Adam Torres and Bryan Vielhauer discuss building franchise brands
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Building a franchise brand that breaks through the noise is no easy feat. In this episode, Adam Torres interviewed Bryan Vielhauer, President of Decal Impressions. Explore what it takes to build a franchise brand and the book Bryan will be launching with Mission Matters.
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About Decal Impressions
Decal Impressions was founded in 1969 and served as a provider of 4-color process vehicle graphics to law enforcement organizations nationwide. Decal Impressions now works with organizations across every industry. The list of products and services they offer include, but are not limited to, are Indoor and Outdoor Signage, Wide Format Digital Printing, Screen Printing, CNC Milling, Fleet Vehicle Graphics, Point-of-Purchase Displays & Signage, Graphic Design, and Order Fulfillment. They serve a wide variety of businesses and organizations with signage, brand identity products, vehicle wraps, exhibiting materials, and much more. They have been located in Over the Rhine since 1985. In 2010, they moved just a few blocks away to where they are located now in Cincinnati’s West End neighborhood, but still easily accessible from all parts of the tri-state area. This move to a warehouse that was the site of a former sausage factory enabled them to expand and update their capabilities to better serve their customers. In 2001, Decal Impressions was purchased by Chip Vielhauer and his son Bryan. They became the third father and son team to run the company. Then, in 2010 they joined forces with Media Sign Company, where Bryan first worked after college. This allowed the company to even further expand both their staff and our equipment. In recent years, Decal Impressions has begun offering Web Design, Social Media Management, and Marketing services to complement their growing list of products and meet customer demands.
As a part of their evolution, Decal Impressions is actively introducing new equipment and staff to better serve their growing list of customers – a testament to their ongoing quest for excellence.
Decal Impressions continues to develop relationships with the country’s top brands, working to visually connect them to their audience. Their products are displayed, not only across the Tri-State area but in Arenas, Retail Stores, Restaurants, Concert Venues, Festivals, and College Campuses throughout North America. With strong values in customer service, continually investing in state-of-the-art technology, and focusing on internal development and long-term employee retention, Decal Impressions is able to continually provide its clients with quality customer service and industry-leading products.
Full Unedited Transcript
Hey, I’d like to welcome you to another episode of Mission Matters. My name is Adam Torres, and if you’d like to apply to be a guest on the show, just head on over to mission matters.com and click on Be Our Guest to Apply. All right, so today is a special episode. I’m welcoming one of our newest. Members to the Mission Matters community and also our upcoming Business Leaders book series project.
So we have a brand new author to us, Brian Veel Hower, who is also the president over at Decal Impressions. Brian, welcome to show Adam. Thank you so much for having me. Really thrilled to be here today. All right, Brian. So, so I, I’m excited to have you number one, of course, on the show in our upcoming book.
I’m also excited to pick your brain on what it takes to build a franchise brand. I know over there at Decal impressions, you, you help, you do a lot of work in the franchise pace. Both healthy franchise brands maintain their brand and creating new ones and putting out all the signs and. Everything else that it takes to really maintain that brand song.
I’m excited to get into what that entails and how franchises can work with you. And I know you work with many other companies outside of franchises as well, but we’ll get into that. But before we do, we’ll start this episode the way that we start them all with our mission matters minute. So Brian, we at Mission Matters.
We amplify stories for entrepreneurs, executives, and experts. That’s our mission. Brian, what mission matters to you? Our mission is to have a hundred percent of our customers come back in none of our products. So when you’re in the manufacturing space, you want the customer back, never the product you provided to the customer.
Yeah, it’s, it’s a great mission and what do you think? And when you put it that way, it’s like, yeah, you’re right. I want the customer to come back. I don’t want the other, I don’t want the product back. So no returns, man. It’s a, it’s a great mission and love bringing mission-based individuals on the line to share, you know, why they do what they do, how they’re doing it, and really what we can all learn from that so that we grow together.
