PostNet Franchise Review: Q&A With Liz Anderson of Wichita, KS
I couldn’t have grown the business the way we have without having them as a resource.
Liz Anderson wasn’t particularly interested in starting a business at first. Truth be told, it was her husband Jim’s idea. After years of being bounced city to city by his job as an airline pilot, he fantasized about having his own brick-and-mortar business, so he started looking into franchises. He eventually found PostNet and asked Liz if she would be willing to help him take the plunge. ‘Okay,’ she said, ‘but just for the first three years, then I want to do my own thing.’
Thing is, PostNet now is her own thing. She loves the business. Four years after it started, she runs the store and handles marketing and customer service while Jim handles the accounting aspects.
How long have you been a PostNet owner? What were you doing before?
My store opened in November 2008. My husband and I had both been with airlines; he was a pilot and I was a flight attendant — that’s how we met. We were both with Pan Am, and when it went bankrupt, we moved to Las Vegas where my husband found another airline job and I worked at the The Mirage Hotel for Steve Wynn, who is a phenomenal boss, just an amazing person. Then my daughter was born, so I stayed home. We have three children — one is a freshman in college and two are in high school — and I was home for 13 years. We had moved all over the U.S. with the airlines, and when they wanted to move us again, from Wichita, Jim — my husband — had been looking for alternatives. At that point our kids were a little bit older and it gets harder to move them each time, and we just thought, what can we do to stay somewhere? He did all the research and called me in when we narrowed it down. He had looked at all kinds of franchises, and I kept vetoing anything to do with food. So then he found this industry and he looked at five or six different ones, and he found PostNet. He said it was really different and introduced me to one of the gentlemen in PostNet headquarters. From there we made our decision. Instead of moving to Ohio, he took a severance package and we opened a PostNet.
Why didn’t you want a restaurant franchise?
Having worked in airlines and the hotel industry, I knew that anything you did with retail food, you had no holidays, you had no weekends, you had no life basically. I didn’t want to give up those evening hours with my kids. I wanted to find something that gave us more of a balance to maintain our family life. If you are around teenagers, everything is about the teams they’re on and the activities they’re in — it is a lot of nighttime stuff. And the number of employees you’d need to start with was also something I wasn’t too keen on. But PostNet was a good fit for us. As a stay-at-home mom, I was on boards and committees at school and church. I had self-taught and become the go-to person for flyers and things like that, so I already had this experience of working on files and being on the computer doing those things that are so important for the print industry, so I felt like I had a better knowledge base going into something like this.
How much of a learning curve did you experience as a PostNet franchisee?
With anything you do on your own, it’s a huge learning curve, but the support we get from PostNet really has lessened that. It takes it down to zero in many, many cases. If you utilize what they offer — I mean, they have a whole web support system; a Wiki, so if there’s anything you need to know about something you’re doing, you can look it up there; and we also have a chat room of owners — and that’s what sold me on PostNet. Jim looked at numbers and looked at how the franchise was producing and all that — he still runs our numbers today; I run the store and the marketing. I called people out of that huge book they give you (the Franchise Disclosure Document) and started randomly calling PostNet owners that were in cities about the size of ours and asking about their experience. All of them talked about the support they received from the franchise, and that was a big issue for me.
Tell me about how the support has helped you.
I had a customer that had written a book about rosaries and he had a budget of $5,000 and I had never done a print job of this nature, a hardback book. So I had an owner contact me from Bentonville, Ark. — Dennis Cogan — who helped me understand what I needed to do to get the job. I might not have gotten the job otherwise, but here was another owner who stepped up to help me. I think there is a culture that they have created among the owners — a giving culture that has been huge, and that’s just one of many examples.
We have great CRM (Customer Relationship Management) tools from PostNet, but we’ve also gotten help and advice from other owners. The job tracker sheet that we got came from the Pettys in Texas. He had an electronic job sheet that he used, and he let me copy it. We do have a new print estimator system that allows me to run all my quotes off the point of sale. Again, it’s this pool of owners. They have mentors, and I’m a mentor for a new owner who can call me up when she has an issue that she wants to ask about. I’m sure she has other owners, too, in her area, but they try to team people up when they’re new. There’s also a mentor list on our internal website that says if you need help with this thing or that thing, call this owner. There is also the Wiki, with videos on how to do stuff, things you can read through, and owners can add comments, and there is also the chat board where you can put up a question. I just had a job recently and I needed a way to do it, and I put it up there and I wound up talking to Greg Claiborne in round Rock, Texas, and he helped me out. Without that, I don’t know. It’s just huge. I’m somebody who says, ‘PostNet earned its keep on me.’ I don’t mind the royalties, because I sure use those resources. I couldn’t have grown the business the way we have without having them as a resource. And we also have our Business Support Consultants. Andy is amazing. And they pair people up so you have the same one, so you’re not calling someone different each time. And when you have a store visit, he came out to Wichita and came to dinner with the whole family … I’ve never been with another franchise, but I do think that it’s a special relationship within PostNet.
