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Duplicating success


Having lived in other areas of the country, Wendy Christman recognized the signs of a commercial area that was ready to take off. That’s why in 1995 she chose the western edge of West Des Moines as the location for Iowa’s first PostNet franchise.

“I couldn’t even have dreamed (West Des Moines) would grow as much as it has,” said Christman, whose business was one of the first to lease a space in a strip mall at 50th Street and Westown Parkway eight years ago.

With three UPS Stores located within a 10-mile radius of her store, competition is stiff. Despite that, Christman’s store was among the top 25 PostNet franchise locations last year in terms of sales, out of about 850 companywide.

Specializing in meeting the printing, copying and shipping needs of professionals who work from their homes, particularly corporate salespeople, Christman has found a personal approach helps distinguish her business in an industry in which the competitive landscape is changing considerably.

She and her husband, Jim, moved from Chicago after having both worked in sales and administrative positions for various manufacturing companies along the East Coast. Though Christman was raised in Wisconsin, having a sister in Des Moines sparked the couple’s interest in moving to the area, she said.

By the time she decided on buying the franchise, “I was driving around West Des Moines and saw how the development was going, and I knew that this was the place to do it,” she said. “It all kind of fell together piece by piece.”

PostNet International Franchise Corp., founded in 1993 by Steve Greenbaum and Brian Spindel, now has stores on five continents, in countries from Angola to Venezuela. Total revenues for the franchise centers exceeded $180 million last year. The Nevada-based company expects to sign franchise agreements to add 120 new stores this year.

Christman’s business is competing against office-services giants that are growing bigger by consolidation. In February, Dallas-based Kinko’s Inc. was purchased by FedEx Corp, and a year ago, United Parcel Service Inc. began converting its Mail Boxes Etc. stores to the UPS Store brand.

“That’s been a major change, when your vendor becomes your competitor as well,” said Christman, whose store offers package shipping services through both FedEx and UPS. The advantage, however, is that it can offer its customers a choice rather than being tied to one vendor or the other, she said.

Establishing customer relationships through networking has probably been one of the keys to her success, she said.

“People want to do business with people they know and like,” said Christman, who is a charter member of the West Des Moines chapter of the American Business Women’s Association. She belongs to the National Association of Women Business Owners, and has been active in the Wednesday Net Breakfast Group for about six years.

With the increasing use of e-mail and electronic documents, the changes in the shipping and copy industry in the past decade have been “dramatic,” she said. For instance, very few customers now bring in paper documents to copy, and receiving documents by e-mail to copy is becoming increasingly common.

“Part of our new strategy is to develop the copy and print aspects of the business, and desktop publishing,” she said. That segment has grown faster than the shipping segment, “and we expect that it will continue to be,” she said. She currently has four employees.

Her business has grown up to 10 percent each year, and didn’t experience much of a slowdown in the past couple of years, Christman said.

“I’d like to think that we continued to offer the service, and we are in a growing area and the needs for our kind of services continued to grow, so we were fortunate,” she said.

Having always wanted to run her own business, Christman said she chose a franchise so she wouldn’t have to “reinvent the wheel.” Additionally, being affiliated with a franchiser made it somewhat easier to qualify for a U.S. Small Business Administration loan, she said.      Formulating a business plan was “arduous,” she recalled, with the hardest part being estimating future revenues.

However, being a female business owner hasn’t presented any significant challenges, she said.

“In general, my feeling is that if you’re qualified and providing a sevice people want, it’s not going to matter if you’re a woman or a man,” she said. “Certainly, there’s more opportunity than there was 20 or 30 years ago.”

Although her store is still the only PostNet franchise in Iowa, there are plenty of opportunities in Greater Des Moines for growth, she said. Christman said she has considered opening a second store, but realizes that would be difficult to do.

“It’s a very personalized business; when someone hands off their business to you they want to be sure they will be taken care of,” she said. “It’s hard to be in two places at the same time.”

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