FastSigns franchise owner Stan Gray
Published February 5, 2021

How FASTSIGNS Uses Continuous Feedback From Franchisees to Drive Innovation and Growth

FASTSIGNS Mark Jameson shares how they use franchisee satisfaction to attract candidates aligned with their culture

Mark Jameson, chief support and development officer at FASTSIGNS, sat down with FBR’s president & COO Michelle Rowan as part of our series highlighting 2021’s award-winning franchises. Ranked Best-in-Category in Business Services, FASTSIGNS is also an FBR Hall of Fame award winner, having been ranked a top franchise every year since 2006. Mark shares why franchisee satisfaction is one of the four key pillars of FASTSIGNS mission, how they use FBR’s data to bring in high quality candidates who are aligned with their culture, and how the pandemic drove rapid innovation in their business.

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Michelle Rowan: I am here today talking with one of my favorite people in franchising, Mark Jameson, chief support and development officer at FASTSIGNS. Mark, thank you so much for joining us today to chat about the work that we do together and answering our questions today.

Mark Jameson: Michelle, we couldn’t be more thrilled, and it’s so nice to see you. I have the same mutual respect for you. Love everything you guys do.

Michelle: We love FASTSIGNS. I looked it up and we have been working with FASTSIGNS since 2008. It blows my mind. Together, we could have a teenager in franchisee satisfaction. It’s insane.

Mark: [laughs] That’s funny.

Michelle: You guys always consistently score well with your franchisees, regardless of all the challenges that franchisors have in managing their relationships with franchisees. I wanted to start and ask, what does it mean to your organization, to your team, that you’re consistently an FBR Franchise Satisfaction Award winner?

Mark: Thank you for that. We work hard at it. It’s not something that comes easy. We do appreciate the rankings and the scorings. To us, it’s validation that the programs we’re putting in place for our franchisees are working.

Catherine [Monson], our CEO, set out 12 years ago that our mission would be four key things: franchise growth, franchise profitability, grow the brand, and the fourth is franchisee satisfaction. That is one of our missions as a company. The validation we get back from serving our franchisees from Franchise Business Review reconfirmed that we’re doing the right things.

I’ll be frank, there’s also great learnings every time. There’s always something we can do better. There’s always an area we can improve. Those results help us validate that we’re doing what we say we’re going to do and find areas to make the business better for ourselves and for our franchisees.

Michelle: I love that.

Mark: It’s a thrill, it’s an honor, but it’s hard work. It isn’t just about surveying. It’s all the work you do before you survey. The survey, hopefully, is validating that we’re doing the right things as a franchisor.

Michelle: That’s a good point. How has working with FBR changed the way your team does business, or how have you been able to use the information that you’re collecting from your franchisees to make changes to what you’re doing or how you’re doing it?

Mark: It’s a good question. In working with you guys, one of the things I like is that we can make the survey fluid year after year. If we’re working on a particular program and we want to assess that program, we can add that to the survey and we can follow up on it.

The fact that we get the data, most of our franchisees give us their names – some do anonymous, but most do – we use that as a good follow-up mechanism. We share it with our teams. To be frank, we share it with our franchisees at general session during convention. We let them know the areas they’ve graded us in and those that we’re proud of.

They’ve also let us know those areas where we said, “Look, we’ve got to do some work in technology and a few other areas.” We take the surveys to heart. We share it with our management team, we share it at our company meetings, and then we share it with all of our franchisees.

What that does is not only holds us accountable as a management team, but it does let us know the areas that we can make modifications and improvements to. If it wasn’t a third party, and if it wasn’t Franchise Business Review, which is why we appreciate what you do so much, I don’t think we’d have the same level of honesty and integrity in the survey.

We can survey our franchisees, but we can’t do what you do. The benchmarking we get against others in the franchise space is also important.

We can survey our franchisees, but we can’t do what you do. The benchmarking we get against others in the franchise space is also important.

Michelle: To your point, too, we talk about this all the time. You guys do a lot of internal surveying for your franchisees, too, so there’s multiple ways you can get feedback from your community. FBR is just one of those ways. You guys are good about asking for feedback from your franchisees.

Your franchisees are great about providing you with that feedback. It’s a lot of work on their part to continually be giving you their time to answer these questions. I think that comes from them understanding that you’re using it. You’re not doing a survey to just check off the box that you’ve done a survey, put it away till next year, and do it again.

It’s how you’re planning what you are doing well or what you need to focus on in that next year. I think you guys get a good participation rate and I know that you are doing a lot of surveying internally, in addition to having a third party do it. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. 

Mark: Throughout the year for us, after a convention, after each field visit, we also have three help desks within the company. One for web servicing, one for technology, one for IT. We survey after every interaction, and that is important to us.

We use that as continuous improvement as a management team, but then do the annual survey with Franchise Business Review. It takes all that effort together and puts it in a format. The thing that’s important to Catherine and I for FASTSIGNS is because we’ve been doing it for so long, we get year over year. We can see what’s happened.