How did you find out about PostNet?
Jim did a lot of online research. That’s where he found PostNet. At the time, there were no PostNets in Kansas. I didn’t have one to go visit, but we made the decision sight unseen that it was a good franchise because of the phone calls I made to other owners and the weekly calls and conversations we had with the people at headquarters. We went to Denver for Discovery Day and used an RV to make a trip out of it. They picked us up from the RV park and took us in every day and took us to some stores in the Denver area, and I was able to visit some stores and work in some stores. The owners I met through that process I still keep in touch with today. Again, the owner relationship-building that happens is key to any successful PostNet, I believe.
What set PostNet apart?
For me, it was the printing. We’ve always been more printing than shipping in our location. That’s the part of the process that appealed to me. Also in terms of Jim, it was that you have control over your own business and your own pricing. I think at that time Mail Boxes Etc. was embroiled in a big lawsuit over the transition to The UPS Store, and some other ones like Goin’ Postal and all these — it just didn’t appeal to me. I was like, ‘No, no. no.’ But with PostNet what you had was more control over your services; we can ship UPS, FedEx, DHL, Post Office. We can help anyone who walks in our door. And then we have the mailboxes, which is great. But honestly, in November, 72% of our business was from printing and business services, and 28% was shipping. With the exception of December and the Christmas holiday rush for sending packages, that’s how we mostly go. Older stores tend to have more of their revenue coming from shipping, because they built that clientele and then moved into the printing. But I like the way that PostNet is willing to evolve. They look at new products and services all the time. We have different web services we can offer now, from websites to email marketing to setting up people who might need a fax machine. There’s all kinds of new services. Printing is definitely our bread and butter, but you have to look at what a business wants. I like the tagline ‘Your Neighborhood Business Center,’ and it was important to us to create something that would become part of our community. I really feel like we have done that with our PostNet.
What kind of hours do you work?
I work a lot — I’m not going to say it’s not hard work, but the freedom I have is to be off when kids need me. We are closed on Sundays; we’re always open 24/7 on the web; and all my good customers have my cellphone if they ever needed something and it was after hours — they can call me and I will help them out. It doesn’t happen all that often, but when it does, I’ve gone in. It’s daytime hours, though. For our store, it’s 9-6 Monday-Friday and 9-12 Saturday. Saturday is a newer thing for us, we weren’t open on Saturdays, but we would tend to open if we were in there catching up on something, so we just decided to bite the bullet and open. And actually, because I was in there one day, I got a $3,000 print job because somebody walked in and found me that day. Now and then you get a business person who doesn’t have time to come out Monday-Friday, but has the time on Saturdays.
How has PostNet changed since you started your business?
The focus on serving business customers has been a shift in the last couple of years, but it was something that we already started with, so it was perfect for us. If you’re going to be in business for yourself, you have to adapt and go where technology is going. We are a very technology-based business. When we started, we had an FTP — a place where somebody could go to upload a file. Now we have a full online print center. And it’s much nicer. I get print jobs all day on my online print center. They are good adaptations and changes. I wouldn’t say that it has changed as much as it has grown since I started. When you have the support of a franchise who is willing to go and find these resources and do the research for you, it’s huge. I just sent out my first marketing email, totally customized, on my own, to 2,300 emails in my POS. That’s a change. We were collecting all this information from our customers from day one, but in older stores, they’re looking for ways to help people who have been in business for 15 years. First they created an email marketing place for us, and now we can choose our own coupons. I mean, you open it and you can choose, you can customize words, I can throw in my Facebook address, I can do so much more geared toward my set of customers than I could when we first opened.
What changes have you seen in the printing industry?
I think what’s happening to the printing industry has happened to a lot of industries. I have a friend who owns a small bookstore and she has been battling with Amazon.com forever. The Vistaprints of the world are always going to be an issue for those people who are just about price. My customer is not someone who is just about price. Maybe they think they are in the beginning, but it’s about that relationship-building. You have to make yourself relevant to them. When QR codes were first coming out, I was getting the information through PostNet education materials and going to networking. I wanted to become that expert so when a Realtor came to me I could say, you know, I can print out a sticker with a QR code that you can put on the sign in front of your listing. Instead of spending the huge amount of money it would cost to get a customized yard sign for each home, they just leave a blank spot and I can put this sticker on there. That way, if flyers run out, people can scan the QR code and get to the webpage that has all the information. Ideas like that let customers know — wow, my printer said to do this! You become more than a printer. You become a marketing partner. Then, if you’ve done your job well, they come to you and ask your opinion about things that they’re doing. You can’t get that online. It’s about being local, and if you’re not in your community and being part of it, you are going to lose those things. We live four miles from our PostNet. Our church is not even a mile down the road, and the kids’ high school is two-and-a-half miles away. We live and work right there.
