When you buy a franchise you are not necessarily thinking of an exit strategy or how you’re going to sell the business in 10 or 15 years. But in the case of Sonja and Rich Heaton, it was exactly what was on their minds. And they can share some lessons about planning for just such an event.
After years of owning a Signarama in Orangeburg, SC, Rich and Sonja Heaton started actively positioning their business to sell. It took most of the next decade for the couple to build the business to where they wanted it to be to achieve a maximum return of investment and complete the sale.
“We went into the business knowing one day we would sell and started preparing and understanding the process about five years into the business,” said Sonja Heaton. Even though they had it all planned, when they finally got to the selling point, the process still took nine months.
Before buying their Signarama franchise, the Heatons had spent five years running another franchise. They also worked for a jewelry firm for five years and Rich was a petroleum executive for seven years at a company that he played a pivotal role in selling.
Sonja Heaton says these experiences taught them the importance of customer service. A lesson they took with them to their Signarama store.
“Sign companies, in general, have a bad reputation of slow turnaround and customer service,” said Rich. “We made sure we provided our services in a timely manner. We practiced the cliché, ‘the customer is always right'” and put it into practice by refusing to say “no” to any project. We would take rush projects that many other companies would turn away. We provided solutions to problems no one else had the solution to.”
That can-do attitude helped their business succeed by creating a loyal customer base.
“We specialized in small- to mid-sized chain accounts,” said the Heatons. “These smaller businesses needed the service that the larger companies like McDonald’s were getting, but they weren’t able to get them because other signage companies didn’t think they were big enough.”
Now that they’ve finished the process of selling their successful franchise, the Heatons are looking forward to moving to Charleston, SC, but they’re far from thinking about retirement.
“We have started a consulting business to help people build their businesses as we did,”
said the Heatons. “We are now helping people with their exit strategies and preparing them to get to a point where their business is ready to sell.”
Signarama, the world’s largest sign franchise, offers branding and messaging solutions in addition to comprehensive sign and graphic services to consumers and commercial customers – from business signs, vehicle wraps, and digital signs, to advertising and marketing services. Signarama is part of a successful system of business-to-business franchise brands and development services under the United Franchise Group. As part of the $49-billion-plus worldwide sign market, Signarama has been at the forefront of the sign industry for more than two decades. Approaching 900 locations worldwide, the company expects to have more than 1,200 locations worldwide by the end of 2017. For more information visit http://www.signarama.com/.