PostNet Franchise Review: Q&A with Kevin Center
PostNet Franchise owner and area representative Kevin Center talks about his plans for the Atlanta area
Atlanta native Kevin Center’s “aha” moment came about 18 months ago while listening to a speaker regale a crowd with the last words of a beloved mentor: “I’ve made millions of dollars, and I’ve achieved a wonderful title. But I look back and ask, ‘What was it all for?’ I didn’t spend enough time with my family. I didn’t have the deep friendships that I should have. I did great in the business world, but at what cost?”
Center isn’t about to make the same mistake. As the new PostNet area developer for greater Atlanta, Center does have ambitious plans to open his own center and help cultivate the PostNet brand in this hotbed of growth: Center wants to see 25-30 centers in the Metro Atlanta region in the next 10-12 years. But his ultimate goal in helping Atlanta small business owners isn’t about fame and fortune, but instead to achieve the flexibility and financial stability that will allow him to attend piano recitals and Little League baseball games — and to help other entrepreneurs achieve the same thing.
“If I have my center staffed appropriately, and if I have the ability to trust my managers, I will have the freedom to do what I need to do — or not even what I need to do — but what I like to do,” he says.
What were you doing before you decided to become a PostNet franchise owner?
Mostly management consulting. It was various positions that were all in that category. I started out after earning an MBA as a stereotypical management consultant — living the road-warrior lifestyle, traveling across the country Monday through Thursday every week. Then I moved into an internal job doing consulting projects for a specific company. After that I led an internal consulting team at Georgia Tech. Finally, I was offered a vice president role with a startup company, leading strategy and operations. After being exposed to the entrepreneurial environment there I realized that business ownership, particularly via franchising, was a much better match for my career goals and mentality.
What didn’t you enjoy about the startup culture? What advantage do you hope the franchise world offers?
What I did like was the entrepreneurial spirit. I enjoyed moving to something that was young and growing where I could make a big impact. This was a small company with 10 or 12 employees, and I had a leadership role. What I didn’t enjoy was that the company revolved around a very niche product that I never got excited about. It was a husband-wife ownership team who had a lot of pride in their ownership and had built this from nothing into something that was quite successful. They had hired me to take over aspects of the day-to-day management, but they were never able to actually follow through with that. But being a big part of building a thriving company and seeing a direct result from my efforts was very exciting. I expect to roll that same ambition into PostNet.
How did you find the PostNet franchise? Did you consider other franchises?
When I left Georgia Tech, I was fortunate to have time to figure out my next step. I went through assessments, aptitude tests, etc., and ended up connecting with a franchise consultant. We developed a good relationship, and she walked me through an intro to franchising. We talked about what a franchise is, what the value of owning a franchise is, what makes a person a good fit for franchising, that kind of thing. Somebody that cares about taking more control of their own destiny, having an impact on your own job — it’s hard work, nobody denies that. But you can see the direct results and the impacts of the work you do.
So I explored that process, which included an introduction to various brands and types of franchise concepts. For example, absentee ownership, retail, business to business and master franchising. I really liked the master franchising or area development concept.
Talk about your due diligence process.
A lot of my due diligence was through the franchise consultant and people there. Ultimately I began talking with the people from PostNet, and that was a pretty in-depth process. I worked with the folks at headquarters to learn all about PostNet and what makes a good PostNet franchisee. They gave me the green light to talk to franchisees around the country, and I took full advantage of that. I talked to about 15 franchisees. I started talking to people who were fairly new because I wanted to pick their brains about the startup process. Also I didn’t want to color what I learned based on the high-end success stories. So I got a dose of reality; some folks are more successful than others, but everyone has a different path to the level of success they have achieved. Some people are following the instructions to a T, and some are going off the beaten path.
I wanted to find out what motivated them to get into franchising in the first place. For those who were younger, I wanted to know how they saw their franchises growing over time. For more experienced folks, I wanted to know what they saw looking back at their early days. And I wanted to know where everyone saw themselves going in the future and what they saw themselves doing to get there.
I asked a lot about the national support and about PostNet’s reputation in general, their transition from focusing on shipping to focusing on business to business printing. I tried to learn a lot about the economics and everybody’s personal situation, because I wanted to find out what the potential for revenue was: What seems likely, and what might be a stretch goal?
It also was important to learn about the various categories of competition. There is competition coming from various angles, but it seems that PostNet is the only place that puts it all together and succeeds in creating a brand that represents that comprehensiveness: thus the “neighborhood business center.” It will be my role to help build that brand and perception in the Atlanta market.
What about the PostNet model appeals to you?
The business-to-business angle fit with my background as a management consultant. I’ve achieved a level of expertise in working with businesses, including strategic planning, product improvement, organizational development — and I feel that’s my functional strength. Generally, working in a business-to-business model is more exciting to me. You get to know your customers, and there’s a community that you build here. In the grand scheme of things as a PostNet franchisee, I’m a small business owner, too, so I can relate to other small business owners.
You will be helping create and spread brand awareness across the city. Why did you decide to go that route?
For me it’s important to expand beyond a single unit. Franchisees can purchase multiple units, and that’s a great opportunity, but I look forward to having a hand in supporting others’ success without necessarily being the owner of those units. I have a unit that is my day-to-day focus, and I’d want to make that as successful as possible — but at the same time I want to use my consulting strengths to support other units.
What characteristics must you embody to be successful as a PostNet franchise owner?
I think the obvious one is to be able to multi-task or divide attention across multiple areas. Having management skills is important, because I won’t be able to be in my unit 100 percent of the time. So I need to be able to develop a manager and trust that manager. And part of the area development is sales; I have to recruit candidate franchisees and showcase the brand. I want to get out of my four walls and go talk to people a lot more, strike up conversations, build relationships and be excited about what I get to do — and get other people excited so that they want to do it, too.
What are your ambitions for the PostNet brand in Atlanta?
As somebody focused on the area, coming into market where there is a lot of territory available, I have a great opportunity to create a local brand. PostNet has its own brand nationally, and I will stay consistent with that of course, but I have the ability to shape that more in the local area. Some of the main competition I have is FedEx office and UPS stores, their brands are walk-in traffic, business-to consumer-shipping and packing. They have a business-to-consumer perception to overcome in order to achieve the business-to-business model. In Atlanta, I can emphasize PostNet’s business-to-business brand from the very beginning, while noting the existence of some consumer services, as well. I want to make this the place for customers whether they want to create a marketing plan or take the steps to implement that plan … or even if they just need a few items printed. I want to be the first thought when businesses need this kind of help.
Why is Atlanta a great market for the PostNet brand?
Atlanta is a booming city with a young population. There are so many transplants from the Northeast, from out West and from overseas, as well. There are a number of Fortune 500 companies relocating their headquarters here, and it’s a fun place to visit. With this many people here, it’s very attractive to small businesses. And all of those businesses need the services that PostNet provides.
What are your goals as a franchise owner, personally and professionally?
I want to get to a point where I have the flexibility to spend time with my family, which I wouldn’t necessarily be able to do if I was working a corporate job. I’d like to have the freedom and flexibility to go to my children’s piano recitals or baseball games. And then the other side of the coin is financial stability. If you look at income potential in a salaried job in a corporate situation, maybe your pay is going to increase 5 percent a year in the best economy. With a business that you own, income is going to start building gradually, but at some point you are going to hit that magic moment where you have a steep curve going up. In the long run my expectation is the business ownership income curve is going to be way above the salary income curve.