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Signs Express Signs and Graphics Franchise Case Study
Hear from Richard Howes, our 2023 Network Champion and owner of Signs Express (Lincoln), as he talks through his inspiring journey from joining Signs Express to becoming the successful business owner he is today.
Signs Express Signs and Graphics Franchise Case Study
Franchise Information
  • BFA Membership StatusFull
  • UK Years Established29 years
  • Current UK Coverage60%
  • Franchisee Support Staff24
  • Personal Investment Req.£65,000
  • Total Startup Cost£215,000
  • Territory-based business locationYes
  • Business to business servicesYes
  • Franchisee employs staffYes
Next Steps

From Signmaker to Franchisee, to Network Champion!

Hear from Richard Howes, our 2023 Network Champion and owner of Signs Express (Lincoln), as he talks through his inspiring journey from joining Signs Express to becoming the successful business owner he is today.

Richard was an avid supporter of the brand, regularly contributed to the network and a long-standing franchisee.

Signs Express Franchise | Signs & Graphics Business

Q1. What inspired you to join Signs Express?

“I started my career in sales, (something I still love doing to this day), and worked every weekend and bank holiday. Whilst I enjoyed the challenge, the buzz and the people aspect of what I did, upon meeting my lovely wife, I realised work wasn’t everything and I needed to adjust my work life balance.

After heading back to college as an adult and widening my set of skills I was looking for a change. I know I love working with people, I love sales, being creative and I’d been entrepreneurial, but I wasn’t set on a particular career path.

After randomly helping on reception whilst at college, when someone didn’t turn up to work one day, I found myself taking calls as Grant, the franchisee from Signs Express (Grantham), was busy with an installation in the background. Grant complimented me on my phone skills, so I asked him for a job. After an interview over a few hours that evening, I was handed the keys to the centre! I then taught myself design in the evenings and started a fortnight later, back in June 1999.

Over the coming months I worked extremely hard to learn all areas of the business, going out on installations, learning to become a signmaker, how to use all of the equipment, designing and selling to customers. Allowing me to do such a varied and interesting job on a daily basis, I hugely enjoyed it and fell in love with the business.

In 2000 Grant expanded and took over the Signs Express (Lincoln) centre, so when the opportunity arose to become part of the business, I jumped at the chance to become a 10% shareholder. I signed our franchise agreement on 1st August 2000, which turned out to be a truly amazing day as it was also the date my first son was born.

After just a year in the business I moved over to Signs Express (Lincoln) where I became Centre Manager and two years later in 2003 when Grant announced he was selling both businesses to emigrate, I took full ownership of Lincoln at the same time as my Grantham colleague and good friend Ian Charles took ownership of Signs Express (Grantham).

By this point, I was fully immersed in the business, I had three full years of experience in the industry, I felt confident in what I was doing and therefore could have made the decision to go it alone and take my newfound skills and business experience elsewhere and set up independently.

However, with three years of working under the Signs Express brand and the credibility and support that came with it, I thought it was worth every penny to invest in Signs Express and I am still thrilled that I made the right decision. The support from the Franchise Support Centre, the reputation of the brand, the marketing, the website, the financial and business coaching, the support from the wider network etc. just wasn’t something I’d have if I went it alone.

Q2. What is your role as a franchisee and what ‘a day in the life of Signs Express’ looks like for you?

“Whilst I’m not as hands-on in terms of sign making, each day remains wonderfully varied. My day starts off with opening up the centre, getting everything turned on and ready for the day, a quick team meeting to discuss the priorities and jobs for the day ahead, after this it can be anything from emails, quoting, supporting large jobs with access requirements, mentoring the team, going out to see customers for surveys to specify and sell to them, weeding (not the green fingered kind), budgeting and plenty of graphic design work, which I really enjoy.

Nearly 25 years in, and I still love the industry and business. For a creative person who loves building relationships and meeting new people, being able to combine the two is ideal for me.  Understanding our customers visions and bringing them to life gives me a huge buzz and seeing the work our team has produced in and around the city, gives me an enormous sense of pride.

In terms of my work life balance these days, I work Monday to Friday and I get to spend time with my wife and eldest son who both now work in the business. I’m home by 8pm which may sound late to some, but I only stay because I love what I do and not because I have to. It also means I have plenty of quality time with my wife and children at the weekends.”

Q3. In your opinion, what are the main benefits of franchising?

“The wide knowledge and quality of support from the Franchise Support Centre (FSC) alongside the wider network are the biggest benefits for me.

Whilst I had the opportunity to learn about the industry on the job, anyone else coming in is going to have a steep learning curve as they begin to understand the different materials, equipment, production methods, supplier relationships and much more, which is where the FSC come in. With expert support across marketing, finance, operations, sales, IT, business coaching and more, the FSC are there to be utilised as much as you need and that is a huge benefit.

Even when you reach a point of feeling confident in your abilities, knowing that support is there is invaluable, and the quality of the staff at the FSC now and the support available, I feel is the best it has ever been. 

