Ernie Whitrow really believes in the franchise business model. Though, that’s what you would expect from a man who first started working with franchises at the age of 16 as an employee at a large franchise corporation. “I have always been involved in franchising. I just believe it’s tried, tested, and true.”
His personal experiences with franchises, combined with the model’s proven formula for success, encouraged Whitrow to look for new opportunities in the early ‘90s to expand his involvement in the industry, specifically by becoming a franchisee.
In 1994, as Whitrow was looking at prospective franchisors, he came across Speedpro Signs. A visual marketing company, Speedpro Signs offers Canadian businesses a variety of products and services designed to enhance their advertising solutions. By utilizing the sales, marketing, and brand management expertise of their employees, Speedpro Signs provides clients with effective and visually compelling advertisements from indoor and outdoor signage, to window graphics, to tradeshow displays.
The potential partnership with Speedpro was intriguing for Whitrow, who, having been a draftsman in school, was eager to apply his creative side to the sign industry. For Speedpro, the feeling was mutual, with Whitrow describing the partnership as the perfect fit. “It was just meant to be,” he says. “Everything fell into place. Within four months of hearing about Speedpro, we had trained and opened for business.”
A typical day
As a new franchisee, Whitrow worked hard to ensure his Medicine Hat, Alberta franchise location was a success, and to prove his commitment to the Speedpro business model. “When I first opened, I did sales, design, installation, and bookkeeping. Today, I’m an organizer; I do sales and I motivate my staff.”
Being an organizer and motivator means Whitrow’s days and weeks are non-stop. Typically, he starts the week off Monday morning at a staff meeting with his location’s department heads, making sure they are prepared to tackle the week’s projects. “We will discuss the projects of the week, timelines, and any complications – whatever needs to be done to fulfill a job for that week.”
Once Whitrow has an idea of what jobs his employees have lined up, he divides his week between conducting his own sales and ensuring everything is on track and running smoothly for his Speedpro clients. “Throughout the course of the week, every day I will go to each department head again and ask, ‘Are we on schedule for the ETA established on Monday?’”
The support Whitrow provides to his staff comes from a passion for teaching and an acknowledgement, on his part, of the importance of learning. “I love helping people. I take great pride in teaching people and answering their questions so they don’t have to make the same mistakes I made coming up the ranks.”
Mentoring new franchisees
When the opportunity arises, Whitrow also mentors franchisees when they join the Speedpro family.
Short and simple, he believes in the value of teamwork and guides franchisees and his own employees with the mentality that success comes with strength in numbers.
His management style aligns well with the Speedpro franchise system, and the atmosphere of collaboration the organization has created for franchise partners, which he describes as a great system to work in. “Head office does a great job with communication and directing if we need it. If somebody has a problem, they can call head office or another franchisee anytime. We help each other. We’re a big family.”
This open communication is especially appreciated when Whitrow or any of his three full-time employees come across technical challenges while on the job, or when attempting to maintain sales as new competitors enter the market. He says the Speedpro head office does a superb job of connecting franchisees with vendors and providing information on the latest technology, software equipment, and product knowledge.
Though this product knowledge and training is essential for Speedpro’s success, Whitrow praises head office for providing direction and support for a skill not everyone has a knack for – customer relations. “They train you to be confident to be able to talk to the consumer, and give you direction on how to approach different projects.”
This guidance is significant for Whitrow and the entire Speedpro franchise system that is committed to providing the best quality products and service for all customers. Speedpro clients are considered friends, and franchisees will go above and beyond their responsibilities to ensure they are happy with their product. In the past, Whitrow has even donated signs to clients who couldn’t afford Speedpro’s services.
Joining the Speedpro team
Whitrow’s time working with Speedpro has equipped him with valuable knowledge as to what it means to be a successful franchisee, and the realities of working in the industry. He asserts that it’s a difficult business with lots of hard work, and that anyone interested in becoming a franchisee has to be diligent and realistic in their aspirations.
For prospective Speedpro franchisees, Whitrow offers advice on how best to succeed, saying a marketing background with proficiency in social media is key, as well as some knowledge of design programs and bookkeeping. However, the best advice Whitrow can give to new franchisees is something that can’t be taught. “The most important thing I tell people who are looking is that it’s all about the attitude. You need to have a positive attitude.”
He also stresses the importance of keeping your work in perspective, especially when it comes to enjoying life away from the office. “Don’t get hung up on day-to-day things. Still take time for your family and for yourself.”
As a family man, Whitrow appreciates that franchising allows him to set his own hours so he can spend quality time with his family and not let the stresses of work overwhelm him. In fact, Whitrow credits his career in franchising for enabling him to have a job he loves, while still maintaining a good work-life balance. “The franchise business model is important because it gives you structure, it gives you proven success, and it gives you the flexibility you need to be able to raise your family.”
But Whitrow can’t thank anyone for this lifestyle more than the team at Speedpro and their overwhelming encouragement and loyalty. “They’re there if I need direction, but they also give me flexibility. We’re one big happy family!”