PostNet Digital Printing Franchise Review: Lee Daniels of Montvale, N.J.
Innovation, collaboration define PostNet experience for digital printing franchise owner in New Jersey
When you buy a franchise, you’re buying more than a storefront, a proven business system and training. You’re also buying a culture. Over 20 years, PostNet has built a culture of communication and collaboration that helps us share ideas and expertise. Lee Daniels, who owns the PostNet Neighborhood Business Center in Montvale, N.J., has played a big role as a member of our Franchise Advisory Council and a frequent mentor to other store owners. But he’s also drawn strength from other franchisees.
How long have you been a PostNet owner? What were you doing before?
My center opened in September 2005. I also help others in the area start their own PostNet Centers, and I’ve helped get four others. I knew when I started that I was going to want to help build more than just one store.
My background is in electrical engineering, computer design and software. I spent about a decade as a consultant writing investment software to increase productivity for Wall Street investment bankers, including Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and UBS. I became heavily involved in performance review software. The downside of consulting for Wall Street banks at the time was the combination of the dotcom bust and the recession that followed 9/11. Those events costs us a few projects, and I decided to start looking at other business options. One option was to rebuild my business with a new focus and new clients — or to try something very different. I had never thought about franchising before, but I started doing research online and comparing options, and I zeroed in on the business services sector, because I knew how to relate to business owners from my previous experience.
Why did you decide to go the franchise route?
Building your own business from scratch takes a whole lot of luck. We were lucky when we started our consulting business because we got Goldman Sachs as a client right away and were able to build the business thanks to that account. Franchising doesn’t take as much luck, because a good franchise has a strong model. I looked into The UPS Store at first, and then as I started looking at competitors, PostNet was the one that clearly belonged at the top of the list. I liked my interactions with PostNet and went and saw some of the other stores in New Jersey and talked to the owners, and felt it was the right business for me.
How much has your business evolved since 2005?
When I got involved, the majority of stores were still pack-and-ship-oriented, and most of the discussion had to do with that side of the business. But the strategy was in place to offer much more digital printing and expand the business services side — and that’s what I took away when I started. I never tried to put myself out there as a pack-and-ship store, and most of my business has been on the B2B printing side. All of the new stores coming online now are much heavier in printing and web services, so the new franchises are very different than the ones that were being sold 10 years ago. Probably only 25 percent of my revenue comes from shipping. If someone calls me about opening a PostNet these days and they’re looking for a pack-and-ship store, I tell them that’s not who we are. We’re much more of a full-service B2B printing and marketing company. And PostNet’s services continue to evolve. We’re offering website creation, digital marketing solutions like mobile sites — helping our customers reach their customers from all different angles. Just to give an example of one way the business has shifted since 2005 — back then you were required to put a listing in the Yellow Pages. Now it’s more critical to be listed on Google Places and other online sites people use to find businesses.
How much do PostNet franchisees help one another?
We help each other a lot. I end up doing a lot of mentoring and taking a lot of calls from other stores whenever people need help. A lot of people who are considering PostNet come and spend time in my store, working a few days to get a feel for how it works. I’m a member of the PostNet Franchise Advisory Council, too.
What kind of customers do you have?
They run the gamut. Some of my best customers are schools and law firms. We do a lot of business letterheads, cards, envelopes and trade show displays for customers. My biggest customer is a private school, which needs to market itself to prospective students.
PostNet has earned a reputation for helping customers out of jams. Do you have any examples?
Those kinds of things are almost routine. We try help people meet deadlines. If someone needs something fast, we try to turn it around for them quickly, and that sets us apart. We have a lot of capability here. Whatever someone brings us to work with, we can turn it into whatever they need it to be, and if they don’t have any materials or logos, we can design it for them. And we can put together solutions pretty quickly. One customer who came in recently was starting a new company, and he had a few sketches of what he liked for a logo, and he wanted it to look professional. He gave us a few keywords, too. He was starting a limo company that was more fuel-efficient and green, and we can take those ideas and come up with choices for logos, business cards — anything he needs to get his business going.
How many people work at your Center?
My wife and I, and two other full-time employees. We’re open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday. One or both of us are here most business hours, though I work from home some mornings on some of the bookkeeping.
How does the schedule compare to what you were doing before?
