PostNet Franchise Review: Printing Franchise is Like a Family

Jim Ismert says shipping, marketing and printing franchise has earned community’s trust and loyalty.

Jim-IsmertJim Ismert was tired of Silicon Valley. Over the course of 21 years, he bounced from company to company solving technical challenges, leading teams and analyzing complex systems. “It was a really fun rise, especially in the 1990s,” he says. He specialized in tech startups, the last of which pioneered a new way of manufacturing silicon chips, becoming a $3 billion company by creating processes similar to those now used by Apple and other tech giants. The tradeoff: 18-hour workdays. If you’ve ever read about programmers and tech entrepreneurs coding around the clock and living off of pizza and Red Bull, then you can imagine the lifestyle.

Jim was ready to do something else. He started his PostNet Neighborhood Business Center in Boulder City, NV, in March 2004. This is his story.

How did you discover PostNet?
I had decided to live in Boulder City, which is a quaint little town outside of Las Vegas, right next to the Hoover Dam. I wanted to start my own business and started looking into franchises. I knew I didn’t want to make sandwiches or pizza or run a pet supply store. There was an existing PostNet Center for sale. The Las Vegas area, at the time, was growing fast — thousands of new residents a month were coming in — and there weren’t enough services like mail boxes and shipping services. The U.S. Post Office couldn’t handle it all, and PostNet filled the gap. When I first bought the Center, it was almost entirely packing, shipping and mail box rentals — we weren’t even doing much copying.

You do a lot of printing now — about 60% of your business. What was the transition like?
The first PostNet convention I went to was really focused on printing. There were owners who were starting new PostNet stores who knew they were going to go into printing, and we networked with them. I would call them daily with questions — “I’m going to print a banner, how do I do this?” There is a good group of people we connected with. I remember sitting down at a regional mini-convention shortly after buying the store, and I asked how many copy clicks (“clicks” refer to individual copies or printed pieces) they did a month, and they said about 50,000! And I was doing 9! My growth really started thanks to a national agreement PostNet signed with Xerox. I was ready to replace the copiers that had been in the store, and PostNet alerted me that a deal was coming that would transform what I could do. And it was incredible. I went from being able to produce marginal-quality copies for occasional customers to suddenly being able to produce beautiful documents for customers, and I started capturing church newsletter accounts and business accounts for my printing service. They said, “This is like a four-color press!” Then I added a banner printer, which allowed us to start creating posters and banners for customers.

We moved into printing pretty quickly, and the evolving technology allows a 1,000-square-foot store like mine to provide exceptionally quick printing services. I think my IT background made it a little easier for me — it wasn’t hard for me to plug in a big Canon printer and load up software and hook it to the network. If I had a question, I could get a quick answer, but I didn’t have to ask too many.

What kinds of customers come in?
We still do plenty of shipping. We also offer drop-off service for FedEx, UPS and the Postal Service. In Boulder City, I’m the only store that takes FedEx packages. I don’t get paid much to accept the drop-offs — about $1 a package — but it brings in customers who see that we can print, bind, make business cards and postcards and do a lot of other things, and it gives us an opportunity to introduce them to all the other things we can do.

The nice thing is that printing and shipping complement each other. Most of the time, the person dropping off a FedEx package is the owner of a small business. At the same time, they need printing, and they say, “Hey, I’m going to Las Vegas to get this and I can get it in Boulder City now!” Everybody had to go to Las Vegas or Henderson until we started offering business printing. Just the other day I had a guy stop in to drop off a package, and he wound up using us to print five sets of business cards — that was thanks to the FedEx dropoff and a conversation. Some percentage of those customers will come back and order flyers, spiral binding or something else they need for their business.

How important is it to be a people-person?
Customer service is absolutely No. 1 — and good customer service is free. You can be nice to someone, and attentive, and we do a good job at that and it makes people want to come in and see us. We have cookies at the counter for them, and when they walk in, within a few seconds, we greet them. They may pay a bit more for some services, but we help them save time and get things done right. We have to make people feel it’s worth it to save time and be treated well.

What changes have you seen in the printing industry?
The biggest change has to be how much easier it is for customers to place a print order using a web browser, email or even a text message. “Hey, can you print 100 of those bulletins you printed last week for me?” We get at least half our orders through email, and it’s nice. Going from verbal and handwritten quotes to a much larger percentage of email quotes adds to the quality of our service because we’re able to understand exactly what they want. Business owners can be hard to get on the phone, but with everybody checking email on their iPhones, if we have any questions about an order, we can get them resolved faster. It allows us to be quicker in terms of turnaround.

Why do customers choose PostNet?
Relationships. I think that’s really the key. Relationships are developed based on trust, quality and pricing. Also, the availability of services — I have a UPS Store in town, and they don’t do 80% of the services we offer, and it’s helped us eat their lunch, basically, because we have all these extra services we can offer.

Your customers treat you like family, and you treat them like family. At Christmas time, I get gifts and cookies and cakes from customers — and my employees do, as well. My customers will give very nice tips to employees at Christmastime. It’s a family. We’re your local Neighborhood Business Center, so it’s the kind of environment you would think of from when you grew up in your neighborhood and had your friends around you all the time.

Who are some of your customers?

Papillon is one of Jim Ismert's big customers. They do helicopter tours of the nearby Grand Canyon, as well as Hoover Dam.

Papillon is one of Jim Ismert’s big customers. They do helicopter tours of the nearby Grand Canyon, as well as Hoover Dam.

There’s a company in town named Papillon — they do most of the tours to the Grand Canyon, the Hoover Dam and other places. They come in with major projects — “We need a form for safety reporting. We need a new form for weights and balances for our helicopter tours.” — and then they’ll order 20,000 forms. They’ve been great to work with.

I do all the printing for Sunrise Rotary. Last year they gave me an award for outstanding service and dedication, and I’m not even a member. There’s a sad story behind that: A customer and friend of mine who did their newsletters passed on, and they were really stuck. She was a good lady, and I felt like I needed to do something for them, so I started doing the newsletter.

I’ve also enjoyed working with the Boulder City Chamber of Commerce. I let them know that I am here to please them and other businesses, and they have been wonderful about referring business to us.

What personality or values do you think are needed to succeed as a PostNet franchise owner?
It’s about trust and sticking to commitments. If you say you’re going to be open 8 to 6, you have to commit to that. Customers should never have to wonder whether you will deliver for them. You do or you don’t. If someone says I have to have this by 10 o’clock, you make it happen for them. I think it’s good to have computer skills, because that is really where this is all going — the ability to do things technically, or at least you know where to get things done. That said, I know some owners who aren’t very IT savvy, but they have kids who are, or they have hired someone who is.

How large is the opportunity for your business?
In Boulder City, my customer base is pretty small compared to a Henderson store or a Las Vegas store, but with the additions of web services and other new services, there are a lot of things those customers can get from you. There are stores like the one in Bentonville, Ark., which services a lot of Walmart customers, and they are huge.

Would you recommend a PostNet franchise to someone else?
I have, and I will. There was a gentleman who owned a Hollywood Video next to me in the shopping center, and about two years ago he said he was looking at a PostNet in Las Vegas. He bought it and I think he is very happy with it.