1992 was a big year for the UK; Microsoft released Windows 3.1 in stores everywhere; the Queen celebrated her Ruby Jubilee; Great Britain won 20 medals at the 22nd Olympic Games in Barcelona and Signs Express began franchising!
The franchise system as we know it today, was adopted after the Second World War by companies looking for fast expansion. Widely accredited as the first pioneers of business format franchising were Coca-Cola and Pepsi Co, who were struggling to operate across the US, with such high water content in their products and the high expenditures to transport these across the vast continent. The companies developed a system wherein franchisees would locally carbonate and add water to the brands’ centrally manufactured secret recipe syrups. In the UK, franchising gained in popularity in the 1950s and 60s led by catering companies that were fuelled by huge growths in population, economic output and social change, which were rife in this era. However, by the 70s this industry in the UK had slowed and its popularity waned, until the British Franchise Association (bfa) was formed in 1977. The prestige of the eight founding member companies, including ServiceMaster, Dyno-Rod, Holiday Inns UK, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Wimpy International, Ziebart GB, Prontaprint and Budget Rent a Car, elevated the stature of the industry and signalled a turning point in its popularity. The bfa’s early work on business ethics restored credibility to the business model and knowledge of the model’s potential success reached the ears of David Corbett and Frank Eliel. Prior to setting up their flagship store, David and Frank researched international sign markets and discovered a large gap in the UK marketplace, which was ripe for exploitation – franchising. Signs Express’ flagship store, based in Norwich and still operating today, was set up expressly to become a franchise in order to offer faster growth opportunities and to reach a wider geographical pool of customers. After trialling the success of the flagship store for 3 years, David and Frank recruited their first franchisee in 1992. Nick Dawes opened Signs Express (Ipswich) in the same year and is still operating to this day! This was closely followed by the establishment of Signs Express (North and North East Lincolnshire) under the capable leadership of Ken Beevis and now ran by his son Matthew Beevis. And the rest is history… well kind of! Signs Express has gone from strength-to-strength over the past 25 years and now boasts 65 franchised centres throughout the UK and Ireland, with a combined turnover of £22 million.