Interview with Ralph Askar – President & CEO of Instant Imprints
With a proven record of accomplishments as one of Mail Boxes Etc. & The UPS Store’s most successful multiple Area Franchisee’s and Multiple International Master Licensee’s, Ralph brings over 23 years of hands-on franchising experience to Instant Imprints.
Ralph was an officer of Mail Boxes Etc. parent company, headed the domestic and International franchise development departments as Vice President, and was President and Chief Executive Officer for Mail Boxes Etc. in Canada. In 2005 the Mail Boxes Etc. chain re-branded to The UPS Store successfully under Ralph’s stewardship and enjoyed tremendous growth as a franchise network.
Today Ralph is CEO and President of Instant Imprints Canada, and is a shareholder and board chairman of Instant Imprints Franchising, Inc.—the parent company and global headquarters for Instant Imprints.
BeTheBosse - What’s the story behind Instant Imprints?
Ralph Askar - “Instant Imprints’ roots date back to the '50's when co-founder Lev Kats began screen printing with home made equipment, eventually growing the family business and opening multiple locations in San Diego.
Looking after our customers and creating long term relationships has always been paramount. From those initial relationships the original business model evolved from supplying personalized apparel to just about every advertising and promotional vehicle solution including signs and banners today. Leo, Lev's son, capitalizing on the success of the family business and his business education, co-founded the Instant Imprints brand with his father in the early '90's. Since then our brand and business model has enjoyed significant success and growth, expanding into the Canadian market in 2007 when I purchased the Master License for Instant Imprints Canada.”
BTB - What made you decide to franchise?
RA - “I was already very active in the franchise business as President and CEO of The UPS Store and Mail Boxes Etc. in Canada. Because of my previous experience in franchising Business Service Centres, Instant Imprints seemed like a natural fit. The infrastructure was already in place in the USA and so we decided to expand, acquiring the Canadian Master License and starting development in mid 2007. I subsequently acquired majority interest of the parent franchise company, Instant Imprints Franchising, Inc., based in San Diego. I am very excited to have several other partners and shareholders in the company who bring a wealth of experience and knowledge to the organization - notably, Tony DeSio (the founder of Mail Boxes Etc.), is now a key shareholder and director.
BTB - Tell us a little about the Imaging Market?
RA - “Instant Imprints is the first and only national franchise system to offer an opportunity
to capitalize on the ever-expanding market of Imaging with Embroidery, Screen Printing, Heat Transfers, Signs and Promotional Products. Most traditional suppliers are located in a home or hidden in an industrial park, or can only be found online. Our competitors limit the customer’s selection because they specialize in only one part of the Imaging industry and many have no local presence. Instant Imprints has local showrooms and can offer anything our customers need to promote themselves or their message.
Instant Imprints has successfully merged several complimentary industries into a “one-stop” shop of custom imprinted merchandise with an easy identifiable brand image. Nearly every business and organization uses one or more of the services our centers offer. Instant Imprints uses a retail strategy to capture walk-in sales, a multi-faceted marketing strategy for outside sales, and web technology to bring the world to the consumer's doorstep.”
BTB - What have some of the challenges been in growing your franchise?
RA - “The market crash in 2008 posed some real challenges to introducing a new concept in Canada. We were launching Instant Imprints Canada at a time when everyone was feeling skeptical about investment and banks were hesitant to loan money for new business opportunities. We are pleased to see that trend reversing, and several strong indications that the future will hold great things for our franchise network.”
BTB - Who has been your greatest inspiration?
RA - “Several people have inspired me, but most importantly our franchisees and mentors such as Tony DeSio (mentioned above).”
BTB - What are some of the advantages in being an Instant Imprints franchisee?
RA - “There are several advantages our franchisees enjoy. Along with operating a business that blends various aspects of the imaging industry in single location, the lifestyle that a franchisee can have with ideal business hours (typically 9am to 6pm, 5 days per week), and a clean business to business environment is a distinct advantage. Our products and services are generally sold at a very attractive gross margin, and the large average order transaction is also a an appealing advantage of our franchise concept. The nature of the business also allows for a lot of repeat business and building of ongoing relationships with our clients. Not to be overlooked is the great support structure and training (both upfront and ongoing) which our franchisees enjoy.”
BTB - What “Gadgets” (Blackberry, Iphone, Ipod, etc) can’t you live without?
RA - “Being familiar with, and knowledgeable of, communication technology today is essential. I can live without an iPod or iPhone, but certainly not my Blackberry. It is my most efficient way of staying connected and effective communication is very important to me.”
BTB - What do you do in your spare time?
RA - “Now-a-days I have very little spare time, as I am actively involved in all areas of the Instant Imprints business. When I do have some time to relax it is typically spent enjoying time with my family or staying active with our dog. My personal passion is golf, and I make sure to take the time to enjoy this activity when time permits.”
BTB - What advice do you have for someone looking to acquire a Franchise?
RA - “There are a lot of franchises in the marketplace, and with some growing very quickly it is easy to assume that opening and operating one is an easy task. Behind every successful franchise business is a franchisee who has put a lot of energy into making that happen. It is important to do the research and make sure that you investigate the opportunity very carefully. Consider the following:
- Find out who is behind the scenes and operating the company (ie. management team, operational support, marketing, training)
- Ask how long their key members have been in the business and what experience do they bring to the franchise organization
- Conduct your own due-diligence and validation by talking to as many existing centre franchisees as you can.
- Review the franchise agreement and understand it well
- Have a franchise advisor or lawyer provide guidance
- Discover what on-going support is offered in operations and marketing
- Have a good (and realistic) financial plan, especially in the first 12-24 months when you will be actively building your business.
Owning your own franchise can be very rewarding if you work hard, follow the system and guidelines in place, and do not ‘reinvent the wheel’. “
BTB - In your opinion, why do you think that Instant Imprints would be a great opportunity for someone?
RA - “Instant Imprints is a terrific professional business with a great working environment where you get to help others build their brand and market their businesses. Our products and services are designed to appeal to all business operators, in all regional environments. The dynamic services offered at each store is of value to individuals, clubs, teams, schools, churches, and other organizations who have a need for quality, custom-imprinted merchandise, including wearables, promotional products, signs/banners and personalized gifts. As a result you have the rewarding experience of seeing other businesses and associations succeed because of your efforts – in addition to making money while doing something you can really enjoy.”
BTB - Any final thoughts?
RA - “Success breathes success. Success is an evolution, you are not born with it – it is only a result of hard work and perseverance.”