Meet Our Franchisees
Mel, José and Alan, FASTSIGNS Crawley
Three long-standing employees of FASTSIGNS Crawley made their dream of business ownership a reality, by joining together to purchase the FASTSIGNS centre they had worked in for over twenty years.
In The Beginning
The ownership team of FASTSIGNS Crawley took over the centre in December 2018, where they had previously each worked for more than two decades. Husband and wife, José and Melanie Martinez, who prior to the purchase, worked in the centre as the production specialist and signage sales expert, respectively. The duo partnered with their long term friend and colleague, Alan White who worked in the centre as the graphic designer, to purchase the franchise and build a successful business for themselves.
Having left college in the mid-nineties, José joined the first-ever FASTSIGNS franchise to launch in the UK, whilst Melanie developed a career as a freelance artist. In 1995, the FASTSIGNS Crawley centre opened as the latest addition to the Uk network and Melanie took the opportunity to join the newly launched centre, as a customer service representative. She worked extremely closely with the franchisee to help develop the centre through its initial launch and growth period into a mature business. “Having played such a pivotal role in helping FASTSIGNS Crawley evolve into the business it is today, being its franchisee has always appealed to me,” explains Melanie.
By 1997, Alan White joined the team as the Crawley centre’s sign maker. After a few more years, in 2000 as Melanie and José’s family grew, José transferred to the Crawley branch to help manage their home life logistics.
Since José joined the centre, the trio have worked harmoniously together, becoming firm friends both at work and leisure. Over the years, they discussed the possibility of eventually launching their own signage business and although they never specified a time limit for making the decision, they knew eventually their loose discussions would become a reality.
Buying the Franchise
The opportunity to purchase the centre presented itself as early as 2008 when the centre’s original franchisee decided to sell the business. Mel had always planned to take over the franchise, however, when the opportunity arose, the timing just wasn’t right for Mel and José’s family. “Our kids were still very young,” Mel comments. “Although being a franchisee would have allowed us huge flexibility, we were content with our work-life balance and it wasn’t the right time for us to take the step.”
Ultimately, the franchise was purchased and Mel, José and Alan continued to work in their roles, quietly focussed on their goal to own a signage business at some point in the future.
At the end of 2018, the purchasing franchisee’s 10-year agreement came to an end. He opted to take early retirement and decided to sell the franchise. With their children now slightly older, José and Mel felt that it was the right time to purchase the centre. Alan was also in a financial position to join the couple in the purchase and they started on their journey to becoming business owners.
The three friends prepared thoroughly for the purchase. In terms of setting up their business, they made sure everything was in place and all angles were covered. Alan comments, “We didn’t want to miss something that might cause problems in the future. We had all wanted it for so long, we didn’t want anything to go wrong in our new business. There’s risk involved in starting your own business but I was hungry for it. We all were. We knew we had the support of the FASTSIGNS brand behind us and we just wanted to get started. I thought nerves would kick in, but they haven’t yet!”
Transitioning From Employees To Owners
Transitioning from employees to owners, who are responsible for the success of their business has required hard work. Melanie explains how they dealt with it. “It was the hardest we’ve ever worked, but we haven’t regretted it once. Even though we understand how the centre operates, there was still so much we needed to know about being business owners. We have all found our areas of responsibility, José is very detail orientated and looks after our business admin, whereas Alan and I take point on managing customer relationships and ensuring work is completed in a timely manner.”
As FASTSIGNS operates as a franchise, the trio have been supported through their transition period by the FASTSIGNS UK Support Team. “Having the resource of the support team has been invaluable,” comments Alan. “We’ve all worked in the business for a long time, we know the team extremely well and they are always on hand to offer advice or knowledge. They have helped us to effectively communicate with our customers about our new ownership, implemented and trained us on our new point of sale system and provided direction on reporting and analysis of our business metrics. That is the benefit of being part of a franchise, we wouldn’t have wanted to negotiate these changes without their guidance.”
Friendship and Business
Friendship and business can be a complicated mix and often one can jeopardise the other, the group have been conscious to create an open culture right from the start of their ownership journey, where they can maintain their friendship and create an environment that their business can thrive in.
“One of the first things we did initially was to go for a meal as friends. We took the opportunity to tell each other one thing that bugs us about the other two from a work colleague perspective,” Melanie laughs. “It’s important for us to maintain our friendship but we were also mindful that we had to create an environment that allowed us to operate as business partners. We’ve established a culture where we can openly discuss any issues that we may have.”
Alan agrees. “There is a risk going into business with friends and it can result in people falling out. If something may affect our friendship, we won’t risk it.” The trio have a directors’ meeting once a month, sometimes at work or at one of their homes, to discuss where the business is at right now and the months ahead. “We have a professional meeting, then we might watch a film together!”
The friends are seven months into their franchise adventure, but what does the future hold for them? “The main thing is to keep enjoying doing what we do. We want to grow our business to a sustainable level, maybe employ two or three more people. We want to maintain the close-knit feel we currently have, provide a comfortable living for ourselves and have that satisfying feeling that we are building something for our future.”
To find out more about FASTSIGNS franchising opportunities, contact us on 01785 253140, or visit the next steps page of our website and complete the online form to request a call.