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A few businesses still have it: customer service. Some may say that, these days, the old-fashioned philosophy of treating customers right has become almost extinct, but customer service is the pillar that lifts PostNet stores in Humble and Atascocita above the crowd. So much so, in fact, that owners Greg and Renee Howard recently earned one of the most coveted and prestigious awards among franchisees nationwide.
“[Greg and Renee Howard] were recognized by the International Franchising Association, which represents over 12,200 franchisees across the country, for their achievements in small business leadership,” said Jason Belenke, representing PostNet and the Internal Franchising Association. “In just a short time, PostNet owners Greg and Renee Howard have distinguished themselves as leaders in the system.”
With only five years in the business of providing marketing, printing, design, and shipping services to area small and mid-sized businesses , the Howards say they were surprised to learn that their relatively new PostNet operations in Humble and Atascocita were garnering so much attention. In March, the husband-and-wife couple earned PostNet’s internal franchise of the year award after being selected for the honor from among approximately 300 PostNet franchises across the country. A few months later, the Howards were informed that their names had been submitted to the IFA to compete with thousands of various franchisees — including intimidating names such as McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken — for national recognition. The couple was then chosen as one of 31 finalists to be honored at the IFA award banquet in Washington, D.C., in September.
The Howards, who make their home in the Humble area, invested in their first PostNet franchise in the Humble area in 2007 after Greg’s position in corporate retail was eliminated. Walking away with a generous separation packet, Greg said he was stuck at a crossroad — what’s next? Greg said he always dreamed of owning his own business, and the couple chose PostNet based on an unsaturated market for a small business center in northeast Harris County, as well as its fit for the family’s lifestyle.
“The thing that appealed about a franchise in the first place was that the model is already established,” Greg remembers. “So instead of us spending time on the technical aspects of building the business, it allowed us to immediately start relationship-building and interacting with other like-minded small and medium sized businesses, instead of worrying whether we should be building shelves.”
From the very beginning, the Howards’ business philosophy centered around serving the community while also becoming an intricate part of it. Today, the couple credits this philosophy for their franchises’ astonishing success. The simple motto: Treat others like you would like to be treated.
“We felt if we’ll be in the community, we’ll do things to support the community. So we’ve done a lot of things like supporting local baseball teams, kids soccer teams, sponsorships of theater clubs and so on,” Greg explains. “And there are other small things we can do to be good neighbors. For example, when a customer comes in to just make one copy, we don’t charge him. To us, that’s like borrowing a cup of sugar from your next door neighbor.”
The Howards also pledge rock-bottom prices for area teachers who are in need of classroom materials.
“One day early on we had a teacher come in, making copies for her class. She was explaining how she was paying out of pocket because they only get so much of a budget for supplies,” Greg recounts. “Renee and I just looked at each other; for us, that just sounds so wrong. So we made a decision that we would cut back on our prices and give all the teachers in the area special pricing.”
The Howards say that simply by placing the human element back into their own business strategy, they have managed to attract customer loyalty and achieved a high percentage of customer retention. Clients, Greg emphasized, will remember fair treatment, courtesy and respect. At this time, customer satisfaction ratings at the Howards’ two PostNet stores lie at 92 and 93 percent.
“Twenty years ago, common courtesy and customer service was taken for granted. In today’s business environment, it’s become uncommon. There has been so much emphasis on technology, which is a good thing, but it has reached a degree now to where technology replaces the service end and we’re not sure that that’s a good model for small and medium-size businesses,” Greg said. “So what we try to do instead is focus on our clients, spend time with them, understand how we can grow their business, and then utilize technology to help them succeed — versus press ’1’ for this, and ’2’ for that. Things like thank you, yes ma’am, no sir, and how are you, are a matter of respect. Our customers are entitled to that, especially since they spend their money with us and they have lots of choices out there. We want to make sure they remember we appreciate them working with us.”
Word about the Howards and their neighborly business practices spread quickly — among customers and the community at large. Soon, the favorable rumors about the Humble PostNet center caught the attention of corporate officials at regional grocery giant H-E-B.
“H-E-B contacted us and asked us to consider opening a second PostNet in Summerwood,” Greg says. “They thought our business practices were a good fit for them. We gave it some thought and opened our second franchise next to H-E-B in Summerwood in November 2010.”
Belenke said in just a few years, the Howards have distinguished themselves in their Humble area communities for the way they resonate with fellow small business owners.
“They’ve implemented new systems aimed at making every small business owner matter, from the biggest outlet in town, to the mom and pop shop down the street,” he said. “This formula has resulted in a significant growth in sales, and the Howards could serve as role models for other small business owners.”
Ethics, the Howards say, lie at the heart of their operation. Greg said the PostNet way may not always be the right solution for a particular client, and when that’s the case, the Howards won’t hesitate to send their client down the road and deliver him to a competitor’s door step.
“It’s all about how can we help the customer meet his needs the best way possible,” Greg said. “That doesn’t always have to be the most expensive way, and sometimes it’s not even the PostNet way. We are honest about that, too. If we say we’re the neighborhood business center, then we have to behave as neighbors. And if that means there is a solution that’s more effective than something that we have, then we will share it, absolutely.”
It just so happened that the Howards opened their first PostNet franchise in Humble just around the time when the U.S. economy turned sour. But to this day, the Howards aren’t entirely sure whether the national trend stunted or aided the growth of their business.
“We joked about it, saying we didn’t know if we were affected by the economy or not. We had no comparison,” Renee said. “We just saw that our numbers continued to soar. I don’t know, maybe without the rough economy they would have soared even more?“
Greg added that somehow whatever goal he and Renee had set for themselves in those days of infancy, they exceeded. Still, the Howards considered that PostNet’s services in particular may have filled a need for their clients during those uncertain times which contributed to the franchise’s early success.
“Our type of business did well, in part probably because people started a lot of home businesses and small businesses at the time,” Renee said. “With us, they were able to do smaller print jobs they can’t get at the large print houses. The economy may have hurt a lot of people, but I think it actually helped us. People came to us to get their businesses started. Now we watch them grow and they’re still our customers.”
The impact of franchises on the local, state and national economy is significant, according to a study conducted for the IFA Educational Foundation, and along with hundreds of thousands of other franchises across the nation, the Howards are part of a business segment that helps get the economy back on track. The study has found that in Texas alone, franchise establishments directly provide 727,500 jobs and contribute $175 million to the economy.
“As Washington works to strengthen and renew our economy, lawmakers should remember that franchising counts in local communities all across the country,” said IFA Chairman Jon Luther, chairman of Dunkin’Brands and the Arby’s Restaurant Group . “With available credit and sound regulatory policies, franchise businesses will create the jobs necessary for sustained economic recovery and growth.”
The Howards say their singular focus on customer service is a key ingredient in their recipe for success. Equally important, however, they say, is their growing staff of now seven employees who helped translate their vision of becoming a true neighborhood staple into reality. The primary requirement for working for the Howards is people skills.
“We believe it’s about human interaction first. The rest is technical, and that’s something we can teach,” Greg said. “Even if you make a technical mistake, it’s no big deal. But if you make a mistake with a client, that causes a lot of harm. It doesn’t hurt to know Photoshop and have the basic rudimentary skills for the job. But if you don’t have the ability to interact properly with a customer, you won’t even get your foot in the door.”
The Howards’ two PostNet centers are located at 4830 Wilson Rd., Ste. 300, in Humble, and 12680 W. Lake Houston Pkwy. #510 in Summerwood (Houston 77044). For more information about services and pricing, visit http://www.postnet.com/humble-tx203.
Posted in Awards and Recognitions