Meet Our Franchisees
Shahzad Ahmad, FASTSIGNS Islington
Already sold on the concept of franchising, Shahzad Ahmad wanted to diversify from the family portfolio of predominantly food franchises and was in the market for a franchise opportunity with a difference. Impressed by the service he’d received from his local FASTSIGNS, he set out to discover more about the franchise and how it could work for him.
From the age of 19, Shahzad Ahmad worked for the family business, becoming an integral part of the day to day running of their six pizza franchises, located across London and Essex. By the time he turned 30, Shahzad was ready for a new challenge; having grown up running businesses with the support of a franchisor, Shahzad knew that this method of conducting business would continue to work for him. After 11 years of running food-focussed franchises, Shahzad wanted to diversify from the family portfolio and craved a business that was less focused on food and beverage and more on the development of customer relationships and designing and producing a finished product or service.
Aware of the FASTSIGNS® brand, having previously been a customer of FASTSIGNS Enfield, it was through a conversation with the centre’s franchisee, Paul Cooper, that Shahzad began to consider the FASTSIGNS franchise opportunity. “Paul was definitely a driving force behind my research into FASTSIGNS,” Shahzad continues. “I had known him professionally for a while, he assured me it was a worthwhile business to invest in, giving me a valuable insight into the workings of the brand and told me of the positive service provided by the UK Support Team.”
Following further research into FASTSIGNS and other franchise offerings, Shahzad contacted the UK support centre to understand more about the FASTSIGNS franchise opportunity. Having previously worked a relentless seven days a week in a business to consumer, (B2C) food and beverage retail business, the prospect of operating a business-to-business (B2B) management franchise, producing signs and visual graphics to business minded individuals, was extremely appealing to Shahzad. “I liked the concept of providing businesses with creative signage solutions.” Shahzad continues, “the use of technology was also a huge attraction for me. I knew I had found an opportunity that broke the mould of my franchising experience, allowing me to set up the type of business I had envisioned for myself.”
Preparation and Launching the Centre
The time between signing the franchise agreement, for the Islington territory, in December 2013 to the launch of his centre in February 2015, was longer than anticipated. At the time, although there was a lot of property available in the Islington area, none were suited to the requirements of a FASTSIGNS centre. As with all things, persistence prevailed and the centre’s current Caledonian Road location became available 12 months later. Shahzad explains, “I spent a long time looking for the right facility, it was just not available!” Shahzad continues, “During this time the FASTSIGNS support team were a constant source of reassurance, whenever I found a premises I thought could work, they would visit the premises and advise me on the suitability of it. Although I was more than eager to get started, having the patience to find the correct venue was worth it in the end. It was such a relief when we found the ideal location, even if I thought it was initially a little bigger than necessary.”
Once the location had been found in January 2015, the set up and launch of the centre was mobilized by the FASTSIGNS support team extremely quickly; floor plans and architectural drawings were produced, the initial marketing plans were written and machinery and materials were ordered in quick succession. “When it came to setting-up accounts with suppliers, FASTSIGNS had already done the hard work for me. They’d sourced printers, computers and other key pieces of equipment, introducing me to the suppliers they have established relationships with. In terms of support for starting your own franchise, there’s not much more you could ask for from the FASTSIGNS support team.”
The FASTSIGNS Training and Development
Whilst the centre was undergoing it’s fit out and build, Shahzad embarked on the FASTSIGNS training programme, Foundations at the FASTSIGNS Head Office located in Dallas, Texas, just one month before the launch of his centre, in February 2015. A conscious decision on Shahzad’s part, “I wanted to do the training programme as close to opening of the centre as I could, keeping the skills and knowledge that I would gain as fresh in my mind as possible. The two weeks of training were intense but very worthwhile, the programme is excellent and extremely informative.”
The foundation programme has two distinct training paths, business management and production / design. Having gained valuable on the job training in business management during his earlier career, Shahzad felt that he would derive more benefit from his time in Dallas by learning about signage production / design. Upon returning to the UK, Shahzad again found the UK support team to be extremely supportive. Shahzad explains, “being face-to-face with my first customer and taking their order was by far the most daunting part of the process, taking down exacting details about their required sign made it all very real. Having a FASTSIGNS business consultant with me on this appointment and throughout the first week, following my centre’s launch, was wholly reassuring and provided great value.”
Learning to become a FASTSIGNS Franchisee
Although a challenge that Shahzad openly admits he wanted; moving from a fast food and beverage business, characterised by little customer interaction into a management and consultancy based business in the signage industry, was a steep learning curve. “With pizzerias, the product is centred on one thing: pizza. There may be some variation in individual orders but essentially the delivery of the finished product was always the same. At FASTSIGNS, there are so many variables that affect the finished product, including the customers business, their facility, their available budget, their values and their intangible assets such as logos and colour pallets, no job is ever the same. Every signage solution we sell is truly bespoke!” Shahzad continues, “Personally, I have become much more customer-focussed, I enjoy interacting with all of our customers and actively pursue building a relationship with them, going this extra mile really does help me to understand their requirements better.”
Even with being well versed in business management, Shahzad has found life as a FASTSIGNS franchisee an education, taking it upon himself to learn the right terminology and has developed ways to communicate this to customers, in a way that makes sense to them. To achieve this, Shahzad has worked hard to ingratiate himself into the UK network, leaning heavily on other franchisees expertise when he has come across something that he doesn’t know the answer to. Shahzad comments “The network has been brilliant, all of the franchisees, some whom have over 20 years’ experience in this industry, are there to answer any questions that I have had. It’s encouraging to know that all of these people have learned the same lessons as me and can provide sage advice. In the first month, following the centre launch, I was constantly on the phone to other franchisees, they were all incredibly supportive.”
Shahzad knows he made the right decision in joining the FASTSIGNS network, although initially finding the right location was a challenge, he has come to appreciate his location in central London. Being close to Kings Cross Station means he has the privilege of working with a diverse customer base, made up of businesses from large private limited companies (PLC) to local independent businesses. This assortment of customers is a feature of the business that Shahzad loves as it means no two days, or two projects, are ever the same.
In terms of marketing his business, Shahzad has actively promoted himself in his local area, stating “FASTSIGNS is definitely a good business to invest in, especially if you’re the sort of person, like me, who is happy to go out networking and market the businesses capabilities; rather than expecting work to come to you.”
A Vision of the Future
Now that his business has moved on from the launch phase and is firmly on a growth trajectory, Shahzad has come to appreciate the extra space his facility allows him, commenting, “for a start-up business, I felt that our current premises was a little large, however, now the business is growing I see how the extra space has actually future proofed my business for some years to come. Since 2015, my sales have built and my year on year profits have continued to increase and I firmly have my sights set on expansion, In 2018, I have bolstered my team with the addition of two new staff members, one outside sales professional and a production specialist and I plan to add more equipment and machinery to improve our offerings and capabilities, before the year is over.”
As a final thought, Shahzad adds, “as I look around my FASTSIGNS centre, I see what I have achieved in three years, it’s very exciting to consider what the next three years and beyond will bring!”