I’ve always been a workaholic, so I work on stuff wherever I am! Over the time I’ve had PostNet, we have been able to reduce considerably the amount of time we spend in the store by improving our processes. We accomplish a lot more work now in less time than in the earlier days. At my previous company, I would work most of my waking hours. When we first started the store, it was just me, and my wife had another job. After about three years, we got busy enough that I needed her help, so the store has been the sole provider of our income for several years now. I really enjoy owning my own business. Between PostNet and my previous job, I’ve been able to make my own decisions and fly by the seat of my own pants for 20 years now, and the idea of ever going back to the corporate world and being at the mercy of someone else’s whim is unappealing.
What do you like about your Center?
I like it when we hand a product to a customer, and they are tickled to death that it looks so great. My business only succeeds because we’ve made people happy. I enjoy networking through BNI, and I like that word-of-mouth has been so strong. What I do for one person in the business community gets passed around.
I joined the local BNI chapter nine months after I opened, and one person who became a customer would lead to another. The private school that is my largest customer came to me thanks to an art teacher who needed a few copies — she needed to hand out a sample piece of art that her students could use as piece of reference for art class. Then somebody else from the school needed something, then another.
What direction do you think the industry is headed?
If we continue to shape this into a business that covers a whole range of communications — providing whatever help somebody needs — there is huge potential. There will always be small and medium-sized businesses that need help because they’re not yet big enough to handle their own marketing and printing needs in-house. You know, really big businesses might not need us. I have Mercedes and BMW headquarters within half a mile of me, but they’re not my customers. But some of their employees are my customers, and some of their vendors or clients come to me for help printing and delivering materials to BMW and Mercedes. There will be some businesses that will try to go the all-online route for ordering services, and cobble it together themselves, and hey miss out on a lot of help. The really smart businesses, in my opinion, are the ones that are mid-sized that prioritize their time and know that professional printing and marketing solutions are not their business, and that they can be most profitable by focusing on what they do great, and use us to help out with the rest. That’s really our customer. As we continue to add to an already full suite of services, which integrate together nicely and allow businesses to work with one vendor, then I think we have an advantage.
You mentioned competition from online stores. Why do customers come to you?
They know they can get what they need done, and done well and quickly. They don’t come here because they think I’m the cheapest guy in town. I’m not. But I have the most expertise in town and can take things from Point A to Point B. If someone wants to nickel and dime, there are other places to go. If you want to make the best use of your time, get great advice and reliable results, you come here.
What type of person makes for a successful PostNet owner?
As far as a background, there isn’t any one. There are people from all kinds of backgrounds who have very successful PostNet stores. It takes someone who will be involved. You need to interact with the franchise and franchisees and get connected with your community. Those who are more outgoing — the types of people who can talk to everyone they see — have an edge. I know if I would go out and knock on doors, I would get some business from it. I still have trouble doing that. If you think the business is going to come to you like it’s on a silver platter, you will not succeed. You also need to be able to handle change and innovation. You will keep running into things that you need to learn — something a customer needs that you may not have dealt with before, or a new process PostNet has added offer more service to customers. You need to be someone who will get out from behind the counter and work on your business. And it helps to have some resources already so that you can focus on growing your business instead of immediately trying to squeeze every penny to immediately live on.
How do you handle the learning curve?
We have a great message board where you can ask all the franchisees for help with challenges, and it’s rare to find an issue that someone else hasn’t already handled. We call each other, too, and get answers from corporate. The stores are well connected, so there’s a lot of opportunity to feed off one another’s knowledge.
What’s the support like?
It’s great. It has come so far in 7 years. The whole staff has matured and grown and matured a lot since we got involved. The number of support staff, the knowledge of the support staff, the training. Everything about it has come a long way. Our business support consultant, Andy Collins, is outstanding. He and Brian (Spindel), you can tell they really care.
Would you recommend a PostNet franchise to someone else?
Yes, I take calls on a regular basis from people who are doing their due diligence, and I try to let them know exactly what it’s like. A lot of people used to call thinking we were still primarily a pack-and-ship business, but less nowadays. We still do offer that service, but it’s not a primary focus. I see people who walk in for pack-and-ship service as an opportunity to spread the message about our printing and other services. A large financial services company that I work with, they first came to us to drop off a FedEx package, then they came to us for business cards, and now I do a lot of different things for them. The way I look at it is, when a customer comes in to drop off a package for UPS, or FedEx, or DHL, that’s one more potential customer walking into your store.