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Signs Express: The franchise opportunity

With a franchise network generating turnover of more than £22m, the B2B signage chain claims to offer franchisees a proven business model....

Franchise: Signs Express
Description: Signs Express is one of the most successful business models in the B2B arena and is the UK’s largest sign company. It has the added benefits of a strong, established brand.
Started in: 1989
Founders: David Corbett and Frank Eliel
No. of franchises: 65
Coverage: UK and Ireland
Average cost per franchise: £40,000 + working capital

Before opening the first Signs Express centre, our founders researched sign markets abroad and identified a gap in the UK and Irish markets for professionally run sign making businesses with fast and efficient turnaround times.

In 1989 the first Signs Express centre was opened by David Corbett and Frank Eliel in Norwich…

Moving into franchising

So how did you move into franchising?

In the early years of the business, the vinyl industry was becoming increasingly sort after; along with computer generated graphics. We ensured we were at the cutting edge delivering the best signage solutions to customers.

Signs Express was set up with the specific aim of becoming a franchise, for faster growth and to reach more customers.

Where did the business open its first franchises?

After piloting operations for three years, the founders opened the first franchised centre in 1992 in Ipswich, closely followed by another in Grimsby.

How successful were those original franchisees?

The original franchises are still going strong and are amongst our most successful centres. Our franchise network has continued to grow and there are now over 60 franchise centres throughout the UK and Ireland, with a combined turnover of £22m.

The franchise opportunity

What makes the franchise different/unique?


A franchise with Signs Express offers an established, proven business model in a diverse and rewarding industry and you don’t need any prior signs industry experience.

With prime sites currently available throughout the UK we will invest your franchise fee of £20,000 back in to your business AND invest a further £10,000, when opening a new centre.

This will contribute to set-up costs that are involved at a new location, meaning you can hit the ground running from day one!

What services do you offer?

With a focus on customer service and quality products our Signs Express centres offer a full range of innovative and cost-effective signs and graphics solutions. Our support team of over 20 staff, based in our Norwich headquarters, has over 250 years’ sign industry experience and offer ongoing support in all aspects of your business from operations to sales, finance to marketing.

How big is the market opportunity?

In our 2016 survey of 1,000 business decision makers, 83% of businesses across the UK consider signs, graphics and displays a major part of their marketing strategy. This demonstrates the longevity of the signs industry and its services that are continually in demand.

Each Signs Express territory is packed with a wide variety of businesses all who will need signage of some kind.

How many franchisees do you have today?

We now have 65 franchisees in the UK and Ireland and are looking to expand our network.

How is the brand marketed?

We have a dedicated marketing team in our franchise headquarters based in Norwich that not only promotes the brand on a national level, but also regionally and locally using multi-channel marketing activities.

How do you divide the regions?

Territories have been divided based on their geographical area and number of businesses within that region since we predominately trade business-to-busienss. Territories without an existing franchise centre in the UK and Ireland are called greenfield sites and among them are premium opportunities that includes high conurbations in prime locations such as Leicester, Birmingham and Edinburgh.

The perfect franchisee

What do you look for in potential franchisees?

Motivated individuals that ideally have some management experience and sales or commercial background. We’re looking for dedicated, driven people who want to run their own business, but with the added benefits of being part of a franchise network.

So do franchisees work from an office, or are they home-based? Is it part-time or full-time?

Franchisees will be working from their Signs Express centre on a full-time basis when launching a new centre. The custom designed light industrial premises will have space for all of your equipment, staff and a vehicle application bay.

How are franchisees vetted?

Once we’ve received your enquiry you will receive our prospectus which offers a further insight in to our business. Our franchise manager will then be in touch to talk through your enquiry and ask for an up-to-date CV.

Provided you have the skills and vision to run a Signs Express centre, we will then ask you to attend one of our discovery days to give you an in depth view of our operations. These run on the third Thursday of every month, but bespoke days can also be arranged should you require.

What do you offer franchisees that sign-up?

As a new franchisee you will attend a three week training course which will give you all the tools and knowledge you will need to run a Signs Express centre as well as a dedicated franchise manager who will assist with locating suitable premises, staff recruitment and business planning.

Our experienced support team are skilled in HR, Accounts, IT, technical support, sales and marketing advising you in your business every step of the way.

How much do franchisees pay and what are the ongoing franchise fees?

Your initial investment covers everything you need to set-up and run your business. Each month you’ll contribute 1.5% of your turnover towards a National Promotional Fund that is used specifically for lead generation and brand development activities.

Franchisees are also subject to a management service charge levy of 7.5% of turnover which covers dedicated support, licencing and use of the brand.

Success and growth

How successful are some of the franchisees today?

Our franchises have a combined turnover of over £22m, with many individual franchise centres achieving over £1m turnover.

How is the brand looking to grow?

At the core of our business is the desire to deliver results and exceed expectations. Our aim is to deliver the best solutions for our customers and potential customers signs and graphics needs.

We operate on a sustainable financial basis of profitable growth, increasing value for our stakeholders and expanding opportunities for development and career growth for our employees and staff within the Signs Express network.

What is the potential of the business?

The average turnover for a Signs Express franchise is 47% higher than the sign industry standard with some centres regularly achieving over £1m turnover. The sky really is the limit when it comes to the potential of your centre.

What will the challenges be in achieving that?

You will need drive and focus to progress your business and there are many options for future growth such as expanding/moving into a larger premises and employing additional staff in order to maximise your territory or purchasing additional territories and expanding your customer base.

What awards has the business won?

Through more than 25 years of sustained growth, Signs Express has developed into the largest sign company in the UK and Ireland and has been recognised for many awards.
Most recent awards include:

• British Franchise Association Customer Service Franchisee of the Year 2016 Award Finalist
• Franchisee Marketing Awards Best Franchisee Marketing Support 2016 Award Finalist
• Encouraging Women into franchising New Woman Franchisee of the Year 2016 Award Finalist
• British Franchise Association Franchisee of the Year 2015 Award Winner
• British Franchise Association B2B Franchisee of the Year 2015 Award Winner
• British Franchise Association Franchisor of the Year 2014 Award Finalist

To what extent are the founders involved today?

The founders of Signs Express retired from the business following a management buy-out to now managing director Craig Brown who was the companies first employee back in 1989 and Jonathan Bean, finance and operations director.

Finally, is the company a British Franchise Association (BFA) member?

Yes, we are full members of the bfa. Craig Brown, MD of Signs Express is also a qualified franchise professional (QFP), which is a formal recognition from the bfa of having professional knowledge and experience in franchising.

Brown sits on the board for the bfa, including a seat on the ethics and standards committee.


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