So great to have ya on. And I guess just to get us kicked off here, I mean, how did you get started in business and really as an entrepreneur? I think to some extent, for me, it was just a, a, I’ve always known I had a, an internal feeling that business was going to be the way it was. I’ve always had a desire to create plans, business plans, try to find out why something works, and it being in business scratches a lot of itches for me.
I get to solve problems, I get to satisfy customers and I, I think for me, a lot of it stems from. The family environment I came up in, I was just surrounded by really great leaders in the business, community, family, friends, and it was always open. They were always sharing what their work meant to them and what their work meant to the community.
And some of the people I really admire the most and taught me the most were in careers and in industries that were really, really important at the time that they were there. And in my life, I’ve seen how those. Industries have changed and it’s been really exciting for me to see how their lives changed with what technology they had and how to sit here in this chair with you today.
Mm-hmm. See how it changes going forward and yet keeping some of that mindset and the pride of work workmanship and, and things of that nature really, really are important. Yeah. And so, you know, there’s a, there’s another as, as always, there’s a, the new, the new class. So the next group of, of entrepreneurs that are coming up and just getting started and, you know, you’ve been in the space for a while.
What kind of advice would you give to that, that next class we’ll say of entrepreneurs that are coming up? My first thought would be, listen to your customers. They really will tell you what they need. They will tell you how they need it. And the more you listen, The more you can help them. And if you have a humble servants mentality mm-hmm.
When you’re starting your business, and if you carry that through through the entire life cycle of your business, you will find that that process and that behavior makes a huge impact on how people look at you and look at your business. They see that you’re there to serve and to help them. And really business is just a way of helping people and giving them tools that they need to help others.
Yeah. And so, you know, shifting focus slightly for a moment, you know, the franchise thing, so decal impressions. I know one of the big specialties is working with franchises and I’ve always been fascinated about franchises and I’ve, I’ve interviewed a lot of, you know, I’ve interviewed franchisors, franchisees, but this is the first interview that I can remember for a company or a leader that.
That actually creates, you know, the marketing, the signs and all the things that entails to build a franchise, maintain it, get that brand really, you know, sunk into the, the public psyche. When I think about a franchise, it’s some of the early ones that I remember growing up in Michigan and in Detroit, I could think of like, Like Little Caesars and the pizza, pizza and all those things.
And when I think about how that franchise started, you know, pretty small by Mike Illitch, and this was back in the eighties, I remember, and all these years later, to see where it grew, I can, I can tell you like, you know what franchise, what a franchise does, and the brand and the brandy and all those things, all those signs, everything it entails, it makes a difference.
So I’m curious, how did you get really interested in that space in serving that type of market and clientele? I think for me it really, I think my age has something to do with it. How technology impacted the timeline that I’m in. So Decal impressions, a very old company started in the late sixties when I got onto the scene in the late 1999, early two thousands.
You know, technology was a wave and franchising has been going on for forever, if you will. Yeah. But what was really happening was they needed to implement technology and they. They were dealing with a lot of different things. There was new ways to make things, new ways to source things. And it was easier to control a franchise pre-computer because everybody didn’t have a way to create or violate the sanctity of the brand sitting in their home.
And what we quickly found is that, is the, the world changed. We had a, we had to kind of put roadblocks in there. Hey, you got a franchisee who’s maybe a little more entrepreneurial than maybe they should be in a franchise model and they want to change the branding color. Well, in the eighties and nineties, you weren’t going to do that.
That was something that, that was complete and total control within the marketing department. Fast forward into the post 2020 or post two thousands, excuse me. They could get creative. They could start making things in desktop publications. That weren’t great for the brand, weren’t great for what they were doing, but they were good for that individual.
And we started to see that there was a great way for us to take techno technology. Mm-hmm. That was, you know, fresh and start locking down company stores and portals, working with chief marketing officers to say, look, this is, this is what you wanna let ’em do. This is the vehicle to let them do it so they don’t have to call you every time.
