Adapting to provide relevant business services helps The UPS Store reach 40-year franchising milestone
By Karen Stevens
This year, The UPS Store is celebrating its 40th year as a franchise concept. Forty years is a big milestone in any industry, but particularly so in the business services sector. The ubiquitous shipping and print company got its start in Southern California back in 1980 and launched internationally in Canada eight years later. At that time, the concept was called Mail Boxes, Etc., which was the name that it operated under until it rebranded in 2005 in Canada (2003 in the U.S.). In its early days, the franchise rented out mailboxes, offered shipping services, and provided additional services such as photocopying, wedding invitations, and even developing of film. Fast forward to 2020, and the concept has evolved to provide a full range of business services to small business customers in over 350 neighbourhoods across the country.
Steve Moorman, senior vice president, franchise operations, has a long history with the company, going back to when he and his mother were the brand’s very first franchisees. “We’ve seen tremendous changes over the years,” says Moorman. “In the 1980s, we began as the post office alternative, providing small businesses and customers with an alternative to the US Postal Service, and today we are a full-service outsourcing partner for small business owners – or just people who have too much to do and not enough time to do it.”
While shipping has remained a consistent part of the business over the years, Moorman goes on to say that they’ve adapted to new technology and changes in the needs of their key customer base – small business – by adding full service, digital printing solutions in store, for example. “Probably the biggest thing that surprises people is that The UPS Store Canada is actually the largest retail chain of print shops in Canada,” Moorman explains. “Printing is a very important segment of our business; it really dominates everything that we do today. We print everything from business cards to trade show banners.”
Beyond shipping and printing, Moorman emphasizes that the brand has worked to position itself to continuously adapt in a few other areas. For example, to combat theft of online purchases, The UPS Store locations act as an Access Point for UPS, which allows customers to have their packages delivered to the stores to be held safely and securely until the customer is ready to pick them up, rather than leaving them unsecured on their front porch. Other customers may choose The UPS Store’s mailbox services, which give them a secure mailing and delivery address that can be accessed 24/7 at most locations.
Additionally, The UPS Store has focused on the growing sector of e-commerce over the last few years in response to some of their customers’ preference to shop online versus in store. The UPS Store initially developed its Online Print service in 2012 and gave that side of the business a refresh in 2019. “Our service offers customers the choice of creating their own custom print product from scratch using the Online Print tool. Or, we’ve got nearly 10,000 custom templates that our customers can choose from. Whether they’re ordering a business card or sales brochure, etc., they can do it in their own home, and they can choose to pick up at whichever store is most convenient for them,” says Moorman.
Another way that The UPS Store has adapted its business is by expanding into non-traditional locations with store-in-store concepts. Currently, The UPS Store has six franchises that operate within a Walmart Supercentre, with more scheduled to open in the coming months. Shares Moorman, “The variety and convenience of the products and services offered at The UPS Store allows the customer to accomplish more while shopping at Walmart. It offers our shared customer greater value in their shopping experience.”
The UPS store has also partnered with Iron Mountain to provide secure shredding solutions at the store locations, which can help protect customers against the possibility of identity theft. “Things have changed socially, and in the way we do business and the services we offer. It’s incumbent upon us to really focus on understanding trends and looking ahead,” says Moorman.
Putting customers first
The UPS Store also stays competitive by bringing on board strong, business-minded, customer-focused franchisees. According to Moorman, customer service expertise is the number one skill a The UPS Store franchisee needs in order to be successful. “We’re a service business,” he explains. “There’s nothing unique that we sell that you couldn’t get somewhere else, but the real differentiator is that franchisee we have behind the counter, who works with their community and helps their customers succeed.”
While business experience is always a great “nice-to-have” according to Moorman, it’s not necessary. “Franchisees don’t need a specific background in those particular areas,” he says. Although, he goes on to describe that when someone has that print experience, it shortens the learning curve and makes it easier to develop the business.
Above all, the franchisee “must have a passion for success and a passion for helping other people,” says Moorman.
One franchisee who lives out this passion every day on the job is Mary-Ann Biersteker, who owns four franchises in and around Barrie, Collingwood, and Wasaga Beach in Ontario. She first joined The UPS Store as a manger of a franchise in Barrie, and from there got a job at the corporate office doing training and support before becoming a franchisee herself. “I love dealing with the customers,” she says. “I love the variety of customers, from high school and college students needing their assignments printed out to senior citizens who need something faxed or scanned or business people.”
When a franchisee first joins the system, they go through a (minimum) five-week training program which includes classroom training, e-learning courses, and in-store work experience. During the on-the-job training, franchisees get paired with an experienced franchisee/certified trainer to practice what they’ve learned.
To help keep franchisees up to date and motivated, the corporate office runs quarterly continuing education seminars covering everything from new product or service launches to packaging techniques to local store marketing. Then there are webinars, a bi-annual convention, and two weekly newsletters, which are filled with important updates and info to help franchisees build their businesses. On top of all that, each area or region of the country has franchise business consultants in the field to support franchisees locally. “They make regular visits and they monitor what we’re doing and how we’re doing it and offer suggestions, and it’s all helpful,” says Biersteker. “The training program is very good, and it’s very, very thorough.”
Franchisees also have solid support through their network of peers, and share ideas and best practices in a number of ways. For example, The UPS Store franchisees have a closed Facebook group. “It’s open for anybody to come on and say ’Hey, this is my problem, what can I do?’ and there’s always a dozen or more franchisees to jump in within minutes to help,” explains Biersteker.
For Biersteker, the biggest challenge of being a The UPS Store franchisee is spreading the word that the shop offers more than shipping and packing. “Because it’s a worldwide brand, people know some of the stuff we do before they even step in the door. However, once they’re in, it’s up to us to educate them on what else we do,” says Biersteker.
The best way that Biersteker knows how to get people in the door is through word-of-mouth marketing in her community. At her franchise in Collingwood, she doesn’t charge seniors when they want to make just a couple of photocopies. “It’s the cheapest marketing I can do, because I know they’re going to talk to all their friends over coffee or cards,” she says. “Good customer service gets people talking.”
Overall, Biersteker loves being a franchisee. “What I love about the whole franchise is that no two days are the same. When you unlock the door in the morning, you never know what your challenges are going to be for the day, but you know you can handle them,” she describes. “I wouldn’t have four stores if I didn’t believe in the brand; it’s been good to me.”
One of the biggest benefits of becoming a The UPS Store franchisee is the autonomy franchising offers. “I like being my own boss, while being part of a larger family with an established brand reputation,” Biersteker says.
Moorman also echoes this sentiment: “I think the primary benefit of being a franchisee from The UPS Store is self-determination – all your efforts at building the business and the rewards go to you,” he says.