PostNet Franchise Review: Q&A With Irene and Ronald Fenolio of Las Vegas
Franchisees embraced systems to turn around struggling location. “They give a lot of resources to help you grow your center.”
Irene and Ronald Fenolio bought their PostNet Neighborhood Business Center in 2002. The location’s customer service experience had slipped, and the store was “nowhere near” being one of PostNet’s top performers when they took it over, but they turned things around fast, first making it one of the Top 100 centers in the system, then consistently making it a Top 20 performer.
How long have you been a PostNet owner? What were you doing before?
Irene: I purchased my center in April 2002 after 30-some years in corporate America. I had retired and decided it was boring to be at home. I didn’t know how to do that! We were 50 and decided we wanted something we could do together for another 10 to 15 years. We started looking at things we could do that didn’t require working constantly. We did a lot of research, and we had a friend who owned a Mailboxes Etc. I called MBE at the time and said I was interested in franchising and they never even returned my phone call, and if they weren’t interested in me as a sale they wouldn’t be interested in me as a franchisee. I went back online and found PostNet, which was headquartered here at the time. The next morning my phone rang and I went down and met with them and found out more and really loved the organization right away. I went home and talked to Ron about it. We have been so fortunate because they really do support you. They look forward to what needs to happen and how we need to change, and they make changes, and thank God we made the changes they suggested.
Ron: Immediately before PostNet I was working with a wire and cable company. I was the purchasing manager and also had a tech division, which built custom cabling for cellular companies. I was with them for 10 years. Irene started the store in 2002 and I jumped in in 2005. Before the move to Vegas I worked at Fenolio Electric, for my dad. I got the wild hair to move to Las Vegas.
You bought an existing franchise and built it up. How?
Irene: There was a lot of room for the customer service in the store to improve when we bought it. I had experience in retail and sales management and knew customer service was what we needed to do. We’re in the people business — not pack-and-ship or printing. Ron has focused on welcoming people who walk in, learning their names and making sure they know they’re No. 1 in our book. We took the store from nowhere near the Top 100 and after our first year we got in the Top 100, and we have been in Top 20 for past four or five years. We’re pleased with our success. It’s the No. 2 store in Nevada. Volume is good and the customer base is great and our focus now is the new services — web services and business plans and mobile marketing — all the things we can offer small businesses. We’re a one-stop shop. We can take care of printing, logo creation, all graphics. Then, of course, if they need to pack and ship, it’s all done here in one location. We really are a Neighborhood Business Center.
Has your PostNet lived up to the hopes you had for it?
Irene: Yes, it has provided us a decent lifestyle. We are comfortable, and it gave us an opportunity to see what we can do on our own. We have always have been entrepreneurial and had side companies — always had that spirit, but never owned an actual retail store. I think we’ve done really well. I feel we can always do better and continue to strive. I would like to get into the Top 10 stores in the country before we sell the store for our retirement. It has met every expectation, and it has been really nice to have support. I have gone to every convention and almost every single regional meeting. They give a lot of resources to help you grow your center.
How did you deal with the recession?
Irene: 2008, 2009, 2010 were tough, tough years. We had to really get out and market and scale back and work longer hours. Ron and I were part of BNI networking groups, and they really helped us get referrals. I think that helped us stay strong. A lot of businesses went under that didn’t take up the printing like Steve told us to. They were trying to just be pack-and-ship and that was tough. But last year was a good year. We had a great year. We were back to where we were — better than in 2007, and now we’re tracking about 4% better than we did last year. Our goal is to increase it by 10% and we expect the last 2 months to get us there. Once we really started focusing on the printing side and Ron got into the networking group, it made a big difference. We went into the networking group as ‘the printers.’ Any printing referrals came to us. Ron’s group had 40 people in the chapter. That really helped us grow the printing business, and the printing business helped us weather the recession. Once it took off in 2011, it has really helped us grow.
Irene: I loved the fact that when we started, the headquarters was based here in Henderson. The headquarters people were warm and interested in us and genuine. I really liked the people. I felt they really cared about their franchisees. I liked Brian and Steve a lot immediately. I liked the support team they had working for them and that I could go to them for help. It wasn’t the brand at the time that attracted me, it was the people.
What appealed to you about the old pack and ship model when you started in 2002?
It was a 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. business. I didn’t want something that was open 9-9, 7 days a week. I didn’t want to have to work Sundays. I liked that a lot of the owners were husband and wife. I liked that it was customer-service oriented.
Tell me about your customers.
Irene: You see the same customers again and again and it’s almost like a local bar — people will tell you everything about them. Even though we are a Neighborhood Business Center, we have customers in other states. But the people who come in every day are neighborhood people and we hear their life history. We have customers who were just getting married when we opened, and they now have kids that are 10. We have customers who say we need a coffee bar out front because they just like to talk.