Mm-hmm. But it’s also now you have a gatekeeper. That monitors the store, if you will. Mm-hmm. And make sure that things aren’t happening, that you don’t want, you know, changing the brand color from blue to teal or from red to green. Yeah. And, and you sometimes say to yourself, how, why would anyone want to do that?
We’ll never know the answer, but they do. So what? You gotta have somebody there to smack their hand when they start thinking about that type of thing. Oh my gosh. You’re, you’re cracking me up because I’m thinking of that movie, the Founder, I think it’s called The Founder with McDonald’s and it, when it talks about the early, the early days of McDonald’s and the things that some of the franchise ERs were doing.
Yep. And that, you know, to be fair, that’s a very real, real environment. You, you buy, you buy a concept, you believe in the concept, you get into the marketplace, and then you get distracted. Yeah. You see a flashing light over here and you’re like, wait a minute. I could do that. Mm-hmm. And then it sounds like a good idea in that moment, but what you’re really doing is devaluing the franchise brand.
Yeah. That you’ve purchased, that you’re an advocate for, that you’re, mm-hmm. You are an important part of by becoming distracted and losing focus. And that’s what starts to destabilize a quality growing franchise. Hmm. And I know you’re working with small to medium size franchises as as, as well as some big ones.
But yeah, educate me a little bit. So when you talk about portals and some of these things, like I’ve never owned a franchise, so like how does all this stuff work? Let’s, let’s, let’s do a, let’s, let’s take a, let’s take a, a trip, shall we? Yeah. You’re, you’re a young entrepreneur and you’ve really vetted your business model, and you’ve got thrilled customers.
You’ve got your one location and Cincinnati, Ohio, and you’re mm-hmm. You know, you’ve got people calling you from other markets going, gosh, I love what you’re doing. I mean, I really want to get involved in that and. You’re thinking, well, I can’t afford to open my own store there and I can’t afford to do this.
And part of what our, you know, part of that entrepreneur secret sauce is their style. And, and you’re thinking, how do I, what am I gonna do? You know, I want to keep a ownership mentality behind the counter, if you will. Um, let’s put together a program that the right people can buy a franchise and. Now you’ve got a product.
You are selling the franchise, your business model, your success strategy. What then you need to do is onboard franchisees. You need to get ’em opened up. You need to get ’em the materials they need, whether it’s printed materials, business cards, letterhead, envelopes. If they’re gonna have a storefront business, they need the front window graphics.
They might need a menu board. They might need a. Name tag. Yeah. And you start to look at all these little pieces that you were acquiring. Mm-hmm. When you were starting your business. So literally hundreds of pieces sometimes. Yeah. Like hundreds and hundreds. Yeah. And variations. And then you get into what is an explosive new process.
Here in our country, we’re really getting serious about being multilingual. So now we’re producing graphics in many languages. Yeah. And so we really have to be able to support that. For the entire system, but mm-hmm. Of course, everybody’s excited. Right. McDonald’s being a great example. Who wouldn’t love to be the supplier of McDonald’s?
I don’t know. Maybe you do, maybe you don’t, but Right. For a company like ours, we’d love to start with the one mm-hmm. And follow ’em to 300, 400, 500 units. Give them the foundation. We don’t have to look at that customer as well. You’re, you’re nobody yet. Yeah. We want to nurture that relationship. We want to be with them.
We want to counsel them and help them. Achieve those objectives faster by allowing them to have a trusted partner that handles that, that isn’t going to allow the, the valua, the devaluation of their brand, but support them, encourage the franchisees, encourage them to use the system in place, the f aac, things of that nature.
So I got a little windy there. Adam, did I give you No, no. And I, and it seems like. Yeah. And, and Brian, it also seems like, so correct me if I’m wrong here, if you’re, if you are, you know, working with somebody, especially when they’re, you know, one location, two location, whatever it is, and then their plans for scaling, it seems to me like there’s also a certain amount of brand continuity that comes from having, you know, a supplier like decal impressions, like involved on the ground level because as the brand, which all brands evolve, whether it’s logo or this or that, like, especially as they get bigger and bigger, As the brand evolves, it’s good to know and to have a partner that is also, especially as a supplier that’s on the same page with that evolution.
