After owning a franchise for two years, Tulsans Tim and Janice Airhart ventured in a new direction, launching an independent company, called Smarter Media.
The Airharts owned the Business Partner franchise since early 2004. Their new company, while performing similar services, focuses more on Business-to-Business (B2B) marketing resources than the predecessor, Airhart said.
While they owned Business Partner, the Airharts were successful. They held the sales records in 2004 and 2005 for a new Business Partner location.
In 2006 business grew another 30 percent in revenue over the previous year, Tim Airhart said.
The potential is there for even more growth this year, he said. “We anticipate adding employees in early 2007.”
However, the franchise agreement did not allow Airhart to address the issues and opportunities he saw in the Tulsa market.
“We felt the franchise system lacked strategic vision necessary to grow the business,” Tim Airhart said.
Walk-in Model Booted
The Pittsburgh-based franchise operation relied heavily on walk-in sales.
“Their name said it well,” Airhart said. However, the business plan was built around the fact that a number of stores in western Pennsylvania were in isolated, business communities.
“But, Tulsa is a larger market with more competition and our clients don’t just go to the nearest supplier. Clients will go where they get the quality and service they demand,” he said.
Originally, Business Partner grew through a strong percentage of the retail walk-in business. Company officials taught their franchise owners that type of business led to larger transactions, Airhart said.
“That was their model. People would walk in and order a banner, or walk in and order a brochure,” he said. “We quickly learned that our best customers were those that we sought out and developed relationships with over time.
The Airharts did not want to attempt to low ball competitors’ prices for services that are commonly performed by the walk-in print and copy shops.
“We were not really trying to compete with the quick-turn printers or the mom and pop shops that dominate the market,” he said. “We saw the need to provide more value-added services for small businesses and corporate customers, rather than to just be order takers. We found we had to go out and network, to look for someone we really could partner with.”
With their new strategies, Airhart through Smarter Media expects more growth this year.
“We work with companies as small as one-person micro-business, to large corporations and non-profits,” he said. “Often our clients either don’t have a marketing department or have more work than they can handle in house. We can do everything for them or just one area. We offer ‘creative support on their terms.’ ”
The company employs six full-time and two part-time employees at the existing Business Partner location at 5972 S. Yale Ave. in the KingsPointe Village. It will continue to provide graphic design, web design, printing, fulfillment services, promotional items, tradeshow displays and will expand its capabilities in e-commerce and emerging technologies, Tim said.
Airhart wanted to develop valuable relationships with clients.
“Our best customer is someone who appreciates a relationship built on trust and fairness,” he said.
For example, in their first month of operation, the Airharts pitched an idea to a large restaurant chain of developing a Web-based solution for ordering; printing, and distributing printed materials to hundreds of locations across the U.S.
“We got the job before really knowing exactly how we’d handle all the logistics,” he said. Yet, they remain one of Airharts’ top customers today.
“Our core offerings for businesses remain unchanged, and we are very successful in the graphic design, printing, large format graphics, and other areas,” he said. “Over the next few months, we plan to complete some technology upgrades to our in-house equipment, and to develop more Internet marketing and multimedia projects.”
We also want to provide more of our large customers with online “company store” facilities and provide fulfillment services.
Undergoing the current change to an independent operation means the workweek is even busier, Airhart said.
“But, it is really great to have the flexibility and responsibility that comes with it. I get to be around our fantastic, creative, talented team every day,” he said.
Airhart, owner and president, has 28 years of experience in technology and management roles in the telecommunications industry. His wife Janice has a masters in journalism and mass communications from the University of Oklahoma, with extensive experience in writing, editing and publishing. Janice is an adjunct instructor at Tulsa Community College and an instructor for the Tulsa Campus of the University of Phoenix. ?