An Interview with our Chairman, Simon Warren-Gash

03 Nov 2014

Following a successful career spanning nearly 13 years in the banking sector, the last 5 of which was in South Africa, Simon Warren-Gash sought a career change on his return home to the UK in the autumn of 1989. Simon first visited the National Franchise Exhibition staged in Birmingham in October 1989 which ignited his interest in the franchising sector. After some experience within the greeting card industry Simon saw the potential of combining franchising with greeting cards, both nationally and internationally. He founded The Original Poster Company (“OPC”) in February 1991 and remains Chairman of OPC to this day.

Tell us about how/when the business was started and the motivation behind establishing the company.

OPC was incorporated in February 1991 and actively started seeking franchisees in July 1991. The first franchisees started a couple of months thereafter. The motivation to establish the company was a fantastic market opportunity allied with a burning enthusiasm to create a new business!

When and why did you decide to go down the franchise route?

The business was franchised almost immediately as Simon and a co-founder who left OPC in the 1990’s both had experience of a franchised greeting card distribution business and knew that this business is well suited to business format franchising. One main advantage of the franchising route is that economies of scale were quickly reached and OPC was able to grow into a nationwide concern within two years and an international one soon thereafter via a network of Master Franchisees.

What have been the company’s biggest achievements/successes to date so far?

OPC went from a standing start to filling the UK network with 55 franchisees in a little over two years, which must be a record! It then went on to recruit Master Franchisees in the world’s major greeting card marketplaces throughout Western Europe, North America, Brazil and Australia. Many of these relationships persist after nearly 20 years.

OPC’s award-winning products are unique and are acknowledged as the best in the franchised card industry, which is a reflection of the company’s philosophy of recruiting greeting card as well as franchise specialists to provide the best products and support to its franchisees. The result is that in addition to success in the UK, OPC has been one of the top card companies in France in terms of volume sales and is also within the four largest card companies in Holland by sales.

What challenges have you had to overcome?

As with every company, there are numerous! The business and retail environment has changed enormously over the past 20 years and OPC’s job is to anticipate and communicate the effects of and solutions to such change to the franchise network in good time. Company management sees itself as custodians for the future welfare of the business and its ultimate aim is to ensure a successful environment for franchisees to thrive for the next 20 years and beyond!

What marketing/promotional tools do you use to grow your franchise?

The franchise consists of two main elements. The first is to secure existing retailers todisplay and sell OPC’s products and in addition to personal presentations by franchisees to individual retailers, OPC employs National Account specialists to recruit and liaise with the convenience, symbol, buying and regional groups. OPC also employs three dedicated field-based Business Development Managers to guide and assist franchisees. The second element consists of franchisees (or employees thereof) calling on each store regularly (being at least monthly under usual circumstances) to replenish products sold, maybe to introduce a few new designs and to take the money for all products sold in the month. Due to the personal relationships established with retailers, this is always a good opportunity to increase space in stores, especially given the great sales which retailers have experienced.

In addition to face to face and telephonic contacts, OPC uses a variety of brochures, point of sale material, social media and electronic communications to communicate with both retailers and prospective franchisees for resale territories.

What differentiates The Original Poster Company from the competition?

The vast majority of greeting cards supplied to retailers by traditional card companies are on firm sale. OPC provides all display equipment to retailers on free loan and all products on sale or return, only asking for payment after the products have been sold and the retailer has been paid. Furthermore OPC gives a full regular merchandising service, replaces any slower selling designs with others and takes away any damaged cards on each merchandising call. Combined with high quality goods and unique bestselling designs, this is an unbeatable proposition to the retailer.

In your opinion, what makes a successful Original Poster Companyfranchisee?

OPC’s emphasis has changed over the years from a typical successful franchisee profile (to include age, educational level, previous business background, personal circumstances etc.) to the personal attributes of our successful franchisees, whatever their profile. Attributes that OPC seeks in the ideal candidate(s) include energy, enthusiasm, a can-do attitude, being service-orientated, being a self-starter and the ability to communicate effectively/build relationships. Formal education qualifications and indeed previous business experience are secondary to the ability to follow the system, as all the skills necessary to succeed are covered in the initial and ongoing training.

What changes have you seen in your industry over recent years?  And how have you adapted to them?

The independent retail market has changed hugely. When OPC started in business there were an enormous amount of potential independents to stock OPC products. Over the years the better ones have been sold and have become, for instance, a Tesco Express or a Sainsbury Local, whilst the poorer ones have been unable to survive. Of the remainder some have joined symbol groups and others might have joined a buying group. There have also been numerous Post Office closures in additional to newsagents.

Not all of these changes have been bad for OPC. Anticipating the changing face of retail, OPC has employed National Accounts specialists to forge and maintain long term relationships with major groups since 2004. The convenience sector, which is now OPC’s main market, has experienced growth for a number of years and such growth is expected to continue as public shopping habits change from large supermarket shopping trips to smaller more regular purchasing of fresh goods. Furthermore OPC’s product ranges have evolved from niche card ranges on spinner display stands to full sized card racks reflecting the more professional face of OPC’s customer base.

What does the future hold for The Original Poster Company?

OPC is still at the start of its true potential. Pockets supplied per store and consequent sales continue to increase in the UK. Some franchise territories have been subdivided over the years because they were too large for individual owner operators but we expect this trend to reverse in coming years when more franchisees take on staff to assist growth of their individual businesses and such franchisees seek larger exclusive territories. Internationally the possibilities are enormous.

What expansion plans have you got nationally and internationally?

Since 1993 there have only been resale or subdivision territories available in the UK. To expand we are targeting various National Account groups and, in addition to increasing the number of retailers supplied, we are also increasing the number of pockets supplied per store by replacing older display units with more capacious ones. The typical store that we now supply is larger and more professionally managed than in the past and this trend will continue. Additionally the number of card designs and ranges on offer continues to expand as well as the product groups supplied, which now include gift bags, bottle bags, gift wrap etc.

OPC’s product ranges are unique and different to anything else available to the mainstream card market. This has helped OPC gain exposure to international markets. Internationally OPC always assesses whether the franchisee can make a good living, then the Master Franchisee and finally OPC, in that order. Sustainability and long term, ethical relationships are important to all at OPC. The immediate thrust will continue on growth in the main European marketplaces prior to other continents.

What advice would you give to someone considering franchising their business?

First and foremost is the business proven and replicable? Is the market big enough for all proposed franchisees and are margins sufficient for all parties to make a good enough living to satisfy even the most ambitious of franchisees? If the answer to all these is yes, before starting you need a proper Franchise Agreement prepared by a recognised franchise lawyer and a comprehensive training programme. Recruiting franchisees can be tricky in the early days but never compromise your standards. If you feel that someone is wrong for the business do not accept them. Finally, in all that you do, think franchisee! These wonderful people are the gateway to your ultimate success or failure and everything that you do as a franchisor must be ethical and for the benefit of the network as a whole.

If you had to do it all again, what would you do differently?

Go with my gut rather than established wisdom, as every business is different and you know your own business better than anyone else does. Take advice by all means but ensure that the resulting franchise reflects your own work, values and procedures. I would also insist on compliance with all system standards, which are there for the benefit of all franchisees. Finally at the first opportunity I would hire, on my permanent staff, industry experts in both franchising and greeting cards.

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