Am I off on that? Like No, you’re, you’re, you’re hitting the nail right on the head. You develop a relationship, somebody that you can trust, somebody that has quality people there, somebody who’s not gonna go rogue because they’re new in the position and they just want to, mm-hmm. Close the deal, if you will.
Yeah. And a, a company like Decal Impressions, we, we kind of serve two groups, right? Mm-hmm. We serve the franchisor, we serve the franchisee. Yeah. We sometimes have more communication with the franchisees than the franchisor because they’re really in two separate businesses. Yeah. So we become a conduit between that organization and so, That, that becomes important as you grow.
I, I think of some of the companies that we started with almost 20 years ago. You know, they have 10, 10, 15 units, now they’re in the hundreds. And some of those relationships, we’re going to franchise councils, we’re going to their annual conventions. We, we’ve developed long-term relationships with the end, you know, the franchisee.
And in the same case, you know, you’ll have a franchisor that might sell one of the brands. We wind up following, you know, they take us with us. We’re, we’re part of the package, if you will. And I think that that continuity gives comfort to both sides of the equation. Mm-hmm. Um, they need, you know, trust is huge.
It, it really matters. You’re dealing with a brand and the value of the brand goes up very, very quickly when you’re scaling and you’re increasing visibility. Yeah. And I know, and by the way, so I know obviously the, you know, every, every brand, every franchise gonna be unique, whether it’s size, whether it’s industry, whether it’s demographic they’re targeting, like all these things.
But in your opinion, cuz you have a very unique vantage point because not only are you, you know, at the, at the head of a company that’s been existence for a really long time, but also you have the, you know, the privilege of working with many different franchise. Brands. So what are some of the things that you’ve found really make a franchise a stick out or, or make a franchise great?
I think what makes ’em great are the ones that have strong leaders. The the one, the franchisor who has a strong mission. They have a strong belief in their product and service, and I think those that are willing to put the. Put the pressure on the, the system to make sure that they maintain brand control, that they keep focus and they keep looking at the big picture.
It’s real easy to get small and start focusing on little details, but there’s a macro concept here. You’re growing outside of your comfort area. You’re growing into new areas, and you have to have a a team to support that. Mm-hmm. And what, and now speaking from the, and that’s, that’s a great, from the leadership side of things and speaking from maybe some of the design side of things that you’ve seen and, and just between the portals of set up, like the vision, like talk to, talk to me a little bit more about that piece of what you’ve seen that just makes some franchises stick out.
Well, I think the, you know, the first one is the ones that, you know, really hold the requirements, you know? Yeah. Nobody likes to, to be that person, but the ones that are most successful are the ones that. Hold the line, they won’t be bullied and won’t allow the franchisees to go rogue. You know, the chuckling phone call I’ll get once in a while is, you know, a chief marketing officer.
The president of a company will call and say, Brian, we were just in this store and we, here’s a picture. I mean, why did you do this? And look, I can say we didn’t. And as a matter of fact, We warned you this was a possibility because they started with us. You declined the idea if you, you know, and, and all of a sudden they’d come back and go, wow, you’re, you’re right.
When they approached you, you were transparent with us and said, we might have a problem coming. Hmm. That we, we appreciate that. Right? Yeah. You know, and you know, and I get, you know, this is kind of one of those moments where, I, I’ll throw some in, you know, printing is a really great thing. Mm-hmm. You do all the things in the world to make sure that the client gets exactly what they want.
You send ’em proofs, you ask ’em to approve it. Mm-hmm. And that’s, that’s a tough business, right? Yeah. Nobody really looks until the product’s delivered, which is way too late. Yeah. And you know, one of the, you know, I, I use pain points as teaching and, and coaching points and, you know, we had a situation where we had 300.