With 2020, COVID was a significant event, and so we redirected the survey, with your help, to say, “What are the areas that we did provide good support in COVID, and what are the areas that maybe we could have provided more?” That was very helpful to us.

Hopefully, there won’t be another pandemic, but there will be other events that we can use that crisis management as a tool and a resource. We appreciate the fact that it was part of the survey this year that gave us good information.

Michelle: That information translates to questions that your candidates who are looking at FASTSIGNS will want to have answered. Shifting gears there, I know FASTSIGNS does a lot on the development side. You guys are growing fast. You’re one of the biggest franchise systems out there.

Besides your website and referrals, I know you’re using other sources. I’d love to hear how the leads and the candidates that we’re bringing you from FBR compare to other people you’re working with, or anything around your contact rate or the types of conversations you’re having with candidates that find you through our site versus others.

Mark: We are always proud to say that we always do deals from the FBR leads every year. What I find when I talk to the development directors that report to me and are talking to candidates, is there’s no doubt that a lead that comes from Franchise Business Review’s site is more educated, is more knowledgeable.

What I find when I talk to the development directors that report to me and are talking to candidates, is there’s no doubt that a lead that comes from Franchise Business Review’s site is more educated, is more knowledgeable.

For us, they’re also more aligned with our culture. They’ve read the surveys, they’ve seen our results, they’ve seen our track record. In addition to what is shared on the FBR survey, as you probably know, we share openly with all of our candidates the details of the surveys as well. We send them a private link once they’re in our process.

That gives them verbatim comments, and it guides the candidates through validation. It allows them to be able to say, “I want to talk to these three people. A) because they maybe didn’t say something so good, and that’s OK,” or, “I want to talk to these three people, because they’re in a market like me, or they’re the same demographic as me.”

We have women‑owned businesses, veteran‑owned businesses. Your survey allows us to share with a candidate a look‑alike group for them, and that’s important.

Michelle: That’s becoming more important these days, so that’s great. Let’s shift a little bit on the candidate side. You mentioned that they seem more aligned with your system. Tell me, who are you looking for? How do you measure when you’re talking to candidates if they’re the right fit for FASTSIGNS?

Mark: It’s a good question. We look at a couple of things. First off, they have to have the right money and we have to have a market available. Those are the two basics. Beyond that, the cultural fit for us is we’re not looking for candidates that are going to stand behind the counter or wait for customers to come to them.

We’re looking for proactive sales‑building, most often, a C‑level executive or a VP of sales. We’re looking for people in our business that want to be engaged in the community. They can see from our involvement in the survey and the results of the survey that our franchisees are engaged in the community. They’re a part of the communities that they live in.

Those are some of the factors we look for. We have a very healthy veteran discount, so about 14 percent of our network is veterans. We’re proud of that achievement. There’s no doubt that back to the look‑alike, veterans like to talk to other veterans and they like to see that activity. Knowing we have a veteran initiative, which comes out in the survey, people ask those questions.

I would much rather have a candidate that has done their research and investigated the brand, and then come to us to let us talk about the fine points, and the market and those things, than to have somebody who’s blindly looking at a bunch of brands and maybe isn’t thinking about the cultural fit.

Look, you sign a franchise agreement, it’s like getting married. In marriage, there’s good and bad. We want to marry the right people and those folks that are going to be great partners for us over the long run. We also know that that’s good to attract more franchisees, if people are happy.

Michelle: Speaking about that 10‑year agreement that people sign when they join a franchise, what does year one look like for one of your franchisees in what they’re doing day to day versus what does year 10 look like? How are they growing as people, or how are they growing their business? What’s different about that?

Mark: That’s a great question, Michelle. Our business, we’re lucky, is scalable unlike other businesses, where if you open a restaurant or a big retail store, you’ve got to staff it and you’ve got to hope customers come in. We start with three employees, and so our franchisees in the beginning probably wear many hats: They’re sales, they might be marketing, they might be doing production.

There’s no doubt the first year is about building business, building relationships in the market. As our businesses grow, they absolutely become more the CEO of their business, and now, they’re managing an enterprise and multiple salespeople. They might be upgrading their equipment or their facilities.

We like to start lean and mean: Keep them efficient, get them to profitability quicker. That’s one of the things we focus on, but as the business grows and as it expands, it’s easy to add those pieces you need. An additional sales person, maybe a different production person, maybe you do work on a marketing assistant or something along those lines.

Then, the franchisee now becomes the leader of that organization, having daily production meetings with sales, and production, and supply chain, to make sure we’re going to produce what we say we’re going to do. That’s what’s great about it and what I like about our business that’s so enjoyable, for whatever reason.

It’s because in our business, there are various facets of what we do. A creative person works well, a salesperson works well, a hands‑on production works well. We have a lot of multigenerational businesses. Husband and wives, father/sons, mother/daughter, whatever.

