Interview with Alex Gerardi - MBE Clifton, Bristol Franchisee A good investmentAlex Gerardi, who recently took over the Mail Boxes Etc. franchise in Bristol, is an entrepreneur with the drive and optimism it takes to succeed. For several years he had run a thriving high street print business in Clifton and had kept an eye on the nearby MBE store. “Rather than being hard-nosed competitors, I got to know Steve [the former owner of the MBE Clifton store] quite well and we actually supported each other,” explains Alex.“I asked him to let me know when he was ready to retire because I liked the look of the business – particularly the fact that it had several profit centres, so you don’t have all your eggs in one basket.”The ability to spread the business risk across a number of income streams really came into its own during lockdown. “Our print shop was bigger than MBE prior to Covid but our turnover dropped by about 75% last year. Luckily we had some cash reserves and were able to survive, but the MBE store suffered much less because it had a range of services to offer – printing, shipping, mailbox rental etc. I was already interested before Covid, and this just helped confirm my belief that an MBE franchise was a good investment.”Prime locationAlex also has a portfolio of commercial and residential properties in Bristol and it’s perhaps partly due to his experience in this field that he took the decision to move the MBE Clifton store from its original location to his much larger store in Clifton Triangle after the acquisition. “Originally I wasn’t intending to brand the entire shop Mail Boxes Etc. – I was going to keep the print shop separate – but now we’re completely MBE branded and we have a huge illuminated sign that lets everyone know we’re very much open for business. All our previous Clifton Print Services customers can continue to order their print online or pop into the store, and the huge shop front helps attract customers for the post, shipping and mailbox rental elements of the business.”Alex and his team have already grown the business in the three months since it opened, cross-selling services to existing customers as well as attracting new ones. “If someone asks us to print a banner, for example, we’ll get chatting to them about where they’re planning to use it. That might naturally lead to a conversation about the exhibition they’re about to attend, and we can ask if they need flyers or business cards for that. We’ll also offer to ship everything to wherever the event might be,” he says. “It’s a great way of letting people know about our other services. I’m a big believer in encouraging our staff to build relationships with customers and find out more about how we can help them.” Alex hopes his team will embrace this new way of interacting with customers in a way that benefits everyone.Each store has its own personality and customer profile, and in Clifton this includes a lot of SMEs, who use mailbox and virtual office services like post, shipping and print. “Customers love the fact that we can design, print and mail out their flyers from the store,” says Alex. Students are another key customer group, whether that’s for stationery or print and copy. “We’re in high demand at dissertation time, and often it’s about those last-minute requests. Thankfully we have more than one machine, so we can turn things around the same day in most cases.” The store also has some major multi-national customers that place large print orders from time to time. “We’ve grown that business by keeping in touch with the print buyers,” says Alex. “When they move on to their next job, they tend to carry on using us in their new role.”Looking aheadIn the coming months, Alex is looking forward to adding more mailbox customers: “It’s very straightforward repeat business and the mailboxes themselves take up hardly any space. We’re also hoping to continue growing opportunities with existing customers by making sure they know about all the services we offer.” In the longer term, so impressed is he with the MBE business model that Alex is already looking for opportunities to open more stores in Bristol. He would also like to create a small portfolio of MBE stores around the country, and the idea of turning around under-performing stores or taking a franchise over when the owner retires has particular appeal for him. If you would like to join Alex and be part pf a dynamic, thriving network with a flexible business model, call us on +44 (0) 1608 649230 or email email@example.com, or visit www.mbe.co.uk/franchise for more information.