300 shipments. Yeah. For a monthly campaign. And bottom line, we made a mistake. The franchisor made a mistake once. It was, you know, I discovered it way too late. They were already in store and I picked up the phone at seven o’clock in the morning because I knew, I knew the guy that it mattered most to was at work called him and said, before you hear it from anybody else, you gotta hear it from me.
We got a problem and this is what the problem is. Yeah. And that action of ownership. Nothing’s perfect, but owning that we made a mistake, that there was a problem, that he’s gonna hear about it. Mm-hmm. And him to be forewarned. Yeah. And to be able to say to his franchisees, Hey, thanks for telling me. But I already knew it’s already the resolution’s already in process.
Mm-hmm. Next topic. Yeah. Because in, in, in our world, sometimes people like to take advantage of you. When you’re down a little bit, you know, you make a mistake. It’s a good time to kick ’em when they’re down. You know, you, you’ve got a brother-in-law who’s in a similar industry that could help the company.
Well, they made this mistake. Well, they did, but they also called us, told us they made the mistake. We had an opportunity to fix a mistake and missed it. But there was no surprise they owned it, took care of it, and it wasn’t anything other than a, the way you do business, you make a mistake, you fix it, you own it, and you move on.
So I know that of course you do a lot of work around the franchise and franchise and franchise brand side of things, but I know you work with other companies as well. Maybe, maybe speak about that a little bit. We, we are very fortunate. I mean, the nice part about our industry, it’s always growing, always expanding.
America’s a great place to open a business, operate a business, which means we have almost an indefinite supply of customers. Mm-hmm. Uh, what really works for us and. We have a phenomenal marketing team here that does a great many things, not only on our behalf because we use our own marketing team to grow our business, but they also use their talents to grow other businesses.
We work with so many different spaces because everybody consumes what we make, what we really try to keep, you know, I kind of opened with our minute. Yeah. The key is keeping the customers coming back, and you do that with high quality service, high quality product. Meeting deadlines in communication. Yeah.
That recipe mixed together makes us a potential resource for any size company. Aerospace, banking, telecommunications, they’re all users of this product and they’re all moving fast. Speed, speed, speed to market sometimes, and I, I use this from a grocery mentality. You know, sometimes you might have yourself a whole bunch of extra something that has a perishable date.
Yeah. You’ve gotta get that marketed in-store right now to be able to close the gap and get the product sold before it goes outta date. Mm-hmm. So, nimbleness, creativity, these are all major components that, you know, we put into our sauce to make our clients have an easy and successful experience. Selling their product because the more we help our clients move their product, the more they want our product.
Now, now, Brian, I, I mentioned at the beginning of this interview that we are, that we’re welcoming you of course into our mission matters community, but also into our upcoming book project. Now for everybody listening to this, we we’re not gonna go too far into the book today for sure, and the reason is because we will be bringing Brian back again onto the show for a part two of two on this multi.
Series interview for Brian and, but Brian, today we’re gonna keep it maybe high level, and I know we’re still in editing and we’re still refining, so I’m not holding you to this, to the, to the letter, but what are some of the things high level that you plan to propose in the upcoming book? We’re, we’re gonna be doing a lot of sharing, a lot of insight.
We really want people to see. Kind of some good news, some bad news, the good, the bad, and the ugly, for lack of a better way of saying it. Yeah. And so we’re really trying to help those entrepreneurs that are right there, right at the edge, really trying to make those decisions. And they’re, they’re looking down the barrel of a, a decision that whether they know it or not at that time has the potential to impact their business for years and years to come.
And this is a great way for us to share. Some good news, some bad news and things that they probably never thought of, because when we’re starting out, we’re, we’re fresh and we’ve got all that excitement, you know? Mm-hmm. Sometimes those rose colored glasses can leave you to make a, make a decision that you regret a few years down the line.
