Conducted by Noel Ward, Executive Editor, On Demand Journal March 13, 2006 -- Franchises have transformed an amazing array of businesses and continue to be one of the leading means of extending a brand to new markets. From mufflers to hamburgers to printed pages and everywhere in between, there seems to be a franchise for just about every product or service. Cary Sherburne reported on the state of print franchises in a 4-part series in January, and updated it recently to describe the different approach of taken by CPrint, or Certified Printers International, an operation founded by Crouser and Associates. ODJ also reported on CPrint back in July of 2005. At Graphics of the Americas I found another new print franchise that also takes a different approach to the market. Like other franchisors, Fast Copi will take on franchisees who are new to printing, but it's unique selling proposition is to add value to existing printing and print-related businesses. These could be small to medium commercial printers wishing to add a retail storefront and includes graphic artists who want to offer a broader range of services to their customers and retain more control over production processes. Following the show I connected with Joel Bartlett, Director of Franchise Development, to hear how Fast Copi sees the market and what it has to offer franchisees. ODJ: So what is Fast Copi? It sounds like it is a new printing franchise or simply adds some copier/printers and a storefront to a small commercial print shop . JB: It's definitely a franchise system. The Fast Copifranchise is, a state-of-the-art graphic design and copy service center. The franchise offers over 180 services, and is supported by the industry leader IKON office solutions. Fast Copi serves as a storefront operation focusing on cultivating business from small businesses, big business and unique services such as Fast Biz-in-a-box. ODJ: What is the relationship with IKON? What does it mean for franchisees? JB: IKON Office Solutions supplies the franchisees with their equipment, then trains them on the operation. IKON handles all the maintenance needs at pricing that is only available through the franchise affiliation. ODJ: How is Fast Copi different from Sir Speedy, Allegra Network, AlphaGraphics and others? JB: For starters, our competitors do not target franchise owners that bring added value to the network; we do. In addition, Fast Copi franchisees service specific industries to bring in additional revenue the others don't. By providing on-site graphic artists, and a multitude of "demand" services aimed at specific customers, Fast Copi is the perfect vehicle to combine existing printing businesses with the Fast Copi franchise system. ODJ: What kinds of existing businesses would make good Fast Copi franchises? Printers, graphic artists and experienced copy center managers. All three are discussed in detail under "Featured Opportunities" on our home page. In summary, though, graphic artists require a storefront identity and other services to generate enough income to stay in business; graphic design alone is not enough. Printers need to diversify and create additional revenue streams; Fast Copi serves as that vehicle. Copy center managers often have graphic arts skills plus experience in running a copy center. ODJ: Adding another source for what sounds like commodity printing would seem to do little for the marketplace or your customers. What advantages does Fast Copi bring to printers and customers that make it unique? JB: The printing business climate is fiercely competitive nowadays, and the owners need a vehicle to diversify in order to compete and prevail. According to According to the 6th Annual Report to Congress by the Printing Industry of America (PIA), The majority of the shops that need assistance aren't going to be multi-national conglomerates with the corresponding resources. Odds are, the average printer is running a lithographic or screen press, employing less than 20, and quite probably, working on a thin profit-margin, without vast pools of cash available for major capital improvements or process reengineering. Knowing the profile of the individual operation will help identify the psychological approach that will be most effective, as well as the technical considerations. Fast Copi is a vehicle to diversify into retail that can supply new jobs to a printing business in increase its profit margins. However, the retail transition is uncharted waters to most printers so franchising makes sense. ODJ: What do you offer franchisees in terms of support for business development, training, general business operations ? JB: There is training in virtually every facet of the Copi Service Center operations, from sales and marketing to equipment operation. Our goal is to continue improving our training program to be the most effective and efficient training within the industry. Franchisees are be required to complete one week of training at the corporate offices that include field training and equipment fundamentals. On site equipment operation will be conducted at the franchisee's location. FCC provides franchises with the full gamut of key marketing materials and support, as well as education, sales and marketing training. We constantly develop programs to help franchisees market and sell to their customers. We also frequently announce new services and programs to help our franchises, all of which come with supporting sales and marketing collateral. ODJ: Who are your competitors? Other than possibly location, why would someone go to FastCopi as opposed to other franchises or FedEx-Kinko's, Staples, etc. JB: Like FedX-Kinkos, Fast Copi is a full service copy center. Both are backed by IKON, but the similarities end there. It is our belief that we have a tremendous advantage over FedX-Kinkos in that owners (not employees) govern the stores' activities resulting in, for one, premium customer service. In case you are not aware, the FedX-Kinkos locations are notorious for the lack of customer attention. The added value of Fast Copi is its creative ability to integrate specialized ancillary services to assist franchisees in expanding their customer base and retaining their customers. Fast Copi also spearheads new and innovative programs developed to generate additional revenue for their store locations. I think it's interesting that a new print franchise system opens its doors in a time when pundits claim the death of print is imminent. Is there room out there for another print franchise? Time will tell, but Fast Copi already has some print centers opened in its home state of Florida and is actively marketing its offering. Their different approach may be one that works.