the way. FastSigns of Fullerton has an off-site production facility, which works well with our very limited in-store space but is not the norm. I’m thankful I decided to bring my production manager with me to Foundations, a two-week training class in Dallas, Texas, where we learned the ins and outs of the FastSigns world.
Banner Day for B2B
I can truly say that the FastSigns addition to Fullerton Photographics is the most exciting thing to happen in a long time. It’s thrilling to come in each day not knowing what inquiries will be in our e-mail and what new products I’ll be offering new clients. Excited to use our creativity in every product, my passion for imaging has returned in a big way.
In contrast to using an exasperating amount of energy trying to drive marketing and get customers through my door, I’m putting that same energy into FastSigns and am barely able to keep up with all the business coming our way. I don’t mind working hard; it’s all I’ve ever done. Those of us still in business today have had to work incredibly hard to stay here. My hopes for my business are higher than ever. While I am not abandoning Fullerton Photographics, I’m directing a majority of my efforts toward a viable and prosperous future.
Over the years, certain photo products have given us hope, but none have had the potential of a sign business. Metal prints made everyone excited about photo again. Fullerton Photo still sells a great deal of metal. Yet, for all the time I spend coming up with new products, creating marketing plans and developing promos, the demand for photo prints and products is just not on par with the B2B market for business signage.
Diving into the sign industry has been a breath of fresh air—a natural complement to what we’ve been doing, but on a broader scale.
The opportunities for success when cobranding with a national sign company are phenomenal because of the ease of transition. It was a no-brainer for me because we were already doing something similar with custom art and our current B2B clients. There are also many advantages to having a national brand behind you.
I’m living proof that change is possible. And as you may know, Fullerton Photo is not the only company succeeding since partnering with FastSigns.
Photo Specialty/FastSigns Franchises
Ginger Gauthe, general manager of FastSigns of Metairie-Lakeside, Louisiana, says, “As a camera/photo specialty store in a shrinking market, Lakeside Camera Photoworks had been looking to enter the B2B market for some time. A few of our existing clients trusted us with their marketing needs, but attracting new customers was a challenge.
“We knew our equipment could produce amazing signs and our design talent and quality control would give us an edge in this new market. When we heard about FastSigns, it was a lightbulb moment for sure. I won’t say it’s easy. But the training and support we’ve received and continue to receive from corporate and their vendor partners have made all the difference.”
Bill Eklund, of Sharp Photo and Portrait/FastSigns, says, “The sign business and the photo business have a lot of synergy because they’re graphically focused. Many of our staff understand PDF, jpeg and tiff files, large-format printing, Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign, which are used in both businesses.
“Plus, the sign business is very busy in the summer here when the photo business is slower. Whereas photo is very busy in November/December, when the sign business slows. Thanks to FastSigns, we now have the reputation and buying power of a big franchise. We also have all the help and support we need for entering a new business.
“As a photo retailer, our business revolved around the consumer. Now it’s mostly B2B. And a lot of fun! Connecting with businesses and helping them meet their communication needs is satisfying and profitable. And when we retire, we’ll have a business with a strong reputation to sell or pass on to future generations.”
A Good Sign
Transitioning from the photo industry to the sign industry makes sense for many reasons:
1. Shared Expertise. It’s not just deciding you want to buy a franchise and you picked one. We have several relatable skills and product experience.
2. A Growth Industry. In contrast to what we’ve experienced in photo, this is a huge encouragement.
3. A Guide and a Flexible Plan. The photo industry hasn’t had leaders for years. No Kodak, Fuji, HP, Noritsu to help guide us. It’s been up to us. We’ve had to become our own industry leaders. Being part of a franchise you don’t have to do that. Whether it’s FastSigns or Subway, there’s somebody guiding you, which I find very refreshing.
4. A Nice Living. An average FS store does $767,000 in sales every year. The average FS owner’s discretionary income typically a minimum of 20% of the gross profit.
As with most businesses, it’s all about relationships. Experiences. Things we’ve done before. FastSigns of Fullerton, like other franchisees, has seen great crossover between photo and sign customers. Initial business with current relationships make the transition that much easier.
I simply want to encourage all photo retailers that it might be time to consider purchasing a FastSigns or at least shifting their focus to a more B2B-oriented marketing plan.