CEO of FASTSIGNS International learns from her employees on UNDERCOVER BOSS


Catherine Monson thought leaving her friends and family behind in Southern California in 2009 to assume the role of FASTSIGNS International CEO would be the hardest venture she would ever endure.  But as Catherine assumed the identity of Louise and went undercover in her own company on CBS’ Undercover Boss she soon discovered it “was a lot harder than my real job.”   

FASTSIGNS International is an industry leader for signs and graphic solutions.  Yet even with 530 locations, an annual revenue of $300 million and 4,000 employees, Monson knew she wanted to go undercover “to learn what training and resources need to be put in place to become the ideal company.”

Through her journey of four different visits to the various arms that keep her company running, Monson not only took away improvements that could be made to compete with other companies, but “a new appreciation for our workers and the passion that they have for what they do.” 

But the most important lesson Catherine learned from going undercover didn’t come from scaling above a building to apply letters, learning how to conduct a site visit or seeing how the production area is able to keep up with the demand. It came from admiring the inspiration and passion that these workers balance in their lives.  “To be the best CEO possible I need to continue to do the things I am passionate about in life and in turn make the work place better for our employees.” 

From personal growth to professional lessons, Monson is grateful she had the opportunity to interact with the different aspects of FASTSIGNS and it reminded her why she became CEO three years ago.  “This experience not only made me a better CEO but a better person and has truly enriched my life.”

To view Catherine Monson’s full episode on Undercover Boss click here.

SBA lenders feature franchising



Small business loan volume ticked down slightly in April, according to a new report by Biz2Credit, spurring members of the National Association of Government Guaranteed Lenders and the National Association of Development Companies to focus on franchising and other ways to increase small business lending and job creation at their conferences May 1-4 in Orlando.

The Biz2Credit Small Business Lending Index found that loan approvals by big banks (those with more than $10 billion in assets) dropped from 10.9% in March to 10.6% in April. In March 2011, the approval rate was 11.6%.

“There’s still a gap out there,” said SBA Administrator Karen Mills, addressing both groups. “But I’m very pleased at what we have done together. We have made record loan guarantees and enabled record dollars to be lent. We have helped 60,000 small businesses.”

Mills referenced a Culver’s franchisee who used a 504 loan to open a new business in 2009. “Then it was, ‘that loan saved my business.’ Now he’s looking to open a second location. That’s a big change from 2009,” said Mills, a self-described fan of franchising.

“We need to work together to keep these important programs going,” said NADCO CEO Chris Crawford. Before 500 attendees gathered for the Keynote address, delivered by IFA’s Beth Solomon, Crawford asked for a show of hands of lenders who had completed franchise loans. Every hand in the room went up.

Noting that the 504 program has led to over $15 billion in franchise project lending over a decade, Solomon thanked the NADCO lenders for their support. “Together, we are going to build an even stronger and better partnership going forward, and lead our economy and this great country to a better future,” Solomon said.

Shelly Sun highlights BrightStar and franchising on FOX Business

For the 2nd year in a row Shelly Sun, CEO and Co-Founder of BrightStar Care, was named the fastest growing woman owned company in North America.  With 8.3 million women owned companies, contributing 1.3 trillion to the economy and employing 7.7 million people, Shelly credits her success on her business model and talks with Fox Business on how the franchising has lead to her expansion.  

“It is great to be recognized for our significant growth over the last year,” says Sun.   “We have a really high performance culture, from the corporate level to the 10,000 care givers taking care of families; everyone is working to make a difference in the lives of others.”

BrightStar began with one location in 2002 and has grown to over 250 locations and can be found in 38 states since Shelly’s decision to franchise in 2006.  “Franchising just made sense from a business model; we wanted the passion and commitment of a local owner and partnering together our brand and their local relationships allows us to make sure our consumers have the best care possible,” explains Shelly.  

According to IFA’s 2012 Economic Outlook for Franchise Businesses, franchise establishments will increase by 1.6 percent in 2012, and if able to close the lending gap would generate $70 billion in economic growth and create and protect more than 522,000 jobs to the U.S. economy.  With plans to go public in 2015, Shelly knows that access to capital “would allow BrightStar to broaden their business model and offer more to the consumer.”  

To view Shelly Sun’s interview on FOX Business, click here.

Relive Francamp

I had a great time at FranCamp last week. It’s always good to be able to get out and actually meet the people you “talk” with through email or social media channels. I don’t do that often enough. Beyond getting a change to put faces with names, there was a ton of great content. If you missed it, you’re in luck. There are plenty of ways to relive FranCamp even if you weren’t there.

If you like video, they Ustreamed the entire program so you can watch all the sessions. I embedded Jack Monson’s presentation on monitoring and leveraging social media programs below to get you started but you can watch all the videos over at the Ustream FranCamp channel. They’re broken up into segments in the tab on the right of the page.


Don’t have time to watch the entire session of a video? Todd Leiser wrote a great post wrapping up his session “Building the Perfect Social Media Campaign.” Brooke Howell did an excellent piece summing up Clarissa Windham-Bradstock’s session on cyber-harassment.

Wonder what was happening on social media while this whole thing was going on? This is one of the few events where the organizers of the event will encourage you to use your mobile devices or tweet during actual sessions. As you’re following along you can get a real feel for how the people are experiencing the session.

You can read the entire twitter stream by doing a twitter search on the #francamp hashtag. It’s especially interesting because you can see not only how many people were tweeting, but how many people were including photos and videos in the tweets (like the one below) while the event was going on. This trend is only going to get bigger.

IFA continues to work to improve lending through Credit Access Campaign



Small Business lending in the United States is beginning to see better days.  CFO online reports that domestic banks and U.S. branches are starting to ease up on terms for commercial and industrial borrowers and banks are relieving some of the terms for who qualifies for credit.  As pressure to maintain job growth has never been greater to the small business community, the IFA is working to strengthen access to credit and improve partnerships with the lending community. 

According to the Fed’s survey, about 58% of the 81 financial institutions surveyed said they cut the spread over cost of funds that they charge borrowers, and 32% said they reduced their use of interest-rate floors. This is a change from January which reported banks lending standards has remained static.  Yet with many uncertainties still contributing to a lending shortfall, the IFA is working through its Credit Access Campaign to improve capital flow to franchise small businesses. 

According to the Small Business Lending Matrix Report prepared by FRANdata for the IFA, even though lending to franchise businesses has improved, we will not meet the demand in 2012 which will result in a projected shortfall of 18.6 percent and nearly 94,000 jobs not created.  The franchise industry in 2012 will create or maintain more than 425,000 jobs with 56.7 billion in economic output, yet the IFA is working to improve the outlook for business loans as the demand for growth increases and boost bank willingness to lend in an economy that is still slowly improving. “In the competition for limited credit, franchise businesses must prove credit worthy by showing a strong system of performance,” says IFA President & CEO Steve Caldeira. 

As part of the Credit campaign, key policymakers and financial regulators gathered with lenders and borrowers at IFA’s 2nd Small Business Lending Summit, in collaboration with the National Association of Government Guaranteed Lenders (NAGGL) and the Consumer Bankers Association (CBA), to help the small business community recover from the lending crisis and improve the outlook for loans. 

There is a high demand for growth in the franchise industry and the IFA continues to work to improve the lending environment and eliminate the uncertainties that are adding to the shortfall through outreach, advocacy and new tools and solutions. For more information on IFA’s credit access campaign and partnerships visit

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