Franchising is tempting for those who want the entrepreneurial experience but with the protection of selling a firmly tested product. This month’s franchise in the spotlight is definitely that – a strong brand tempered by years of high street experience.
Truly an international heavy-hitter, Mail Boxes Etc. began life in the United States in 1980s but became a franchise early on in life, expanding to various territories including the UK, India, Poland, Italy, Germany and Russia. Mail Boxes Etc., Inc. was purchased in 2001 by United Parcel Service (UPS); in the years that followed outlets in the US, Canada and India were gradually rebranded as The UPS Store. Eventually in 2009, all of the remaining territories were sold on to the Fineffe Group under the MBE Worldwide banner with all of the franchisees either remaining under the umbrella of the master license or individual master franchises.
In the UK and Ireland, Mail Boxes Etc. has gradually come to dominate the courier and packaging industry. Its network of over 125 stores has become a byword for one-stop mail and stationary services, selling everything from bubble wrap to bespoke professional assistance. Stepping inside a Mail Boxes Etc. store can actually feel like probing one’s way through the cloaks and coats and stumbling into Narnia – an entire world of mailing solutions lurks just beyond their doors.
“The unique and diverse offering of services is one of the things that makes Mail Boxes Etc. special,” comments Leah Stanley, Mail Boxes Etc.’s franchise development executive. “No other store on the high street offers all these popular services in one place,” she continues.
And she’s right. Mail Boxes Etc. doesn’t shout about how much it offers but once you really look beneath the surface that you realise the extent of the services it provides. Courier. Stationers. Postal service. Mailbox provider. Design studio. Printers. You can rent a virtual business address, apply for planning permission or get maps drawn up, all under the same roof. For small businesses it handles bulk mailing and telephone answering services. They offer a staggering range of services and this is something that makes them hugely valuable as a brand.
But perhaps the best measure of a franchise comes from the franchisees. And Mail Boxes Etc.’s franchisees are nothing if not loyal. An excellent example are Faraz Ahmad and Osman Ahmed, the current Mail Boxes Etc. ‘franchisees of the year’.
Despite having become MBE franchisees just two years ago they already own six outlets in central London, managing their stores with incredible aptitude and flair. However the pair are quick to share the credit. “We listened to all the advice we were given by our franchisor and then just followed their excellent system,” Ahmad says.
Glowing praise. But it’s not unusual for franchisees to feel this way. Stanley explains: “MBE franchises are so popular with franchisees because they are so different to any other franchise out there. When you own an MBE franchise there are always new adventures and challenges to experience.” Despite this however there’s still huge amounts of support to help guide franchisees through their tentative first steps toward becoming dynamic entrepreneurs like Ahmad and Ahmed. “With Mail Boxes Etc. you can run your own business and develop your entrepreneurial spirit, with the reassurance of a dependable support system behind you at all times,” she says.
Another interesting case is that of Bridget Maendl and Sehrinaz Celebioglu. The first of Mail Boxes Etc.’s exclusively female partnerships, the pair found their way into the franchise in 2011 almost by accident. It was only when Maendl’s husband asked her opinion of the franchise – and she brought in her friend Celebioglu, an international business and management postgraduate, as a consult – that the idea was sown. Whilst Maendl’s husband decided to remain in his existing field, the two friends decided they wanted to pursue the opportunity a Mail Boxes Etc. franchise offered
Whilst they had high hopes for the business they had no idea how well it would do. Maendl admits: “[it went] much better than expected”. Even so they couldn’t rest on their laurels – building brand awareness was essential. They focused on giving extra service and building goodwill; one example saw them making complimentary collections from customers who lacked the time to come in store. Little touches like this cemented them in their customer’s minds. “We had to create awareness so people would understand what we do,” Maendl summarises.
According to Stanley this isn’t unusual for a Mail Boxes Etc. franchise. “One of the key aspects that gives the MBE brand such strength on the high street is the quality of service that our customers receive,” she explains. “Our franchisees are a strong local presence in their community and so offer a personal, friendly service to all their customers.”
Thanks to this presence Maendl’s and Celebioglu’s franchise occupies a very secure position in their area. This is aided further by the strength of the brand they’ve bought into and their obvious tenacity. “There are limitless opportunities for us to grow as so many new businesses are springing up in this area now, mainly creative ones such as film companies and art galleries,” Celebioglu says.
As packages go it’s practically wrapped up with a giant bow. A tested brand, a stellar product range and a proven record of both franchisee- and customer-loyalty – there’s little more you could ask for. If you’re wanting a franchise with a friendly face but a rock solid business model you could do a lot worse than Mail Boxes Etc.
Minimum investment: £60,000