Building one franchise into an independent, full-service printing and marketing company
Keith Miller is the CEO and president of Strategic Factory, a marketing and printing company in Owings Mills, MD. As an overarching brand for a suite of integrated agencies, Strategic Factory encompasses Miller’s Minuteman Press, Graphic Tango, Branded 4 U, Master Signs and Production Facility. From campaign planning to graphic design and branded apparel, Strategic Factory seeks to answer all its clients’ needs in one place. The company grew out of a Minuteman Press location Keith purchased in 1999 after moving from South Africa, and that business has since become the largest Minuteman Press franchise in the world. Recognized for his leadership and business development ability, Keith has won numerous awards and honors including a listing among SmartCEO’s Smart 100 and Minuteman Press International’s Entrepreneurial Excellence Award.
EDWIN WARFIELD: Was it difficult to afford the cost of building a business? How did you finance the equipment?
KEITH MILLER: Moving to America, I had no credit. It’s very important to have credit in this country. I did not come with a ton of money, so it wasn’t like we could just go and buy whatever I wanted. I ended up buying a distressed franchise to try and conserve some of the cash that I came with because I couldn’t afford a new franchise.
The first piece of equipment that we needed to buy was a new copier to replace our old analog copiers. The salesperson came in—I remember it as clear as day—and is like, “this is the latest, greatest technology to come out—it’s all digital.” This is the very end of 1999 going into 2000. In the millennium, everything was going digital. Everything was changing.
That really set the landscape for us to start leasing equipment. We could afford it. Most of the leasing money was done from the manufacturer who would do leasing, so I didn’t have to get financed through a bank. And they wanted to place that equipment, so they found a way to get you a piece of equipment and finance that piece of equipment. That started us leasing equipment.
We used to do three-, four-, five-year leases, which turned out to be wonderful, because every three or four years we would be at the end of a lease or nearing the end of the lease and it was “let’s remove this piece and let’s put in the latest new digital equipment.” We followed that model to a T ever since.
We do buy a lot of our offset presses or stuff that we believe is going to be in the marketplace for longer than five years, but anything that is unknown or in a very fast changing environment we prefer to lease just knowing that we can exit that piece of equipment or take it in a different direction shortly thereafter.
Tell us how Miller’s Minuteman Press grew into the much more comprehensive service offering that is Strategic Factory.
After being in the industry for 14 or 15 years, we had always been Miller’s Minuteman Press, and we told our customers forever we can do everything. “You just call us and you think of anything with your logo, branding, communication—give us the opportunity to quote on it. You will be pleasantly surprised and let us deal with that work.”
We kept finding that we get blinders on our customers’ eyes where they don’t view us for their branded mugs or their branded water bottles or their branded pens, or whatever it may be, because we’ve always just done their business cards. “Okay, they did product A—let’s call them to do product A only.”
When we moved, we moved out of 22,000 square feet in Hunt Valley into our own building in Owings Mills, and we said, “Yeah, we’re gonna have to put a name on the building. How do we go about this strategically? Let’s give it some thought instead of just going forward with the Miller’s Minuteman Press brand.”
We came up with Strategic Factory, which is our umbrella corporation, which really is the building. That’s our central hub that helps everything; it or powers everything. We brought back some of the brands we had purchased or developed over the years, like Branded 4 U, Graphic Tango, Master Signs, and it enables us to go to market as the signage experts, or as the branded apparel experts, or the promotional products experts, or the creative services experts.
We’ve managed to go and communicate to our customers under those brands and it’s easy. If you need signage, you call Master Signs. You don’t have to think, “Does the printer do signage?” It’s simple: “Master Signs does signage. I need that. I’m going to call them. I know everybody.” It’s all powered by Strategic Factory. It’s the same business, the same phone number. It just became much easier for our customers to do business with us, and enabled us to round out many more product offerings to our customers.
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