Ron: We also hired a guy who has been with us nine years and he knows every customer by name and they appreciate that very much. We’re lucky we have a great staff.
How do you feel about the evolution of the business?
Irene: I love the evolution. If we’re not evolving, we’re never going to grow. Change is constant. Technology is moving so fast — if we weren’t adding these kinds of things I’d be worried about our success. With Steve and Brian leading, we’re moving toward change. I’m ecstatic that they’re keeping us ahead of the game. We’re the only one of these types of businesses offering web design and business plans, and we truly are focusing on that small business and helping them to grow. If our country is going to stay strong, we’ve got to focus on small businesses and helping them grow, and it’s exciting to know that we are part of that. We are a small biz and we know what they need, and it’s exciting to provide the resources they need to grow.
What changes have you seen in the printing industry vs. pack-and-ship?
Irene: I honestly think pack and ship is going away slowly thanks to direct shipping and online shipping. I don’t think it will ever disappear completely. I think there will be less. If we’re smart, we’ll focus on printing and web services and all the business services out there — and we’re going hard after that niche.
Ron: In the past, MBE and Kinko’s — now it’s UPS Store and FedEx — used to be partners. Now they’re competitors. Brian and Steve were smart enough to see that coming and changed the focus to a print center. You have to follow technology, and that’s where Steve and Brian are leading us.
What personality or values do you think are needed to succeed as a PostNet franchise owner?
Irene: Anybody could probably do it, but you have to be able to establish relationships with people. There are people who are real numbers people and CPA types and I think they might get frustrated with the ups and downs. You have to like people and you have to know how to handle customer issues and customer service. If you’re not doing that, this is not the right place for you. You won’t grow the business your way. There’s a competitor’s store across the street from us and he is so rude that he practically throws customers our way! Why be in this kind of business if you’re going to be rude to customers?
Ron: You have to be a people person. When buying businesses, they say the three most important criteria are location, location, location. But just as important is customer service, customer service, customer service. You have to greet people when they walk in and say, ‘Hey how are you doing, I’ll be right with you!’ When you’re at the post office in line, they don’t even acknowledge you. People want to be acknowledged. Once you know their names, one of the things people like best in life is their name. Customer service is the key. If you build on that, you can build your business.
How large is the opportunity for your business?
Irene: I think there’s a lot of untapped potential. There’s always the big guys out there, but there are so many small businesses that need the services we have to offer. We know what works in print, what works in web design. If you’re a small business and don’t have a website, you’re not in business. If you’re going to go out and let people know what you can do for them, the opportunities are great. If you’re going to open a store and wait for customers to come to you, you’re not going to be in business long. I’m focused on helping small businesses grow and joining networking groups and getting my name out there, I think the opportunities are great and limitless. BNI has been the No. 1 networking group for me. I’m also part of the Social Register and the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce.
Ron: There’s a lot of door-to-door B2B, and you have to go out and visit the businesses in your neighborhood, and once you’ve got their business you need to follow up with them monthly or yearly and ask if they need more business cards, more brochures, new menus. That kind of relationship is valued, and valued customers pass along referrals. One referral tends to become two, then four, then eight, then 16, etc.
What does your typical day look like?
Irene: Ron usually opens the store around 8:15 to get everything set up and ready, then opens the doors at 9. He’s by himself until 10-10:30, when another employee comes in as it gets busy. I usually get in between 9:30-10:30, and I also do a lot of work from home and start calling customers and meeting them on print design. We have a lot of customer traffic, so there always has to be Ron and an employee out front. Printing is a very competitive business, so you must stay on top of it and turn stuff around quickly for customers. I do a lot of follow-up and outsourcing of larger printing jobs. I do a lot of networking and business meetings to find business customers, and Ron focuses on customers who walk into the store.
What do you enjoy about the business?
Irene: I love the people. I love helping people and seeing them happy with the results. I like seeing how I can help grow a business and make it successful.
Ron: For me, it’s the excitement of someone who comes in and needs something done, and we can take care of it. I have people come in daily and say, ‘Not only do you smile and greet us, you take care of us.’ That’s really satisfying.
Irene: And we like making money!
Ron: It definitely pays the bills.
Would you recommend a PostNet franchise to someone else?
Irene: I would. I don’t think I know of any other franchisers who care as much about their franchisees as Steve and Brian do. I literally see the love. They care and want to see us succeed. Are they perfect? Absolutely not. Do we love every decision they make? Absolutely not. But they care and want to see us succeed. I have recommended it to friends. You won’t become a big rich business person, but you’ll be comfortable.