What do you like best about owning a PostNet?
I like my customers and running my own business. It was Jim’s deal. He said he wanted to own a brick-and-mortar. I never had that vision. I said I’d work for him for three years — you get me for three years, but then I’m out. Interestingly enough, it really has become my store. He did the marketing in the beginning, but once that transferred to me and I started doing it, it became my store. I can’t imagine now working for someone else or asking for permission to go to my son’s basketball game or not taking on a responsibility that I want to take on at church or at school. I really do love working for myself. It’s hard work. If I messed up before, I still got a paycheck, but here you have to make sure you cover your costs. I think there is a lot of power in owning your own business. I went to a luncheon and the governor of Kansas spoke at it, and he said three-quarters of the jobs in Kansas were from small business owners who had 10 or fewer employees. And I felt really good about that. I sat a little straighter in my chair, and said, ‘Wow, I just hired a girl, and I’m doing that. I’m bringing jobs to my community.’
How do you help small businesses grow?
We’re small owners, too, so we understand the different phases that people are in. We are able to help them by presenting different marketing options for them. I’ve had a landscaper just starting out come in and ask, “What do I need?” Business cards and a flyer to start. I have another client who buys mailing lists from me and sends out 10,000 postcards. Whether they have a few hundred or a few thousand to spend, you try to help them target their efforts to get the best out of their money. A lot of it is just listening to understand their business needs and goals.
The majority of our customers are small businesses, though we do have some medium-sized and large businesses, too. For instance, we became an approved vendor for one of the Koch companies, and they needed 70 bound versions of a PowerPoint overnighted to Detroit. We got it done, and that part of it is going above and beyond. People don’t always know when they are going to need something — so if they know they can rely on you when their back is against the wall and the work will be well done, they love you.
It’s not 100 percent businesses, though. I have put together slideshows for funerals and anniversaries. When someone needs 50 invites to a wedding shower, we can do the invites — design it, print it out using mail merge to bring in all the addresses, then mail it out.
What personality or values do you think are needed to succeed as a PostNet franchise owner?
Tenacity and perseverance. All the owners will tell you that starting a business is a lot of work, so be ready. Not having ever owned a business before, I can tell you, it’s like when that first baby comes. It’s hard work.
Networking is very important. I don’t know that you need to be completely outgoing, but you need to have a friendly and helpful personality to succeed.
Do you have any favorite customers?
Two Brothers BBQ restaurant, which is a local, family-owned restaurant chain. I started printing for one of them, then started doing the printing for all of them. We do everything from their drive-thru menus to their flyers, restaurant menus and business cards. Two brothers and their wives run the restaurants. As they’ve expanded, whenever they open a new restaurant we do everything for them. It’s a nice feeling to watch someone grow and be able to help them. We have such great customers. I don’t have a bad customer story. Everything is different each time, which keeps the business interesting.
Has the business performed the way you hoped?
It has met our expectations. When we didn’t grow as fast, it had more to do with our personal lives. The needle has moved steadily up, and we broke even in our second month in business — granted, it was December! We did a grand opening package and purchased extra advertising for our first few months that we were open, and we had the freedom to time those things. So Jim timed those two weeks apart, and that was huge. I’ve found that PostNet offers a lot of freedom in the marketing campaigns, and they have to because the stores’ customer mix can be so different. Dennis Cogan, for instance, it’s a whole different ballgame that he’s evolved into, but he’s the first one to tell you: ‘Market to your customers. Market to your customers.’ It’s not going to happen on its own. If you think you’re just going to open a location and people will magically appear, then PostNet is not for you. You have to go out and make connections. It’s up to you what you choose to do with all these tools, but those that choose to utilize them and follow the guidelines and join networking groups are the stores that have success.
What does your typical day look like?
I usually open store after dropping the kids off at school. We have an electronic production jobs sheet that I go over when the part-time help comes in — we’ll go over what needs to be done, the main jobs for the day. Today I have a meeting with an eye doctor to talk about a postcard campaign that she wants to do for her customers. I work in the store, and I do try to scoot out around 4:30 to pick up the kids most days. My husband will usually come in and close, or if we both have something, we’ll have an employee close.
I have an employee do the opening on mornings when I have networking. I try to do a couple of networking things a week. We have different tracker sheets — enter in this new connection that I may have made, log in what I have done, write thank-you notes to people, log in what day I have done that so we can go back and look to see who needs follow-up and who doesn’t. So hopefully I’m not hounding people, but I am staying on top of people. Being organized is always the struggle, and we get better at it every day. If we have a big print project, I’m in there helping with that.
Would you recommend a PostNet franchise to someone else?
Yes I would! If they’re up to the task of business ownership, it’s a great avenue. They understand the value of being local. I always loved walking in somewhere and having someone know me, and that’s what we provide for our customers. They’re going to walk in and somebody is going to know who they are. I save parameters of their jobs so they don’t have to repeat themselves.