When traveling, it’s best to have a guide: someone who knows the best places to eat, the best sites to see, and, perhaps most importantly, the safest areas in town. When expanding your business, it’s best to have more than just a business plan. Catherine Monson speaks with experience when she says, “having a local [business] partner is important.”
Catherine Monson has served as chief executive officer of signs franchise FASTSIGNS for three years. When she was recruited to assume the role, the original founder was uninterested in expanding the concept internationally. Well, Monson was.
The fact of the matter is, as Catherine aptly points out, that “Businesses need signage.”
FASTSIGNS fills an obvious global need: businesses need signs to alert potential consumers that they exist. With the global economy expanding, especially in the Middle East, Asia, and South America, there’s a lot of opportunity for FASTSIGNS to grow quickly– except Catherine Monson isn’t really interested in rapid expansion.
“It’s very important to modify your business model to embrace the culture of where you’re expanding,” explains Monson. That’s why FASTSIGNS has a specific three-pronged expansion strategy.
First, when expanding, the signs franchise looks for international partners with a knowledge of the culture and business climate of the proposed expansion location. The partner can be the owner of an existing signage business or wishing to start from scratch. Either way, his or her knowledge is integral to FASTSIGNS’ steady and successful expansion plan.
Second, FASTSIGNS likes to convert existing independent sign stores into FASTSIGNS franchises, if they’re interested, of course. “We’re willing to expand anywhere we can help,” adds Catherine. For example, FASTSIGNS recently expanded in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico thanks to three Puerto Rican business leaders who owned a sign store. Instead of coming in and siphoning business from existing independent business by establishing a new FASTSIGNS franchise, FASTSIGNS chose to approach existing businesses and business owners.This way, the business owners receive marketing support and brand recognition from FASTSIGNS (along with new technologies and materials) and FASTSIGNS goes into business with an established customer base and a knowledge of the local community.
Finally, occasionally FASTSIGNS expands the old fashioned franchise way: by selling a new location or territory. Just like every other option, there’s a lot of research that goes into building a new location.
When asked what she felt was the most important thing for franchises to consider when expanding internationally, Catherine Monson answered, “Spend a good amount of time really studying the culture, the labor market, and as a result, what might need to be different about your model.” By that she means, what works in the U.S. might not work elsewhere, like in Saudi Arabia. “I don’t think we’d be as successful [in Saudi Arabia] without having a Saudi partner.”
“If you fail,” she says, “you have a bad mark against you.” As a well-known brand in a hoping to expand in relatively unknown lands, that’s not a good sign. Fortunately for FASTSIGNS, with Catherine Monson at the helm I doubt there will be anything but all signs pointing to ‘go.’