Tired of being ground down by the corporate world, Anas Saltaji visited a franchise show to find his next opportunity, leading him to Signarama
In today’s hectic modern world, many workers are looking for that hallowed work-life balance and Anas Saltaji was no different when he worked for American home improvement company Lowe’s. “I helped them develop and open a new location in Canada,” he explains, with the firm wanting to scale outside of the US. “My role was early on and I started a management team to help with that expansion.”
However, personal circumstances convinced him to find something more accommodating. “At the time [I had] a young family and then five years into [the job], it reached to a point where it was a little difficult for my family,” Saltaji admits. “For personal reasons, I decided to leave.” This would eventually lead to him becoming the UK master franchisee.
Seeking a new avenue to stroll along, Saltaji visited a franchise show although was completely uncertain what to expect. “I had no idea what I was looking for,” he admits. “The only thing I knew when I went to the show was that I was looking for something that would give me more time at home with an opportunity to grow and have a decent living.”
The walk into the unknown paid off and it was at the show that Saltaji discovered American branding franchise Signarama. “Quite honestly, I never knew Signarama existed until I went to the show,” he confesses. “What attracted me was the fact it was a business-to-business model that wasn’t a Monday to Friday, nine-to-five and its potential. Being part of a $50bn industry was also appealing to me.”
After signing on the dotted line, Saltaji became a Signarama franchisee and has now been part of the network for seven years. He started off with one location in Ontario, then a year later he bought a second site. Six months following that he bought two more locations, all of which paved the way for him to become the master franchisee for Canada in 2015 when the existing master franchisee was looking for an exit. “The opportunity was there, we just started to think about the possibility of me becoming the master [franchisee],” says Saltaji. “I ended up selling the four locations I had and acquiring the master rights. That was about four years ago.”
Despite the position he’s in today, Saltaji experienced “buyer’s remorse” early on and notes that the transition from corporate employee to entrepreneur wasn’t easy. But that regret has also worked in his favour now he’s master franchisee because he understands where new recruits are coming from and their thought process. “It allows me to emotionally connect with franchisees, especially ones that just started out because I get it,” he says. “And that’s something that’s often forgotten. You always hear people talk about ‘At the end of the day it’s just business’ – it really isn’t. At the end of the day it’s relationships. You have to connect with people.”
Another obstacle that Saltaji also had to come to terms with was really getting an understanding of the actual business that Signarama is in. “Yes, we sell signage, yes, we sell vehicle graphics, branding and printing,” he says. “But the reality is we’re just like restaurants and we’re just like cruise ship franchises. We’re just like everybody else. Our actual business is customers. And once I truly understood that I’m in the business of serving customers is when I started seeing success.”
From that point, having transitioned from franchisee to master franchisee, Saltaji needed to realise that his customers were no longer businesses or consumers but those in the network. “Yes, I’m in customer service but my customers are now the franchisees,” he says. “They’re the only revenue stream I have so it’s understanding that for me to be successful, they need to be successful.”
For all of the serendipity involved with Saltaji’s journey to this point, it’s apparent how passionate he is about the organisation. “You sometimes stick onto something and you end up falling in love with it,” he says. “And I think that’s what’s happened with me. I love this industry. I love the fact that it’s unique every day.” Said uniqueness has led him to describe the experience with the company as exciting and fun so far. “And a new milestone has also just been ticked off, which Saltaji is happy to shout about. “We’re officially the largest sign franchise in Canada,” he declares. “We’ve seen a lot of success in the market and I’m excited that we’ve actually reached beyond our borders and we’ll also be the [master franchisee] in the UK. So we’re on an exciting journey.”
With that journey in mind, scaling the franchise across Canada was achieved by ensuring existing franchisees were happy and profitable. “When they’re happy about their business and what they’re doing, they’re gonna brag about it,” says Saltaji. “Once they brag about it and tell their friends, the friends become interested. So the leads that we receive from existing franchisees, I’ve had a 100% conversion rate. And that’s where we spend our energy.”
Having conquered Canada, Saltaji was ready for his next challenge, which took shape in the form of crossing the pond as the master franchisee for Britain. “I’m a strong believer that to be consistently growing you have to be consistently in uncomfortable situations,” he opines. He believed that the success in Canada would be able to get repeated in the UK, pointing to the convenience factor and proximity of the market. “There’s a lot of political connection between Canada and the UK,” Saltaji continues. “Doing business for the Canadians in the UK is fairly easy so logistically it wasn’t a complicated establishment. From Toronto to London for example, it’s a six and a half hour flight. Well for me to go from Halifax to Vancouver it’s seven hours. So it’s much easier for me to come to London.” Put simply, it was a matter of the timing being right.
In terms of the difference between the UK and Canada, Saltaji reasoned that there’s “a much richer history and culture” here. Other than that, he notes there’s not much difference. And the fact both nations speak English was an added benefit. “For us to actually achieve the results one thing we need to focus on is probably behaviours,” he says. “Because we already have the right processes that helped us get to where we are to be globally, we’ll see success in the UK as well. Having said that, the stores across the UK are profitable. We can scale the franchise in the UK by focusing on the things that matter most.”
Looking ahead into the future, Saltaji is keen to grow but while doing everything by the book. “At the end of the day we’re humans,” he concludes. “If I take someone’s money and put it into [the] business, I wanna make sure that I’m able to sleep at night, that I haven’t done them any wrong. You have to do your due diligence to make sure that you do do everything that you can give them that success.”