PostNet Franchise Review: Q&A With Peter Rigsbee of Woodbury, MN
PostNet franchise owner enjoys variety of work, having creative outlet
Peter Rigsbee, 57, started his PostNet franchise in Woodbury, Minn., in 2008, just as the recession was baring its teeth. As such, growth was slow the first few years, but business is picking up.
How long have you been a PostNet owner? What were you doing before?
I’ve owned my PostNet for about five and a half years. I had been doing product marketing for Cray, Inc., which makes supercomputers, selling them mostly to government labs and universities and some very large companies; places like Los Alamos and Oak Ridge National. Supercomputers are used for everything from weapons research and atomic energy research to weather and climate forecasting. With the exception of a few years, I had been with the company since 1980, when it was called Cray Research.
What led you to PostNet?
I had always wanted to run my own company, but never encountered a high-tech startup concept that made sense and seemed realistic. I read about a retail wine franchise that sounded interesting, and that got me started looking into franchising in general. I met the area developer for PostNet at a local franchise show and thought it sounded interesting, and here I am! I liked that franchising is a lot less risky than starting something completely new. I also liked the variety that exists within PostNet’s business model. No two franchisees are exactly the same, and there is flexibility to stress the aspects of the business that will serve your customers best. I liked that there was a high-tech attribute to it thanks to the digital printing. Also, the folks (at headquarters) in Denver had a good reputation, and I felt they would be a good group of people to work with. It was a combination of all that.
You started in 2007, right as the recession was kicking people in the teeth. That had to be tough. How did you make it through?
Fortunately, I was in a position where I was able to self-finance and didn’t have to worry about making money from the get-go just to put food on the table. We started Day 1 in a recession, and I’d love to had been doing better earlier, but we’re doing okay now. 2012 was our best year ever, with sales up over 20% from the year before. We exceeded our 2011 revenue in early November, and that was before the revenue surge we get in December thanks to people shipping things for Christmas. And so far in 2013, we’re seeing another 25% boost.
How much of your business comes from shipping?
We tend to be pretty heavy on the printing side. About 70 percent of our revenue is printing, with less than 30 percent shipping.
What did you do to find your printing customers?
I’m in a networking group. I only have one employee, but she’s in another networking group. That’s been a big piece. We have good customers that we give referrals to, and they give us referrals, too.
We try to find customers with recurring needs, and we’ve been fortunate to have some wonderful relationships with customers. For instance, our best customer is Tory Robson, a chiropractor. When we started, he had a clinic across the parking lot from us, and after we’d been open three or four weeks he walks in and asks if we could do all his printing. Then he started another business mentoring and training other chiropractors in improving their business practices, offering training seminars and DVDs, and we do a lot of work for his consulting business, too. He sold his practice across the parking lot a couple of years ago and moved to the other side of the metro area, but we’re still doing business for him and getting referrals from him — including customers as far away as Southern California. We’re building up a national clientele thanks to him.
What do you enjoy about the business?
Most customers that we have are very friendly, which is nice. I like the variety of stuff I get to do. One day I may be doing graphic design, the next moment I’m doing a digital printing job, then I have to figure out how to pack something complicated for somebody, then make passport photos for somebody else. It’s a real mix of things, and I have the opportunity to be creative in various ways. Some other franchises are a lot more static — ‘this is what we do,’ and it’s the same old, same old, one day after another.
What changes have you seen in the printing industry?
There are a lot of people hiring online printers to do stuff. Places like Vistaprint are growing, and that’s going to continue, but that’s not our kind of customer anyway. Our customers like the personal treatment we can offer, that they wouldn’t get from an online web site. Such as the ability to simply call to order “another 250 booklets” (and we know exactly what we want), or asking us to respond quickly in emergencies. We help people with a lot more than just printing, taking care of design, and now offering websites and business plans, and PostNet has lined up vendors that we can connect with to handle things of that nature. The emphasis for us is on small businesses, and broadening from doing printing to handling all sorts of marketing needs. We’re a one-stop shop.
How important are your relationships with other franchisees?
The relationships were one of the things that impressed me most when I looked at PostNet. A number of owners have been in for 10 or 15 years, and PostNet has a really active internal message board where people ask questions and get advice. I’ve found that I can pick up the phone and call people, and they are willing to give me time and advice even though I’ve often never met them. Sometimes we do jobs for each other. I print banners and posters for other stores that don’t have a big printer like I have, and some other stores have equipment I don’t, so I send business to them. I just had a store in Michigan do some vinyl lettering for a customer. We don’t have the equipment for that, so I sent him the file, got an estimate, got the okay from the customer and a couple of days later got the lettering, which is on the customer’s window now.
How is your life different than it was before PostNet?
I used to travel two to three times a month, and some of it was international travel. I had one trip to Beijing where I left on Sunday and was back in the States on Thursday — all for a 20-minute presentation. I don’t miss the travel. I was gone a lot of nights and weekends, and spent a lot of time sitting in airports. I don’t miss that.
My work hours aren’t all that different. We’re open from 9 to 6:30, and in the summer we’re closed on weekends. My center is one mile from my house, so my commute is now 2 minutes, unless I miss the light, in which case it’s three minutes. When worked at Cray I left the house at 8 and was home at 6:30, so the hours are actually a little shorter. But it’s different, too, because it’s my time. If I’m at the office and we have a slow period and I want to watch the Masters on my computer, I can do that.
What personality or values do you think are needed to succeed as a PostNet franchise owner?
You’ve got to enjoy working with people, and be flexible and able to deal with change. You also have to be willing to follow systems. The reason you buy a franchise is to benefit from what they brought in with them — proven processes and vendor relationships. You don’t want someone who thinks they can do everything better themselves. Staying true to the PostNet system and brand promise is important.
How large is the opportunity for your business?
I think you can make a good living with it. There are stores that have done quite well, especially the ones getting more into the printing side of it. There’s a lot of upside. You need to market yourself, because your printing customers aren’t necessarily going to be right next door. My two best customers are located 20 or 30 miles away, and we have customers all around the metro area, as well as in California, Florida, Wisconsin, and Iowa. Now, most of our shipping revenue comes from customers within two miles of the store, but with printing there is a whole lot more flexibility. That allows you to grow your business without having to open another location.
Who are your customers?
Our printing customers are almost all small businesses with five or fewer employees. Many are individual owners. Once you get over that number, then they might do more in-house stuff or have staff who can handle some of the needs. So that’s the bulk of the business for me. We also do printing for a variety of organizations, such as a Lutheran women’s, a couple charities that raises money for a schools in Niger and Haiti, and a nearby gun club. We offer discounts for non-profits to help them out.
Would you recommend a PostNet franchise to someone else? Why?
Yes. It’s flexible and you can do well if you work it right. It’s a franchise business that you have to work at; its not one where you’ll have customers lining up a the door as soon as soon as you open. Once you get up to speed, you can grow the business nicely. You need to be willing to go out and market yourself, but at the same time you need to be comfortable with technology and able to deal with change.