Jeffrey Hayzlett

By Jeffrey Hayzlett

How Franchises Pivoted Their Business Models In Uncertain Economic Times

How Franchises Pivoted Their Business Models In Uncertain Economic Times 150 150 jeffreyhayzlett

Adapt, change, or die. It’s a sign of the times.

If there’s one person who knows the sign business inside out, is my friend Catherine Monson, the President and CEO of FASTSIGNS. She’s been their CEO since 2009, but our paths crossed a few decades prior.

Like many businesses, FASTSIGNS had to move fast when COVID-19 hit. As a network of more than 700 independent franchisees worldwide, they dominate the business-to-business sign and visual communication space. Before the pandemic, Catherine said stores rarely sold directly to consumers. When COVID-19 started shutting things down in March, corporate saw a lot of opportunity for Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, and Graduation. The corporate headquarters knew they had to act quickly to help their franchisees out.

“We started telling our franchisees and showing them how, and creating the artwork, to call and school districts and schools,” Catherine said. ”And franchisees were getting $30,000,  $40,000, $50,000 orders to do custom signs. Congratulating the graduate with their name and their photo and even delivering them sometimes to the houses and putting them in the yards of the graduates. Some very quick pivots.”

FASTSIGNS franchisees also found a niche they never thought they’d find themselves in: healthcare. It turns out the same equipment used to cut plastic signage can be used to cut materials to make intubation shields and intubation boxes. 


“We made thousands and thousands of our franchisees (make) intubation shields and intubation boxes in the April, May, June timeframe to help keep healthcare workers safe,” Catherine said. “Who would have ever thought that we would be actually making a healthcare product?” 


Catherine says both the graduation signs and intubation supplies are great examples of how listening to the market’s needs, leveraging your connections, keeping an open mind, and being nimble can set you up for opportunities you never thought possible.  

Catherine says this situation is an excellent endorsement for the franchise model. While big-time restaurants like McDonald’s are top of mind for most people when they think of franchises. McDonald’s ranks on most lists as the top franchise worldwide; however, the sector provides much more opportunity than fast-food restaurants. There were 770,000 franchise businesses in the U.S. in 2019, pumping about $880 billion into the economy. 


With a franchise, you not only have the brainpower of the corporate office, but you have the brainpower of every single franchisee,” Catherine said. “When one franchisee in our network found out that there was a market for X. They told us, we told everybody.” 


That is a great example of the power of community. What we do as the C-Suite Network is make lasting connections that propel businesses forward. Same with FASTSIGNS – the connectivity between all franchisees did its job and they did it well.


While business success is never guaranteed, Catherine says the franchise model is better equipped to help set you for long-term success, more so than going at it alone because of the tools and resources available at the corporate level. 


“There is usually a marketing person team that is always thinking and always looking. There’s usually a franchise advisory council or franchisee advertising council always thinking. Always looking, always brainstorming on how to get better,” Catherine related. “That’s just an inherent benefit of the model.” 


She continued, “That business owner franchisee doesn’t have to think about, ‘I got to create marketing materials. I got to create training materials for my employees.’ They have more time for work on implementation.” “That’s when a new marketing idea comes down. They can quickly implement it rather than having to think about all the other things that an independent business owner does. And it’s just inherently the strength of the of the franchise business model.” 


Another key elements franchises offer is brand recognition almost instantly.  


Catherine is a big supporter of the franchise model. She’s the Chair of the trade group IFA – International Franchise Association.  


During our Q&A with C-Suite Network community, Catherine also recommended resources for people with businesses who are looking to franchise their idea. She even went into detail about some of the labor issues facing the franchise industry. 


The conversation wasn’t all about business either, we had some fun, too. Catherine and I go way back, we reminisced about a Halloween-related business deal involving Boy Scout and witch costumes. Listen here for some great wisdom, business acumen, and even a few opinions about the future of the industry.