That’s also fun to see that as the business grows and transcends that second generation, in some cases in our businesses – we’re 35 years old – the third generation is now running the business.

Michelle: That’s amazing. I love it. One of the hardest things as a business owner is understanding, how do I make that next move? It sounds like you’re doing a great job as far as what’s the next sensible hire to help you get there.

Do you provide opportunities, or how are you connecting franchisees with each other, to help them learn or share best practices? Is there an opportunity to do that within the network?

Mark: For sure. For us, there’s no doubt with franchise satisfaction, it means you’ve got to be hands on. You’ve got to be talking to your franchisees and listening. We have two annual conferences a year. If it’s pandemic, they’re virtual, but we have two a year.

I can’t wait till we can all be together. We miss being with our franchisees. In addition to that, we have a Franchise Advisory Council, which gives us feedback. We have a national advertising board of directors, which provides us feedback and as a board, they determine how our marketing dollars are spent.

Then, Catherine, our CEO, has, usually every six weeks, what we call a Connect with Catherine, which is a network‑wide call. All the members of the executive team, including myself, are on that call listening to franchisees doing some presenting.

During the pandemic, we moved those calls to weekly, because we knew we had to communicate with our franchisees and get their ideas and share our ideas with them on a much more frequent basis.

In addition to that, as you already talked about, we survey throughout the year for various activities and events. That’s also another feedback loop. When we can travel, Catherine, myself, and the rest of our management team, spend time in the field. I visited hundreds of our locations in the 10 countries we’ve operated in, as has Catherine and many of the other management team.

We like to be there with our franchisees. It’s a two‑way street. Some of it’s very proactive on their part, attending events and coming to convention and webinars. In other cases, it’s us going to a market, maybe having a regional town hall meeting.

Michelle: I love that. Lots of opportunities. I know 2020 was a difficult year for most people. FASTSIGNS was an essential business, so you were able to keep your franchisees busy, probably busier than most.

How has the pandemic impacted your business, or any innovation, or changes that you’ve made that will stick after, either in the business or in how you’re recruiting people or bringing people on?

Mark: There’s no doubt we were one of the lucky ones. While not all of our franchisees had the same success they used to, many did. Many grew their business in 2020, but those that were focused on big events…we did a lot of events –  football stadiums, baseball, those types of things – obviously, those businesses struggled.

What we learned more than anything, and the magic word is pivot for us, is we had to pivot and we had to pivot quickly. When you’re in a business like we are where mass gatherings, and conventions, and trade shows, and sporting events are a big part of your business, we had to replace those dollars. We quickly moved to COVID signage.

Everybody needed social distancing signage, and floor stickers, and six feet apart. What does six feet look like? That was the first phase. Then, we moved to the phase of reopening. “When I reopen my business, now I need safety shields, and I need things to protect my employees and my customers.” We were able to manufacture safety shields.

Many of our centers moved to doing masks and face shields, because we sell acrylic. Acrylic is in signage, so it’s not hard for us to make that move. I’ll give kudos to our marketing team. We also updated our TV commercials twice during the pandemic, which is not an easy thing to do, because we didn’t want to be speaking and not be relative to the current situation.

In our TV commercials, we talked about, “Are you ready to reopen? Are your employees protected? What are the things that FASTSIGNS can do to drive in your customers?” All of that came together and helped our franchisees drive their business.

We were absolutely impacted by the pandemic like everybody was, but we had just as many stores that had record years in 2020, because they were able to move quickly. I’m proud of them and our team for stepping up and making that move to new products and services.

We were absolutely impacted by the pandemic like everybody was, but we had just as many stores that had record years in 2020, because they were able to move quickly. I’m proud of them and our team for stepping up and making that move to new products and services.

Michelle: I totally agree. What I love about you guys is you definitely seem to always be the leaders in the franchise space. It’s like the direction you’re heading in or what you guys are open to doing. That’s important in franchising.

Those are all the questions I have. I don’t know if you have any parting words you’d like to make, but I do. We love working with your team. I know how committed you are to the success of your franchisees, and getting feedback, and how important that is in how you guys navigate moving forward.

I love that we get to recognize you for all the hard work that you guys do on your team.

Mark: Thank you. You survey us in all of our countries and all of our markets that are valuable. Data is important to us, it’s important to candidates. We appreciate absolutely everything that Franchise Business Review does, and you, and Eric [Stites]. We enjoy our partnership, and we look forward to it continuing for a long time.

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Franchise Business Review’s annual Franchisee Satisfaction Awards is North America’s only awards program honoring franchise brands for excellence in achieving franchisee satisfaction. Find out  your franchise can be named an award-winning brand by Franchise Business Review.

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About the Author: Ali Forman

As the Marketing Director, Ali’s role is to educate franchise companies about and inspire them to participate in FBR’s research in order to grow and improve their brands. Ali's previous experience includes senior marketing communications roles in the employee benefits, data privacy, and publishing sectors. She lives in Maine with her husband and two sons.
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