Mm-hmm. So there’s gonna be some hard truths and there’s gonna be some really exciting ways for people to, to take our knowledge and see how, how it can work and, and what, what they should be looking for, what they should be expecting. So that their, so that their launch is smooth so that their franchisees have great service and great quality because the more we can help franchise succeed, the more we help the franchisor succeed, the more it goes.
Yeah. And, and I’m gonna cut you off there and we’re not gonna go too far into it today, just for everybody watching and that that’s intentional. Again, we’ll be bringing Brian back on, but, so I’m gonna cut you off there. But Brian, really, I just have to say it’s really been an honor working with you on the, on the book project.
Of course, on the interview series, we’re creating all the social media. And by the way, shout out to your team out there because all the great work they’ve done and that I’ve seen in terms of them sharing the content. Reposting everything else. I can see why, why you have a great shop working over there.
But that being said, I mean, you got a lot on your plate. Company’s growing, a lot of business, a lot of things changing. What’s next? I mean, what’s next for you? What’s next for decal impressions? Ooh. That’s a fabulous question. Adam, you, you hit right to it, my friend. Well, we, we have a really, really great group of people here.
We’re starting to prepare some of our team for the next step within the organization. As you can tell by my hairline, my days of running this company or receding, and I’m starting to work with a really, really great group of people who are, they’re gonna take my job. And it is, it is the most exciting thing in the world to.
Be able to do what I’m doing, which is to work with the talent, the, the long-term leaders of our organization to, to grow and, and, and to fire me. Yeah. And, uh, that, that’ll be great. I’m, I’m really looking forward to that. Yeah. And, uh, I know we’ve gotten, gotten to know each other, I know you’ll probably be spending at some point, some more time on your hobbies like that, uh, Cadillac 61 and other things, right?
Yes, sir. I, uh, I’d love nothing more than getting my hands covered in grease and, uh, you know, old technology. It has a really important part in our modern world, and I really love the, the classic automobile is, is really unique because people think today, look, you just get in your car and go, and I, I was reading the service manual on my 1950 Cadillac and it literally tells you how to, how to take it apart and how to put it back together.
And today, if you open the manual in your car, it says don’t drink the battery acid. So there’s a, there’s a great way to see how the world has changed. When you bought something in 1950, the manufacturer expected you to know how to work on it. Wow. And today the manufacturer doesn’t want you to touch it.
Yeah. So I think the kind of scene, how that plays out, I think it speaks to a lot of things in our society and. I like keeping those things alive, showing young people. We just had the, the great Easter weekend here and had some, my nieces were in town and showing them how an old car works and how, you know, it’s not like mom’s car where you push the button and the car comes on.
Fantastic. Well, Brian, been great having you on the show today. If somebody’s watching this and they wanna learn more about decal impressions or to follow up and to connect with your team, what’s the best way for them to do that? They can visit us onlin[email protected]. I’m on LinkedIn. Brian Veal Hower.
Reach out to us. We’re a resource we love. We love people and we love working with them. We even answer the telephone. Oh, fantastic. And we’ll put, by the way, we’ll put all that information, the, the, the hyperlink and all that stuff to the website in the show note so that our audience can just click on the links and head right on over.
And speaking of the audience, if this is your first time with Mission Matters or engaging in an episode or the platform overall, Well, about bringing on business owners, entrepreneurs and executives, and having them share their mission, the reason behind their mission, you know, why they do what they do, how they’re doing it, and really what we can all learn from that so that we grow together.
And that’s the whole point of the Mission Matters platform. It’s really to educate so that we can all grow together. If that’s the type of content that sounds interesting or fun or exciting to you, we welcome you. Hit. That subscribe button because we have many more mission-based individuals coming up on the line and we don’t want you to miss a thing.
And, uh, Bryant, again, it’s been a pleasure having you on. Can’t wait till the next time we get to do this. Thanks again for coming on. Thanks, Adam. You’re always a joy and just such a positive light man. We really appreciate you.