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Franchise Spotlight: Malcolm Lant, Signs Express (Gateshead and Teesside)

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Posted 01.10.2012

Malcolm Lant is the Signs Express franchisee for Gateshead. Amongst a myriad of other local projects, his business was chosen to produce the signage for Gateshead College’s Baltic Campus when it opened. He’s in the running to be named bfa HSBC Franchisee of the Year, having recently been shortlisted for the second consecutive year, and has won numerous other accolades since investing in his business.

Malcolm bought his franchise in 2005 having worked in the sign making industry since leaving school, and hasn’t looked back since. With a combination of community work, clever marketing, excellent customer service and staff loyalty, he’s continually pushed his business forwards, joining thousands of other franchisees in defying national trends of economic doom and gloom.

In the last year alone he’s achieved free national TV advertising on The X Factor, helped send a local boy for “miracle” surgery, taken on more employees, purchased a neighbouring second franchise (Teesside) and has led his staff in making changes to their working environment to accommodate into the team a deaf sign maker with what he describes as “excellent skills but who had been unemployed for some time”.

Asked why he chose to buy a franchise in the first place, Malcolm echoes many of his peers: “I could have started a sign company from scratch but the risks involved outweighed the positives of buying a ready-made business. The idea of having loads of shiny new machines and no work was a concern so I looked at two other local sign companies that were for sale at the time, but the added bonus of taking on a franchise with additional support came out as the winner.”

That initial support helped Malcolm launch his business successfully, and with a network of franchisees to turn to as well as ongoing head office backup, he knows he made the right choice. And with a guerrilla marketing campaign that achieved primetime brand exposure, he’s making sure that lack of work is never a concern!

Malcolm explains: “For the 2011 final of X Factor, I seized the opportunity to generate brand exposure for Signs Express by offering free banners to the finalists’ supporters.”

With those supporters regularly featured on the final shows, and a cunning logo placed on the banners, he knew he was onto a winner; but in a move typical of his nature, he didn’t even feature his own Gateshead branch on the banners, simply using the opportunity to promote the brand nationally – a move which had fellow Signs Express franchisees querying online who had got their logo on the TV! The stunt also had them mentioned on international radio for Malcolm’s clever marketing.

In the seven years he’s run his business, Malcolm’s very proud of the fact that he’s never had a member of staff leave, even as his team has expanded to meet growing demand. Some of that may be down to the fact that he gives people a chance when others overlook them, and has created a great working environment that fosters loyalty in return.

He says: “In 2011 I hunted down an experienced salesman, close to retirement age, who was desperate to continue working but unable to find employment following redundancy...in the past few months I have also taken on an additional sales person with over 10 years sign sales experience in the Teesside area. With employment prospects poor, I offered them a lifeline and in return they use their skills to make the most of business in my territory.”

“My stable workforce still has 100% retention and has now grown to a team of 10. Trust in staff is imperative. This trust has enabled me to utilise the skills of a business mentor, taking time out of the day-to-day business to realise my objectives and re-evaluate all areas of the business.”

Not only has he been able to concentrate on his turnover, but in 2011 he used his business alongside others to create a community partnership – encouraging customers, staff and suppliers, as well as making event signs for free in Malcolm’s case – which helped raised the £40,000 required to send local boy and cerebral palsy sufferer Ben Elliot to the US for life-changing surgery to help him walk.

Malcolm says: “My final achievement was to take part in a trek to Ben Nevis. Ben has since had successful surgery and can now stand unaided and walk using a stick. It brings a constant smile to know I have played a part in changing his life as he begins to walk – and eventually run – alongside his friends.”

Malcolm represents a fantastic example of just what can be achieved as a franchisee and hopes to have his success rewarded next Thursday evening when the British Franchise Association (bfa) names its regional Franchisee of the Year winner for the North (he is one of three finalists), followed by its national winner. His final interview with judges came within an hour of his plane landing at Heathrow after holidaying in Vancouver, so he’s hoping his chances continue to fly!

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