Owning a business doesn’t always go smoothly and after ten years of ownership I hit a rocky point with the centre and couldn’t figure out where I was going wrong. However, with the support I received from the FSC along with a network of 60+ franchisees going through the same daily challenges I was facing, I was given the guidance, solutions and support I needed and we were soon back on our feet. Ever since then our centre has gone from strength to strength.

Looking back now I can see things I’d have changed or done differently; however, you learn as you go along, and I’m now delighted I can offer the same support and guidance to the network that others kindly did for me.

Q4. You’ve recently been recognised as the Signs Express Network Champion for 2023, what would you say are the main contributors to you receiving the award?

“I’m a very open and honest individual and pride myself in having a positive outlook on life, and I’ve always had a desire to help others.  

I understand that part of my success is from the support of others within the network and after a number of years in the business, I’m very much here to support my colleagues and share my experience and offer guidance. I’m confident and comfortable with my opinions and they don’t always conform to the majority opinion, however I believe in giving constructive feedback and put my points across in a positive manner. I think it’s important to collaborate and respect one another.

I’m very much a people person and I genuinely want to help and support others where I can. The award came as a big surprise, but I was absolutely thrilled to receive it!”

Q5. What are your aspirations for the year ahead?

“After ending 2023 with our record turnover up 17% on the prior year, I’d be very happy to see this trend continue!

With a business I thrive in, a supportive family, a comfortable lifestyle and healthy work life balance, I’d be very happy with more of the same. My main aim is to improve the quality of life for everyone that works with me and to ensure I’ve got a happy and healthy team of people here to continue to drive the business forward.”

Q6. What do you see as the biggest challenges for the year ahead?

“You’re fine when you’re flying but there inevitably will be challenges. As a business owner, one of the biggest ongoing challenges is the increase in costs and this year, that will be mainly due to salary increases.

Our overheads are at a record high, and whilst customers are accepting of this fact as we increase our prices, it doesn’t stop with materials, there’s business rate increases, fuel prices, utility bills, the list goes on. 

As the business has grown, inevitably so has our team. Comparing today’s salary budget vs two years ago, an individual salary now costs nearly £5,000 more per annum including wage increases, employer’s NI and pension contributions. It’s important we maintain the financial gap above minimum wage for our employees’ as we want to pay our team fairly and for them to feel valued, but the impact on the bottom-line is noticeable. That being said, these are challenges we’re all facing at the moment and we’ll continue to progress with the support we’ve received and through the knowledge we’ve learnt over the years.

Q7. What advice would you give to someone looking to join Signs Express?

“Be like a sponge and try to absorb all the information everyone is telling you. It’s important to be a free thinker, but there is a wealth of knowledge and experience around you, both at the FSC and within the network. Every single person is trying to help you improve your business and make a better life for you, so please be open to it.

Create opportunities for yourself, put yourself out there and be ambitious, know your worth and be confident in your abilities, as you have a huge network there to support you.

When I started as a signmaker I never realised quite how much I would enjoy my journey with Signs Express to this point.  It’s been a truly wonderful experience, where I’ve been able to support my family, with my wife joining the business in 2007 and my eldest son joining in 2021. I’ve made many wonderful friendships and I wake up feeling energised every day. With my wife and I signing another 10 year franchise agreement last year, I very much look forward to the business taking me from my twenties through to my sixties.

Network Champion 2023

Richard is an integral part of the Signs Express network and a genuine individual who wants to help people and sincerely loves what he does. Whilst we’ve got a fantastic network of individuals, this year it felt right to acknowledge Richard’s outstanding contribution and commitment by awarding him with our Network Champion Award.

Speaking to Managing Director Jonathan Bean about Richard’s award he said, “Richard does his upmost to foster our business and support fellow franchisees. He has played an active role in several working groups over the years assisting franchisees with his honest, balanced, and constructive input and feedback. He is always thinking about how to help the wider network by sharing experiences and knowledge gained from running his own successful Signs Express franchise. We are very fortunate to have Richard as part of our network and thank him for all his support and help.”

Aaron Davis, Network Development Director also commented, “It’s rare that you meet someone with such an infectious positivity, oozing with passion for the industry and a genuine desire to share, collaborate and support others. Richard lives and breathes the core values of Signs Express, is a true ambassador of the brand and goes out of his way to help move the business forward. He’s an avid contributor on internal forums, shares advice and opinions to support others and has sat on a number of working groups to input into strategic decisions. We are extremely fortunate to have him as part of our Signs Express family and he thoroughly deserves this recognition.”

A huge thank you to Richard for taking the time out of his day to talk through his Signs Express journey with us, he’s an inspirational individual with such pride in all he does, it was an absolute pleasure to speak with him and listen to his stories!

Opportunities with Signs Express

If Richard’s story has inspired you, there’s more than one way to join Signs Express and plenty of opportunities to suit your career aspirations.

We’re always on the lookout for talented, driven individuals to join our award-winning network.

Whether you’re about to embark on a new apprenticeship, looking for a new creative opportunity in production, thinking about taking that step-up to become a production or sales manager, or even looking to own your own business in an innovative industry where no two days are the same, we have a range of recruitment opportunities across our 60+ locations.

Find out more about running your own Signs and Graphic Business with Signs Express. Click below now!

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