As we approach the New Year, hear from AlphaGraphics CDO Dave Buzza on the wins of 2016 and the focus for the coming months.

What did you see as the signature accomplishments of 2016?
It was a year of innovation, and building out foundational needs within the brand. We now have the pieces in place to hit the ground running very aggressively in 2017.

I’ll also point out that we reached our highest center count in over 15 years, the only brand in our industry to have seen consistent unit growth in recent history. Sales were ahead of last year across our Network as well.

Tell us more about the core elements that are now in place to facilitate continued growth and development.
Strategically, we’ve worked hard to lead a rapidly advancing industry, and we’re constantly evolving the brand from a technology standpoint. This year we invested heavily in new technologies, because we understand that all of our systems and processes have to be built around a positive customer experience — ease of use, speed, instant gratification. We’re a one or two-click society, and while the work we do is custom, that doesn’t mean it has to be slow and clunky. Everything we’ve installed this year is designed to make that process better, faster, more efficient. That includes a new MIS system across the Network for managing workflow, a new ecommerce platform (AgOnline) for online ordering, and a new website that is launching now.

Technology is essential, but so are the people. What did 2016 include for the AlphaGraphics Network of Franchisees, and the staff who support them?
Excellent point, because our people are our competitive edge. On that front, we updated all of our training systems, implemented a fantastic new business development program, added a new vice president of marketing and really positioned the brand for growth in 2017. We needed to create efficiencies to manage the growth that will come, and we had to ensure they were installed and running on all cylinders in order to hit the ground running in 2017. We’re there, and we’re excited.

It’s an impressive list of accomplishments. What about the long-term strategy?
As a 47-year-old brand, AlphaGraphics continues to evolve and stay highly relevant in today’s marketplace. We are very competitive against all the other channels available today. Technology is really driving the processes, and we’ve obviously embraced that, but it still comes down to the relationship. That’s where it all comes together to create the customer experience.

From a Network development standpoint, we remain focused on growth through existing business opportunities. Whereas traditionally we’ve focused on finding businesses that could work for candidates, now we’ve got a bunch of pre-qualified businesses looking to sell who have opted-in to our program and are in our inventory. Independent print shop owners are attracted to the program, because we can deliver a well-qualified candidate and they walk away from closing with a check, rather than a promise. From a Franchise candidate’s perspective, we have a stable of fully vetted businesses that are available to choose from, across the country. It’s a win-win for everyone involved, including our customers.

There are tremendous opportunities in independent shops that could use a boost, but aren’t there several thriving AlphaGraphics Business Centers for sale as well?
There certainly are. In a brand of this age and demographics, there will always be waves of retirement-age owners. Many have built a generational business to hand down; others want to see their operation and team continue to thrive but are ready to throttle back. In fact, many of our Franchisees who sell stay on as a part of the production or sales or customer service team long-term!

Most people aren’t interested in starting a business from scratch these days, and why would you go through that ramp-up to break-even process when you have a great business available to acquire? You burn a lot less capital, and therefore can focus on growth instead of debt service. Having those opportunities really lowers the risk, on multiple levels.

What else would you want people considering AlphaGraphics to know?
Just that the value proposition is very compelling in 2017; there’s no question that it is stronger than ever. We have a 54-point valuation process that can be individualized to compare metrics on acquisitions and conversions, from purchasing power to payroll to technology and other efficiencies. We also look at the strategic proposition: what would the business be worth today, and what might it be worth branded as AlphaGraphics down the road? Then you consider the intangibles, such as access to a Network of 260 other owners and their experience, expertise and resources. I would encourage anyone with an interest to allow us to perform this value analysis.

We are actively and aggressively looking for candidates who would be a great fit for the AlphaGraphics brand. This year was about being poised for growth, and all of those initiatives now are stress-tested and have traction going into the new year.