Much More than Signs


Every Signwave centre is set up to completely cover every operation needed to meet a client’s needs, from digital services to content management. In fact, the solutions that Signwave provides are so far reaching that the company is relaunching the brand to remind customers just how much the business can do for them.

“At a Signwave centre you are able to purchase a host of products and services that cater to anything remotely related to signage,” General Manager Andrew McKay explains. Vehicle graphics, decals, labels, and flags for instance, may not be thought of as “signs,” but Signwave covers them all.

The rebranding isn’t about new or improved offerings – Signwave has always been a leading multi-solution visual communications provider. But many clients have simply been unaware of the full extent of the company’s capabilities. Another important message the team wants to get across with the rebranding is that it is here to help a wide variety of clients. “We can provide that solution for the customer that is in a start-up situation, or an established situation, or looking to grow. We can help them all,” says Mr McKay.

One of the key factors that has made Signwave so successful is the franchise model that it utilises, Mr McKay explains. The business, which is a subsidiary of the US based parent company Fastsigns, has 19 independently owned and operated franchise locations in Australia. When franchisees purchase the rights to the Signwave brand, they are also buying the infrastructure that Signwave has painstakingly built. Franchise locations have access to all manner of support, both locally and in the US, and the guidance that Signwave provides –whether industry specific, technical, or general – can be invaluable to an unseasoned entrepreneur eager to make a go at a new industry.

The team also provides comprehensive business analysis support, either through the main office or via an independent business consulting group that runs a special program through every Signwave centre. And, of course, Signwave has already forged a strong brand for its franchisees and helps them handle the sales and marketing needs for their individual centres. This ongoing support “is certainly a major strength on a daily operational point of view that most companies would not have,” Mr McKay points out.

The company’s ability to specially tailor Fastsigns’ broad business model to fit Australia’s specific needs has been equally important to its success; there is a standard business model that can be utilised in virtually any country, Mr McKay explains. “And clearly, that model works [because] that model is based on very basic and sound business principles.” Indeed, a strong, pre-existing infrastructure and round the clock support is certainly invaluable for success. “But what we have also recognised is that we need to tailor that model from within and add things to make it a little better,” Mr McKay adds. “[You need] to cater to the fact that you are in a different country.”

The differences may be small, but, as the saying goes, the devil is in the details. “This is an international model, and it does translate internationally, but there are subtle differences within every country.” Tweaking the business model for an Aussie market has been critical. As Mr McKay says, “I think that our biggest strength is that we have been able to do that. That, in combination with the infrastructure that we provide.”

The Signwave business model is mutually beneficial to both parties, he adds. The franchisee is able to engage with the market through an established brand. Individuals are able to learn “what we do and how we do it in a very effective way,” Mr McKay explains. By offering this support and guidance, the franchisor in turn is rewarded with a higher profit margin. It is win-win, and the evidence is plainly visible in every thriving Signwave centre. “Most franchise companies would say, I think, the proof is in the pudding with us. For example, one of our stated aims is to get every centre to at least a million dollars or over, and we are getting closer to that every day. A good proportion of our centres are already there or well over it, and the other ones are knocking at the door.”

Signwave has been so successful, in fact, that the company has been recognised multiple times by TopFranchise as one of Australia’s best rated franchises. For several years in a row, Signwave participated in the independent company’s Topten, a franchise partner satisfaction survey. “We managed to be in that top ten every year,” Mr McKay reports. “We got as high as number two. That was certainly a feather in our cap.”

Equally important, however, was the valuable feedback. “We did manage to gather a lot of intel, which helped us build the model as best we can to [bring] franchise partner satisfaction.” The team ended its participation in the survey this year, once it had gained the knowledge it needed – and applied it. “It was no longer required,” Mr McKay says, but the benefits continue. Topten “helped us really tailor the model as best we could to meet the requirements as felt by the franchise partners. It also helped us from an ongoing perspective. We now do our own internal surveys, which is all we really need now to keep monitoring satisfaction levels.” The company also utilises a client satisfaction survey that automatically goes out to every customer at every centre. These automatic surveys measure how, and to what degree, the team is meeting client needs. They also clearly identify any areas in need of improvement.

The Signwave franchise is doing so well that the company is planning to put more effort into expansion. Until recently, the team’s energy has been almost exclusively geared toward increasing efficiency in current locations. “We had a focus that was very much on our existing centres. [We wanted] to have everything operating as best you could possibly ask for.” With the brand now thriving throughout the country, it is time to readjust this focus toward creating new Signwave centres. “Now that there is a really strong foundation, we [need to] look to growing the numbers.”

That isn’t to say that the team will be mindlessly pushing new locations. “We are a different model to many because we are not looking to put in copious amounts of centres,” Mr McKay explains. “That’s not how we do it.” It essentially boils down to quality over quantity. “We put an awful lot into our centres to make sure they are profitable. In the end we feel that we are much better served by having fewer centres but a really good network and great profit.” The company has determined that it is currently running at a bit under 50 per cent capacity, and the target is to add a total of 20 to 30 additional franchise locations throughout Australia.

Mr McKay believes that this growth should come relatively easily. Signwave enjoys strong brand recognition and its products and services are in wide demand. “We are very mainstream,” he points out. “We deal with all the mainstream products.” The goal, he adds, is simply to sustain the high level of competence and achievement that being a “main player” entails.

The current state of the industry is also quite supportive of growth. “The industry is incredibly strong,” Mr McKay reports. “It always has been.” And Mr McKay certainly knows the industry. He has been working in it for over a quarter of a century. “In terms of our franchise model it is a great marketplace to be in. There is a really good opportunity for anybody getting involved.”

The key, he adds, will be “to embrace the new types of products and services that haven’t traditionally been tied into signage, but will be.” Indeed, as the traditional print industry weakens and digital solutions take over, it is vital to evolve with the times. “Our challenge is to really embrace that, and really be able to provide [new technologies] as another great offering.” If the company’s past success is any indicator, accomplishing this evolution should be no problem at all.

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

December 19, 2018, 9:23 AM AEDT