Service with a smile

Here’s a question; what’s the opposite of your typical print shop owner? If you said ‘a 28-year-old woman’, that would seem a pretty safe bet. Meet the co-owner of Minuteman Press Brisbane, Anita Lennox. She knows she sticks out in the printing crowd.

“When we go to suppliers’ events, turning up as a female owner, not a front office lady, is definitely a conversation starter,” she says.

Printing can be parochial, but Lennox doesn’t mind. In fact, she uses the point of difference to her advantage. “It is more of a door-opener than anything.”

Clients of her Minuteman franchise like it. “Tradies find it hilarious,” she adds.

Lennox knows tradies and she knows about running a business, a trait that seems to run in the blood. “Dad was a sparkie, then he joined my grandfather’s business in oils and lubrication: they designed special lubrication for sugar mills around the world and grease for Seaworld.”

For Anita and Duncan Lennox, working together makes business sense. The pair entered the franchise game with a Bright Eyes sunglasses franchise, which they grew from $100,000 to $600,000 in three-and-a-half years. After selling off for a “significant profit”, they cast their net wide, looking for the next opportunity.

They researched all the usual suspects, including Kwik Kopy and Snap. But Minuteman Press was “friendlier”, she says. It’s a pretty loose gut feeling on which to base a new business venture, but Minuteman is no fly-by-night operator. Although a small player in Australia, it claims to be the largest printing franchise in the world, with 920 stores.

The Lennox duo didn’t settle on printing lightly. The father-daughter team attended a franchise expo and researched more than 100 businesses over a 12-month period, before deciding on Minuteman. Anita says the decision was based on facts and figures. From what they could determine, Minuteman provided a significant return on investment compared with other models they had investigated. 

Against the odds

The franchise background put them in good standing to run the new business, but that was one of the only things in their favour. There was a lot working against the start-up. For one, Anita’s printing knowledge was roughly zero. So the first stop was Minuteman head office, where she went through an intense induction, given a crash course in everything from offset and digital printing to paper stocks and the bindery.

It didn’t hurt that this printing industry immersion was held in the bright lights, big city of New York. “I suffered through that!” she laughs.

Anita comes across as bright and bubbly, and this has proved an asset in the business. “Within the first year of operating, we were recognised with a customer service award for Queensland and New South Wales,” she says.

She ticks off a whole range of ways they go the extra mile for customers. “We are open 14 hours a day, even though the trading hours are 8.30-4.30. We have lots of corporates who are stuck in meetings through the day. We also go to their homes in the evening and bring everything to them. We do the quoting at their house so they don’t have to worry. When they get to work the next day, all the proofs are in their inbox. We work on weekends and we don’t charge that out. We deliver things personally: we don’t always stick it on a courier.”

All this handholding is the stuff of company awards but you might ask if it makes business sense. All of that extra service must eat into margins. Anita says that even the clients can be wary of getting so much for free.

“Most respond quite positively, but some are wary. They think ‘where are you going to sting me?’ We try to be transparent so they don’t think it will come back to get them later. We aren’t the cheapest printers around. We set a fair price for our services. You won’t find us discounting products or service.”

And not every piece of added value has a cost attached. “We also have a little putting green in our office, so when people are waiting, they can have a little putt and play”.

Anita comes across as a marketing machine. Trying to grow a business from a standing start is never easy, so the team went into overdrive. They work closely with several community groups, and donate print to many community groups. It’s feel-good stuff, but it comes back around thanks to the word of mouth.

“We’re a high referral business: 78% of our business is referral-based. People can get excited about printing.”

One of those people is Anita herself. In describing her job, she says: “I get to come into work every day and make stuff for people and that’s cool.”

She might come over as very ‘Gen Y’, but she doesn’t conform to every stereo-type. For instance, the business has an active Facebook page, but Anita doesn’t extol the virtues of social media marketing.

