PostNet Digital Printing Franchise Review: Q&A with Tom Fletcher of Sewell, NJ
Tom Fletcher has used a wealth of community involvement to build his digital printing franchise business near Philadelphia.
Before starting a PostNet printing and shipping franchise eight years ago in Philadelphia, Tom Fletcher, 59, spent 33 years as a banker in New York City. He had always enjoyed working with small business owners, awarding loans and helping people achieve their goals — but as he moved higher up the ranks and as mergers made banks bigger and bigger, he was spending less time with the entrepreneurs he enjoyed interacting with. “The intimacy was going away, and I decided I just didn’t want to do it anymore,” he said.
So Tom started to look for new opportunities, and that’s when he found PostNet.
What were you doing before PostNet?
I worked at Chemical Bank in New York City. I live just outside of Philadelphia, so it was a long ride, plus there were all sorts of things that occurred. When I left in 2005, it was getting crazy — tons of mergers, big banks buying each other up. The intimacy of banking was going away, and I decided I just didn’t want to do it anymore. I was a senior vice president and worked in operations and administration. Since then, they’ve been bought, too, by a little company you may have heard about, JP Morgan. Plus, by then, 9/11 had occurred. I used to pass by the World Trade Center every day, and that was just unsettling.
What attracted you to PostNet?
I was looking for a new challenge, something to do to keep life exciting, fun. Banks got so big that you couldn’t be personal. Having close relationships was something I grew up with. My parents were both from New York City, and everything revolves around the neighborhood. I sort of took that thought process into banking, that people like to do business with people they know. PostNet understands that, too.
I am now the president of the Washington Township Chamber of Commerce, president of the local Rotary Club, president of my BNI networking group. I sit on the mayor’s economic development task force, volunteer for a food bank and help raise money for the local hospital. So I don’t just talk about playing a role in the community, I do it. People do business with people they know, and people respond to people who show they care.
How did you find out about PostNet?
I had looked at a UPS Store, and there’s no nice way to say it: The franchise representative was a jerk. I wanted to know about the business, and the guy just gave me a circular and basically said to only call if I have some intelligent questions. Well, I had a bunch of questions, and when I investigated, I didn’t like what I saw. And I didn’t like being treated like I was some 20-year-old jerk. When I asked about a particular location that was for sale, they said they wanted to send me three towns over.
I was interested in the shipping industry, so I started looking at other options. I had some print experience from having worked at a print shop when I was going to school at Rutgers, and I decided to check out PostNet. I talked to the guy who owned a nearby Center, and I talked to the sales guy for new potential franchisees, and he was pretty nice — I didn’t get the hard rush sale. I had a lot of questions, and he was happy to answer them. It was nice. Then I sicced my wife on them — she’s a CPA, so she knows how to dig through the numbers. She’s a great partner, and we just celebrated 30 years of marriage.
We talked to the top five stores in the system, and they all emphasized printing. That told me something. All said the same basic thing: Packing and shipping were offered, but the margins were slimmer and it was harder to build a customer relationship. I’m always focused on building relationships. I like that we offer packing and shipping, too — the more products and services you can offer, the more likely you are to keep customers.
What do you like about owning your PostNet?
In addition to being able to build relationships with local businesses and help them succeed, I like being able to root myself where I am living. We live near Philadelphia, but as a banker I was driving an hour and a half one way to New York City every day. Being two miles from work instead of 90 makes a difference! I like being able to do something that’s fun, that’s local, that let’s me contribute to the community.
My clients are small businesses who I consult and can offer decades of business advice. Especially new places, like new restaurants that want to go nuts with expensive color menus. I’ll tell them, OK, but for your takeout menus, do those in black and white to save some money. Laminate those expensive color menus so they’ll last a lot longer. Simple advice that can save them a lot of money. I see my role as being the chief marketing officer for my clients and also a business consultant. I make sure they have professional-looking products, and when you let people know you’re trying to save them money, they realize you’re giving them great advice.
Is it a stimulating company to own?
