While it may look fun, dressing up like an Elvis impersonator and turning his store into a makeshift casino is all business for franchise owner Larry Furlong of AlphaGraphics on Camelback Road (Phoenix, Arizona), part of the almost 300-strong printing and marketing communications company.
That’s because the location generated more than $20,000 in revenue last year as a direct result of holding themed open houses for Phoenix-area small businesses. AlphaGraphics develops all its own products to make the party a success, including themed email and mail invitations, party signage, and more.
It’s a perfect example of how businesses can fully demonstrate their services to prospective clients. Through events such as casino-themed networking events, AlphaGraphics is able to show off its core services – conception, design, print, direct mail – to potential customers in a highly engaging way. The company also pays homage to the 60s and 70s with hippie and disco parties, among others.
Larry Furlong has been with AlphaGraphics since his sophomore year of high school when he joined the company as a part-time offset press operator. In 1980, at the age of 19, Larry began managing an AlphaGraphics in Downtown Phoenix and a year later, bought his first franchise. At one time, Larry owned six AlphaGraphics franchised locations in Phoenix, including the one he still operates on Camelback Road.
Franchise Chatter (FC): Please give us an overview of your AlphaGraphics business on Camelback Road in Phoenix, Arizona?
Larry Furlong (LF): I purchased AlphaGraphics in Phoenix in 1981 from an existing franchisee. It’s now a 10,000-square-foot operation with sales totaling about $4 million a year. Our best-selling products and services are digital full color printing, traditional offset printing, and newer marketing-related services. In that sense, I’d say we’re a very typical AlphaGraphics franchise serving the needs of small to large business customers.
FC: Please describe the competitive landscape in your industry today.
LF: All small business in major metro areas – regardless of the industry – are extremely competitive. But attentive service always trumps low price. Here at AlphaGraphics, we differentiate ourselves in the marketplace with customer-centric policies that cater to businesses – our main clients – such as extended hours from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. We also have a dedicated customer service team as well as an outside account executive staff who work one-on-one with businesses in the area to help them identify ways to get the biggest return on their marketing and print budgets. We’ll sit down with small- and medium-sized businesses and serve as marketing consultants.
Compared to smaller competitors, our expansive expertise allows us to deliver cohesive marketing communications solutions. An independent printer, for example, may be savvy in one area of printing such as offset printing, but they’ll lack skills related to newer digital capabilities. Or, you may have a digital print shop in town that can’t provide offset printing or doesn’t have an in-house graphic arts team. At AlphaGraphics, we have everything small- and medium-sized businesses need in terms of marketing communications and printing under one roof.
FC: What is your overall strategy for local store marketing? What is your typical yearly budget for local marketing?
LF: We try to budget about 2.5-3 percent of gross sales for marketing. The main objective with our themed open house nights is to provide local businesses a tour of our facilities so they can see that we are not a mom-and-pop shop, that we can service all their marketing communications and printing needs. A lot of our best customers are serviced by our outside sales team. So some of our best customers rarely set foot in an AlphaGraphics. Our annual open house is a great way to bring them up to speed with our latest equipment and service offerings.
FC: How did you get the idea for hosting themed parties to showcase your products and services?
LF: We first got the idea from themed parties a local trade association, Printing Industry of America, threw in Phoenix. Ten years ago, they had a Mexican-themed mariachi party and we copied that for our first open house – including hiring the same band and caterer! After that first event, we realized it was a great way to meet with local businesses and show off our facilities. Since then, we’ve held casino, circus, and superhero parties. We’ve been inspired in the past to host parties based on something we’ve printed for one of our clients.
FC: How often do you organize one of these parties? Whom do you typically invite? How much do you spend to put a party together?
LF: For a typical party, we invite our top 100 best customers as well as 25-50 key prospects we are working with to close deals. We typically throw one big party a year, which costs between $5,000-8,000, including food, printing, postage, prize giveaways, flowers, entertainment, etc.
FC: What do you actually do at these parties to introduce new and current customers to what your business has to offer?
LF: It’s different ever year. We’ll plan on highlighting one or two new products or services that we have recently added or upgraded and make them an integral part of the night. For example, last year we added a new 61-inch-wide outdoor vinyl banner printer, so we created mini 2×2-foot vinyl banners for our guests when they arrived with their names on them. That way, they not only were able to see the impressive printer, but also the final product.
One year, we added a digital t-shirt printer, so we printed t-shirts for everyone on the spot. We also make sure all of our other printing and mailing equipment is running to highlight other services that may not be new to us, but new to them.
FC: How would you rate the effectiveness of these parties in generating new business?
LF: It’s subjective as many marketing techniques are. We’ve been coming ahead with a 2-1 ratio as an ROI, sometimes 3-1 or 4-1 in the 4 to 6 months afterward.
FC: Have you experimented with social media marketing? What have you tried, and what results have you seen?
LF: Yes, we are active on Facebook. We’ve run advertisements and special offers on Facebook but more often than not, we use our Facebook page to position ourselves as leaders and show off some of the really interesting products we create for clients. We use it mainly for confidence-
building purposes with our best customers.
FC: What local store marketing tactics have you tried that failed to produce the results you were hoping for?
LF: Couponing hasn’t really worked because we are almost exclusively business-to-business. Businesses don’t bother with coupons. I think it also cheapens our image.
FC: What advice can you offer new and prospective franchisees on how to maximize returns on their local store marketing dollars?
LF: We see some of our customers try to eliminate all printed media because it’s more expensive. Studies after studies have shown that print media in conjunction with digital is much more effective. Resist putting all your eggs in one basket. Focus on a multi-media campaign that
targets your best customers.