“We were doing it as an experiment because about a year ago there was a massive push for businesses to have a Facebook page. It has raised our profile but it doesn’t generate work. To be entirely honest, we haven’t seen a benefit per se. A lot of my Facebook friends are customers and maybe they feel more secure because you’re not fly by night, but we get a lot more work by marketing ourselves through the community.”

They needed every little bit a year ago, when half their customer base was quite literally washed away in the floods.

“The first four or five months of last year, we lost about 40-50% of our customers. We knew, to keep our business long-term, we would need to help the businesses around us survive, so we gave a lot away to help them grow. We converted our office into a drop-in centre and gave people coffees, as well as providing simple services that would make people’s lives easier, like helping them charge their phones and handing out cold drinks to people working on their homes.

“By building relationships and helping people out during this time, we engaged a lot of our current customers. A lot of those businesses have now become long-term clients. For example, we gave business cards to a start-up company and they just placed a $4,500 order.”

Bad timing

Anita was well trained to face the challenge of the natural disaster: she still had the battle scars of starting up a new business right on the cusp of the world’s great economic disaster.

“We opened our doors on the first day of the GFC. No one was spending and if they didn’t know you they wouldn’t spend with you. Some would say it wasn’t the best year to start a business, but we did, so we had to find ways to make it work,” she says.

It was only thanks to their successful exit of the Bright Eyes franchise that Anita and Duncan had the capital to keep going during the downturn. Those good old-fashioned business skills came in handy.

“In the early days, we worked hard to establish relationships. Door knocking for customers, networking at events – you name it, we did it.”

They also did their research. “When we started and we did a SWOT analysis of this area, there were seven printers in five-and-a-half kilometres, and 10 when you extended the area out.”

So how did a young woman with no print knowledge enter an industry with the kind of capacity issues facing print and make a go of it? She says the industry is “a bit fat: over-rested and under-exercised”.

“The other printers aren’t trying as hard. One thing Minutemen suggests is doorknocking every day and leaving gifts.”

A major reason to join a franchise rather than go it alone is to get guidance from the mother brand. From the city that never sleeps to Australia’s ‘big country town’, the US parent helped Anita make the right moves with her Brisbane start-up. She waxes lyrical about the group.

“Minuteman had a different philosophy, more family-oriented. There are no corporate stores and the help and flexibility that they give you to run a business is second to none. Coming from a different franchise, their franchise fees are capped, they don’t come and take more of your pie.”

But even with help from the parent and energy in abundance, any start-up is a big risk. It’s a widely known fact that many new businesses fail. The fact Minuteman Brisbane has got through those fated first two years says a lot, but there’s still plenty to do.

“As of October last year, we were five months behind where we had projected we would be. It took a little longer to get where we expected, but that drove us to be more service oriented that just a printer. That’s why we sent so much energy marketing ourselves.

“Now it is going well. It has actually taken off over the last seven months, which has been fabulous. Starting was difficult but it was lucky we had a lot of capital raised through the other business to fund it.

“It has put us in a position where we fight for everything, though not aggressively – we don’t pick fights. But you have to be very persuasive and use everything in your arsenal to win a job.”



Age: 28

Born: Townsville, Queensland

Education: Bachelor of International Hotel & Tourism Management, University of Queensland, 2003

Career history: 2008-current: co-owner, Minuteman Press Brisbane; 2003-08; co-owner, Bright Eyes Mt Gravatt

Family: Father, Duncan Lennox


Anita Lennox on…

The franchise network: Among the Queensland stores, we organise monthly meetings off our own back. We have dinners and barbecues and picnics. We are encouraged to be very friendly. There is no competition. We are all on each other’s speed dial.

Starting up in the GFC: No one was spending and if they didn’t know you, they wouldn’t spend with you.

Why Minuteman?: It didn’t matter what we went into as long as we could see the potential in it. Initially we had no intention of moving into the printing industry – all we were looking for was a solid business model.

Helping clients during the floods: Toward the last half of last year, that came back three or four fold when they could afford to pay for their printing again.

Growth plans: We would be quite comfortable becoming a $700,000 to $800,000 store and we could open up another one

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