There’s all sorts of interesting stuff. It’s different every day. I had a customer call me — Wire Products; they make industrial blenders — and he said, “Man, you’ve gotta help me. We have no manuals, and we have a bunch of equipment that needs to be shipped out!” Okay, how many do you need today? “Thirty.” Okay, we’ll turn those around for you immediately and then fill the rest of the order. There’s always something exciting, something new, something fun. They’ve been a customer for a while. We must do 3,000 manuals a year for them, and these aren’t small manuals — these are 125 pages.
You were one of the earlier franchisees to embrace digital printing, which is an emphasis as PostNet expands. But PostNet continues to roll out new offerings, like website creation. How important is the evolution?
I think PostNet will continue to change in order to deliver what business customers need. Even though PostNet started 20 years ago as a pack-and-ship company, only 10% of my revenue comes from packing and shipping. I do a lot of direct mail, banners and other printing. The machines are so smart with how they handle data that direct mail has become much more powerful. I print postcards and recently did a mailing for a mortgage company that pulled in a lot of variable data about the original loan dates, the original loan amounts and addresses, and we were able to quickly create custom pieces for each recipient. That will evolve to be more sophisticated. I don’t think it’ll be long before a car dealership might want to send out financing offers for a certain kind of car, and emphasize different car features based on the demographics of the person receiving the mailer. It’s whatever you can imagine. When I was a kid, Star Trek came out, and that’s what we’re getting now. It’s amazing stuff.
How has the support been from PostNet?
My business support consultant, Goldie, is just awesome. She gives me good advice, and she’s not afraid to get involved and get me connected to the right advice on an issue. We also work to support one another as franchisees. I mentor a store in Towson, Md., and we talk at least once a week. When you have a question or a challenge, it helps to be able to bounce an idea or problem off of somebody who has been through that war.
What sets PostNet apart?
First of all, we’re owners of the business as opposed to just an employee of a big company. I know I can call Brian (Spindel) or Steve (Greenbaum) and talk to them. I try not to abuse that, but they’ll call back, which is cool. I doubt if I called Fred Smith at FedEx that he’d pick up the phone. Steve is a really interesting guy. He’s got that 30,000-foot look at things, and Brian is great at staying on top of day-to-day. We don’t always agree on everything, but they’re accessible and we can always talk, and they’re always trying to do the right things. They’re forward-thinking and trying to do things to make it better for franchisees to evolve the business. That’s the most important, because things do change. It’s not a static environment.
How large is the opportunity for your business?
I think the opportunity is tremendous. There are so many things we can do to help small business. Whether it’s packaging or direct mail, our clients are diverse and we can fulfill their needs. In the fall I did a 20-foot banner for Hurricane Sandy Relief Efforts — a monster thing on a 53-foot trailer, and we used it to collect clothes, bedding and non-perishables for people. People started bringing donations to store and I decided we could do more, so I talked to another Rotary Club and they had a member whose father had tractor-trailers. I talked to the mayor to ask if we could put this big trailer in the municipal parking lot, then designed a big banner. It started to snowball. People wanted to help, but they were looking for somebody to lead the parade and help them. Being the type-A personality I am, I jumped in.
You need to be willing to jump in as a business owner. Nobody is going to walk into the store just because you flipped on the “open” sign. You have to get out and touch people to let them know you’re there, do business calls, be involved. If you sit behind the counter, you’re never going to be successful. Some people may not want to be as involved as me, or may prefer to call on businesses one at a time, but I think it’s a much slower way to get known. If I go to a chamber meeting, I know there’s going to be 60 people there. My Rotary Club, there’s 58 members, and all those guys do business with me, which is great. Some of it is big, some is small, but we all support each other. I’m the president of my BNI group. Some of my friends jokingly call me “Mr. President.” If I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it to be successful.
Would you recommend a PostNet franchise to someone else? Why?
I talk to potential franchisees regularly and tell them my thoughts. If you’re willing to work, you can be very successful with this. You just have to be involved and have to be able to sell yourself.