PRstore franchises marketing

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Franchising is coming to the marketing business.

The PRstore, a retail outlet that sells promotional materials, consulting and creative services, is expanding from a single Charlotte, N.C., storefront via a new franchise organization that aims to comprise 150 locations across the country in the next five years.

Former agency owners Mike and Kathy Butler started the PRstore last year to serve small businesses that find themselves in a marketing black hole-lacking the expertise to market on their own and the budgets to hire traditional agencies.

"[Small businesses] got pushed down in the priority of the agency. They weren't big enough and didn't have enough needs to really pay the bills of an agency that depends on larger budgets for its revenue," said Mr. Butler, who owned public-relations agencies in Knoxville, Tenn., and Columbia, S.C.

But smaller marketers can use small, local agencies, said Joan Gillman, executive director of the U.S. Association for Small Business & Entrepreneurship. "They have marketing needs that have been satisfied by local companies, and a lot of those local companies are small businesses," she said, adding the new franchise can be successful "if they've got a better idea or a better way of presenting it or are more cost-effective."

The PRstore's offerings read like a fast-food menu. One example: an 11-by-17 inch folded, full-color brochure dubbed the "Power Talker" sells for $995 plus printing (price includes client consultation, writing, design, stock photography and revisions).

not `cost-prohibitive'

Because traditional agencies were "cost-prohibitive," James Blakey, a pilot for US Airways who recently started his own financial-planning company, turned to the PRstore for direct mail, print ads and brochures to boost his business. "I tried on my own to create all the marketing, but it wasn't effective," Mr. Blakey said "All I had was an idea about the persona of my company, and [the PRstore] extrapolated that and made it something that I could promote my company with."

According to the PRstore's franchise-offering circular, the initial franchise fee is $40,000 and the franchisee's initial investment is estimated at $111,000 to $180,000. PRstore is registered to sell franchises in all but 15 states but is seeking to become registered in the remaining states.

Each 1,000-square-feet PRstore will employ three people, the owner-ideally an experienced marketing professional-and two others who help customers choose the right marketing piece, from print ads to business cards to logo-imprinted specialty items, Mr. Butler said. The creation and execution of customized marketing programs are handled by a team of writers, designers and media specialists at a separate location in Charlotte-which may move to Chicago-called PRstore Design Central, which will function as the creative resource for future franchises.

The central design team exists "so the franchisees don't have to go out and hire their own writers or have the overhead to have someone on the payroll the whole time," said Mary Kennedy, chief operating officer of franchise consultancy Francorp, which helped establish PRS Franchise Systems, the entity directing the franchising program.

Ms. Kennedy believes the glut of recent agency layoffs makes the time right. "This is an opportune time for [PRS Franchise Systems] to be out in the marketplace and franchising their business, because there are a lot of executives out there who no longer have jobs."

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