Former British Army engineer Craig Tiley explains why going from the forces to investing in a Signs Express franchise was such a good career move
Joining Signs Express after almost 15 years in the British Army, Craig Tiley was ready for a new challenge. Already knowing and being around people in franchising, he decided this could be an ideal route to running a business for himself, but not by himself.
With a background in the signage industry prior to joining the army, Craig felt a business within the signs and graphics industry could be an ideal fit. After attending several franchising and sign shows, he decided upon Signs Express.
Craig says: “Franchising ticked all the boxes for me, thanks to the additional support and knowledge a national head office gives you.
“I met several franchisees from the Signs Express group when I was researching franchising and they all struck me as being very happy with what the franchisor offered them. Knowing that there was a business for sale in my local area, I jumped at the chance.”
Craig was sure his army experience and business ideals were a perfect match for those held at Signs Express and with the comfort of knowing you have a full pension from the forces, franchising is a feasible option for ex-servicemen and women who have capital behind them.
Leadership, drive and being organised are just a few attributes franchisors look for and are qualities every forces member has.
“Never undersell yourself,” Craig advises anyone from the forces looking at franchising. “The leadership skills I gained in the army have been far more valuable to me than my sign making skills. “After you leave the forces, take time to properly evaluate your options and goals. I took the option to invest in my future by getting a business and I can already see this decision leading me down the path I want. “Most importantly, I have learnt to never give up and never be afraid to believe in myself.”
Being a part of Signs Express, a franchisee must adhere to the company’s proven business model. By having previous experience in following a system, taking orders and receiving guidance in the forces, Craig had the skills to be the ideal candidate for Signs Express.
Making the transition
When leaving the forces, kick starting a new career can be difficult. But having been in charge of 40 soldiers, Craig knew he had the relevant leadership skills to run his own business.
Making the transition can be challenging, as you’re no longer following orders - you’re the one issuing them and setting your own goals. However, skills learnt in the forces are highly applicable to being a business owner. You don’t need formal qualifications and at Signs Express you don’t need any previous sign industry experience, just the drive to succeed. “Running my own business is quite different from what I had imagined,” Craig says. “It’s a lot of hard work and late nights, but it’s worth it and once I’m more established the rewards are going to be substantial.
“Once I’ve grown my business, I will have many more options and will be able to take a step back if I want to.”
Just like starting a business from scratch, running your own franchise requires dedication and hard work. Ex-servicemen and women have the experience of working long hours, while having to make personal sacrifices for the good of their country. It’s these types of competencies that provide the strong work ethic needed to run a Signs Express franchise.
Even after you’ve done your research, found the right franchise and made the investment in a proven business model, there will still be tough times ahead. The experience ex-military personnel have and the types of obstacles they have overcome gives them the mental and physical strength to push through any difficulties a new business may face.
Craig found that the combination of his military experience and the assistance from the Signs Express franchise support centre enabled him to see the grass through the weeds and stride forward.
“The ongoing support I receive from HQ is invaluable,” he adds. “I’m on the phone daily for advice, tips and inspiration and have never been let down.
“Along with my business adviser, Signs Express’ dedicated support team ensure I look at the facts and figures and give me advice on the next steps to take. It’s important to keep looking at the bigger picture in order to keep on track with the growth I want for the business.”
One of the reasons people invest in a franchise is the access it gives them to a wider group of franchisees. Teamwork is a skill all ex-military take pride in and this core asset will enable strong relationships to grow by sharing knowledge, skills and experiences within a network of business owners. Craig agrees: “I could never imagine having anywhere near the size of business I have now going at it alone. There is a ton of advice out there.”
When investing in a franchise, Craig was adamant it had to be in an industry that excited him and that he found rewarding.
“The signs and graphics industry is so rewarding because you take someone’s idea for a business sign - a business they have laboured over and put their all into - and turn it into an attractive sign that puts their name in lights,” he says.
“It’s great to make someone’s dreams come to life. I love this industry and when I was looking to invest in a business I would never have considered investing in something I didn’t find interesting.”
Craig invested in a Signs Express resale in 2015 and since then has been adding the names of some well known brands to his list of clients, including JCB, Dyno, the NHS and Warner Bros.
To facilitate the growth of his centre and its ability to handle increasingly large customers with greater demands, Craig also invested in new equipment, as well as expanding his team. He topped off his first year in business by winning the Signs Express Newcomer of the Year award at the company’s annual convention. After this promising start, what are Craig’s future plans?
“For now, I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing with the support of Signs Express,” he explains.
“Once I’ve grown the business to the level I want, continued to develop my team and have a comfortable lifestyle, I may take my foot off the gas a little and enjoy the rewards. “I now have much more freedom and I’ve been blessed with the growth we have achieved in only one year. I have a very exciting future ahead of me.”