The signs are good as Norwich firm looks to expand franchisee network

Posted 01/03/2017 : By: Debbie Dennis

Signs Express, based in Norwich, already has more centres in the UK and Ireland than any of its competitors, but its owners have their sights set on acquiring an even bigger share of the market.

In their 2020 vision – a five-year plan – managing director Craig Brown and finance director Jonathan Bean set goals to grow the sign maker’s network of franchisees from 60 to 80 and to increase the network’s turnover from £22m to more than £30m.

Just over a year into the scheme, there are now 65 Signs Express centres across Britain, employing around 500 staff, and the franchisor reported network turnover of £23m in 2016 – of which £500,000 of profit was invested back into the network.

As part of its plan the company has made changes in how it recruits its franchisees, with two new appointments dedicated to marketing and recruitment made in the last year which have helped to treble the number of potential franchisees approaching it.

It is also improving its support network for franchisees, has appointed a specialist network development director, and spent a year updating the computer systems of all its centres, with the help of a new non-executive director for IT.

Their efforts have not gone unnoticed, with the firm being shortlisted for franchisor of the year in the British Franchise Association Awards for the third time.

Mr Brown said: “The former directors had set very firm foundations that were relevant in the 80s and 90s. We needed to update those.

“This year, we felt that with everything we have done over the last 18 months it was a great story to tell to the judges.”

Mr Bean added: “Our world was changing and we needed to change with it. This is about seizing an opportunity in our marketplace.”

Established in 1989, the company took on its first franchisee in Ipswich 25 years ago.

Following two management buy-outs in 2007 and 2014, Mr Bean and Mr Brown now own 100% of the company’s shares – but say they rely on counsel from their board and a franchisee steering group.

Mr Bean said: “We want the network to be able to talk to us and tell us what they would like to see.”