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New tactics boost Unishippers, FASTSIGNS


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Unishippers’ focus on the small- to medium-sized business customer led to strong growth last year, 12 percent up in sales and 5 percent up in units. “We really focus on the SMB customer, trying to differentiate ourselves from our competitor space,” says Kevin Lathrop, president.

A new product portfolio, featuring many different transportation carriers that can be accessed via a single website, is at the heart of the growth. “Whether they’re sending an overnight letter, or maybe e-commerce or next-day air, or whether they’re doing a full pallet of freight, they can go to one place. That’s where a lot of the cost savings come from.”

Unishippers corporate negotiates with transportation carriers for their franchisees, allowing for more flexible credit and insurance terms, for example. As the economy picks up and transportation gets tight, Unishippers and carriers like it gain favor. “What we bring is reliable access to capacity even when the markets get tight,” he says.

FASTSIGNS is the top-performing franchise on the printing side of the printing and shipping category, with revenue up nearly 11 percent and units up more than 5 percent.

That’s the result of repositioning the company, formally in April 2012, a task CEO Catherine Monson began in 2009 when she joined the franchise. Her team’s task was “laying down solid strategy,” she says, “and implementing that strategy over time.

Track one was differentiating FASTSIGNS from the competition with a “more than” campaign; that is, “more than fast and more than signs,” as Monson describes it. Franchisees are coached to provide “marketing-savvy solutions” to customers, not just sell signs.

Track two is an outside sales initiative, formally launched in January 2010. At the time FASTSIGNS had fewer than 10 outside salespeople working for franchisees; today that number is close to 400, and the position is listed as a critical employee for each franchisee in the brand’s franchise disclosure documents.

“When I got here it was very reactive retail, wait for the customer to come to you,” Monson says. Today, “it is a very proactive model.”

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