By prioritising people and product, The Original Poster Company has grown to become a greeting cards distribution company with a truly global reach
Before launching The Original Poster Company, Simon Warren-Gash, the company’s chairman, had been a banker in both the UK and South Africa. “But, by chance, he ended up stepping into something new,” says Mark Thompson, managing director at The Original Poster Company. When Warren-Gash became a franchisee in a greeting cards franchise, he started to realise the raw potential of the industry. Teaming up with lawyer David Mills, Warren-Gash decided to build his own greeting cards distribution franchise and launched The Original Poster Company in February 1991.
Whilst many businesses turn to franchising once they have a few outlets under their belts and are looking for a way to ramp up their expansion, it was always a core part of The Original Poster Company’s plan. “The concept right from the off was for a franchise-based business,” says Thompson. So, as soon as the founders had a handful of designs ready to go, they started attending franchise shows and scouring their networks to the company’s first franchisees. “And the momentum just built from there,” adds Thompson.
Clearly Warren-Gash’s faith in the concept was well-founded: by 1993, just two years into the franchise’s life-cycle, The Original Poster Company had a presence across the length and breadth of Britain. “There were about 50 franchisees covering the whole of the UK and Ireland,” Thompson says. “It expanded very quickly.”
There are two factors that have aided the franchise’s phenomenal expansion. “Product is obviously key,” Thompson explains. As its name suggests, The Original Poster Company started out selling both posters and cards but, responding to the requirements of the market, it dropped posters fairly early on. This is indicative of its approach to product more broadly, creating merchandise that captures the greeting-cards zeitgeist. “We look at the whole of the market, various photo libraries and design agencies,” he says. “We’re actually sourcing the latest talent and fashions in the marketplace.”
Another significant element that has contributed to its success is its monetisation strategy. “Retailers only pay for the products that they’ve already sold: it’s on a sale-or-return basis,” says Thompson. Franchisees distribute a range of products to retailers; when they call again a month later, they simply charge the store for what it has sold. “For a retailer, it’s a no-brainer,” he says. “They don’t have to invest anything or place any orders.”
However this only tells half the story; ultimately a franchise is only as good as its franchisees. Without a doubt, The Original Poster Company’s success has been in part down to its clear selection criteria for franchisees. “We look for people that are ambitious and motivated but that are willing to follow the business model,” says Thompson. And whilst customer-facing skills and established business acumen are also desirable, Thompson explains that they don’t outweigh the importance of certain basic aptitudes. “Those aspects we can teach them,” he says. “But it is the desire to succeed, follow a proven system and work with us that are most important.”
As this suggests, the onus isn’t solely on franchisees: The Original Poster Company is a staunch believer in the importance of comprehensive, ongoing support. “You can have the product and you can have the business model but you’ve got to be supporting your franchisees,” Thompson says. When a new franchisee has signed on the dotted line, a business development manager will not only spend five days showing them the ropes but will also provide more hands-off support on an ongoing basis. This commitment is recognition that the success of the franchise is inextricably linked with that of its franchisees. “If we don’t train them to triumph, neither will we,” says Thompson.
In light of The Original Poster Company’s success here in the UK, it’s hardly surprising that it rapidly began to look for opportunities abroad. Its first territory came about as the result of a chance meeting with a French businessman who was looking for a new opportunity. “After various meetings, we decided to try it and at that point they joined as our first international master franchisee,” says Thompson.
Inevitably, entering into a new culture meant that The Original Poster Company couldn’t expect to achieve the same results by simply replicating its offering wholesale. “You can’t just duplicate an existing product, stick a French caption on it and hope for the best,” says Thompson. Not only was it vital that the franchise’s cards lined up in terms of language and humour but localisation also required a broader knowledge of the country’s cultural expectations. “You’ve got to assess the consumer demand, fashions and trends in that country,” he says.
The Original Poster Company’s international expansion only ramped up from there. Whilst it was trying to crack the US market, it began attending no end of international franchise events and trade shows. “At several of the shows, we got introduced to other international communities and potential master franchisees,” Thompson says. Before long it had signed up master franchisees for Holland and northern Belgium, Germany and Austria. “In a very short space of time, we’d become international in a pretty comprehensive way,” he adds.
Outside of the UK, The Original Poster Company now has 65 territories throughout seven countries, not to mention distribution rights in Canada, Singapore and Brazil, amongst others. And, whilst it is eager to refine and consolidate the service and support it offers its existing franchisees, it has no plans to ease off yet. “We’re looking to re-enter Spain and Portugal in 2016 and the areas of Europe that are on our doorstep,” says Thompson.
If it plays its cards right, it looks like there are still plenty of overseas opportunities for The Original Poster Company.