The network that never stands still

With a turnover of £1 million, we talk to one of Sign’s Express’ very first and successful franchise owners, Ken Bevis, and his success behind the network

As one of the very first members of the Sign’s Express network, Ken Bevis has successfully owned and operated Signs Express in North and North East Lincolnshire for the last 20 years. His business provides a complete design, manufacture and installation service for all forms of signage, including interior and exterior signs, vehicle graphics, exhibition and display products, window graphics and health and safety signage. Ken has an enviable client list including two large oil refineries, a large agricultural company and a national holiday company.

In 2010, Ken was one of just two franchise owners to be elected to the Board of the British Franchise Association (bfa). This was a huge achievement as, in its 35 year history, the bfa had never before appointed franchise owners to its board.

Over the years, his achievements have been recognised through numerous award wins; a highlight being named Franchisee of the Year at the 2009 Signs Express convention.

Ken sets the scene on how he entered franchising: “Before 1992 I operated a road haulage business, primarily involved in UK exports, which was successful for a number of years. Many people will remember the worldwide ban on British cattle and meat exports due to CJD back in the early nineties. I knew this had the potential to damage my business so before the downturn could take hold I decided to move on. Signs Express was advertising at the time and the opportunity of setting up a franchise interested me. After visiting Signs Express in Ipswich, which was then their only franchise sign production centre, I was convinced that this was the right avenue for me. I could see the potential and diversity in this line of work, which would challenge me and hold my attention. It also had a practical focus – something that I could be hands-on with – which appealed to me.”

Why does Ken believe in franchising as a good business model? “The two cofounders of Signs Express convinced me at the time that their format and ethical approach to franchising would provide a good model. Twenty years down the road that’s been proven, with a network of over 70 franchise owners surviving the recession. Statistically the failure rate of UK small and medium sized start-ups in the UK is seven in 10. In franchising it is just two in 10. A well-managed and well-thought through franchise can be far more effective than a stand-alone business start up.”

In Ken’s view, what has enabled Signs Express to grow from strength to strength? “Technology has always driven us forward in every area of the business, particularly production and communication, which is what we’re all about. As a network we are always evolving, continuing to look inwardly and externally, moving with the requirements of the world, plus maintaining our position in the market place. We are never standing still.”

What business achievements in the last 20 years is Ken personally most proud of? “From starting up with just one member of staff to now operating a 7,000 sq. ft. centre that I own, with 20 staff and a £1 million turnover; because of solid foundations and a strong family commitment, I know that my centre has the ability to continue for many years after I’ve gone.”

If Ken had to distil his learning over the years into three top tips, they would be: “Always review how you operate. Continue to invest in staff. Never forget where you came from.”