Stoney Creek, Canada, December 12, 2006 --(PR.com
)-- The aspirations of his seven-year-old nephew led Joe Bruno to enter the youth sports photography business in 1987 when he was only 21 years old and in his second year of college.
An aspiring entrepreneur, Bruno was studying business at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., at the time. He was spending New Year’s Day with family and friends, playing a card-toss game with his nephew’s hockey trading cards when the youngster said, “Uncle Joe, one day I’m going to be on one of these cards.”
“I thought to myself, how many kids have that dream and never fulfill it?” Bruno recalled. “It was too bad there wasn’t a trading card for a seven-year-old. That sparked the idea.”
Six months later, Bruno was in the youth sports photography business, having started the venture from his bedroom in his parent’s house in suburban Toronto. He was not only turning out youth trading cards for a variety of sports, but also serving as a full-service photo provider for youth sports organizations, providing high-quality individual and team portraits and other innovative products.
“It started very simply,” said Bruno, who after six months was able to co-lease work space from another commercial photographer. “I needed a small loan to get things started, but off we went. I had an advantage over my competitors because I had products they didn’t have. We always stayed several steps ahead in our product offerings.”
Today, Future Stars Sports Photography is one of North America’s premier, franchised sports photography services, providing youth sports organizations with high-quality, innovative photo products and unparalleled service. It is complemented by Pegasus School Images, launched by Bruno in 1999. Recognized for its superior product line and comprehensive school program, Pegasus has become one of the fastest-growing school picture companies in North America.
Photographing more than 250,000 children in the United States and Canada each year, Future Stars Sports Photography and Pegasus School Images not only combine to provide unmatched quality and service for customers, but the business models offer unique opportunities to prospective franchisees. They can choose to become a Future Stars franchisee and become involved in the exciting sports market or they can choose the Pegasus model if they are interested in school photography. Of course there is great synergy if they choose both brands because it provides dual-revenue streams that allow consistent year-round sales in two fast-growing industries. All photography services are digitally based.
“The school picture market is huge and youth sports photography has really taken off in the last 10 years. There is a healthy market for both concepts,” said the 40-year-old Bruno, who serves as president of both companies.
With three dual U.S. locations in Ohio, Arizona and Nebraska and 12 Canadian franchisees – the majority in Ontario – Future Stars and Pegasus are targeting more aggressive growth in 2007, projecting the addition of six Future Stars franchises and four Pegasus School Images in the U.S. In Canada, 2007 plans include adding 3 more Future Stars franchises and 5 more Pegasus School Images. By the end of 2010, Bruno foresees 50 franchises in the United States and 20 in Canada.
The expansion comes on the heels of the company’s success during the past three years, a period that Bruno calls “incredible.” Backed by the industry’s best customer service network, Future Stars and Pegasus have achieved a stellar two-day average for proof delivery to customers and seven-day average for photo-package delivery. The outstanding service has struck a chord with customers. Sales have increased 25 percent each year during the span.
The company operates its own 12,000-square-foot, 24-hour digital production facility that opened in 2003 in Stoney Creek, Ont., near Hamilton. It has 30 employees and produces more than 100,000 photo packages a month during peak periods.
“We have wowed our customers and continued to improve our product and delivery quality when we thought we couldn’t do any better,” Bruno said. “We have a well-tuned machine and our production and marketing-support facility is easily scalable to support our rapid growth.”
Future Stars opened its first U.S. franchise in Ohio in 1998. Pegasus School Images was founded the following year, the inspiration coming from Bruno’s Future Stars’ customers who said the company should bring its reputation for innovation and quality into the school picture industry.
Pegasus found immediate success, expanding from a test market of a half-dozen Canadian schools to more than 165 schools the following fall. By taking the time to listen to parents and administrators and following through with a commitment to quality, customer service and innovation, Pegasus successfully competed against much larger industry competitors.
“We were competing against them and winning,” Bruno said.
With tremendous momentum behind Pegasus School Images, the decision was made to put the Future Stars’ franchising program on hold in 2000 when the concept had nine Canadian and one U.S. franchise. The move allowed management the opportunity to focus on further developing and fine-tuning the school photography concept.
“We needed to focus on the school market, perfect it and become the leader in that market, as well,” Bruno said. “It was a lucrative market and there was so much opportunity.”
Franchising for Pegasus School Images began in late 2005 and Future Stars Sports Photography resumed its franchising program at that time. Bruno began offering the option for a new two-division business model that encompassed both Future Stars Sports Photography and Pegasus School Images, providing prospective franchisees a unique opportunity with unmatched franchisee support, centralized customer service and cutting-edge digital production facilities.
“We decided to go back into the franchising market with a much more attractive and lucrative system. We now offer two unique opportunities that can be stand alone or combined, thus taking advantage of some economies such as using much of the same equipment like cameras, lighting, etc.,” Bruno said. “We had been the market leader in Canada for several years so we re-entered the franchising market both there and in the United States. It made sense to service both the school and youth sports markets since there is not much overlap between the busiest seasons for each business.”
The estimated initial investment for a Future Stars franchise or a Pegasus franchise ranges between $25,600 and $49,500, and includes a franchisee fee determined by the number of 5- to 17-year-old children in the franchisee’s territory. A typical territory has a population of between 50,000 and 100,000 children ages 5-17. A territory with 50,000 children ages 5-17 would have a franchise fee of $12,500. A franchisee can purchase a combined Future Stars / Pegasus franchise and get a discount on the combined franchise fee.
One person can easily launch the businesses from home with additional space and employee requirements addressed as the business grows. Future Stars can be operated as a part-time business, as most shoots occur during the evenings and weekends. Pegasus and a combined Future Stars / Pegasus must be operated as a full-time business. Bruno said ideal candidates are highly motivated individuals with strong sales abilities who are able to promote their business to schools and youth sports organizations. The concept is suitable for both small and large markets.
“We can teach the photography skills fairly simply but it is much harder to change someone’s personality to become a salesperson,” said Bruno, who added that the franchise model is also well suited for couples, where both are involved in the business or one partner has a full-time job and helps on nights and weekends.
“Our concept is very affordable compared to most franchise opportunities without sacrificing the potential to make a lot of money,” Bruno continued. “Our concept can be scaled upward very quickly for highly motivated franchisees.”
Instead of paying royalties, franchisees participate in a revenue-sharing program based on each franchisee’s sales of products and services. Various photography programs have different revenue-sharing percentages ranging from 20 to 75 percent.
“The program makes it very simple for franchisees to account for their revenues while also ensuring that neighboring franchisees are offering the same programs at the same prices,” Bruno said.
Future Stars / Pegasus corporate headquarters’ also assumes all customer service responsibilities with an in-house centralized, toll-free, 800-customer-service support team as well as a 24-hour online customer service program. The production facility handles the data entry of all orders, giving franchisees time to focus on the components most important to building their business – acquiring customers and taking photos.
“We handle all customer care to not only the school or sports league, but we extend it to the parents who ordered the pictures and may need an issue resolved,” Bruno said. “That frees up time for our franchisees to concentrate on selling and photography. We are working with them to build their business.”
There’s one other overriding factor that points to the strong growth opportunities of Future Stars / Pegasus both in the United States and Canada. The businesses are virtually recession-proof. If you doubt that argument, just walk into the home of any family with school-age children and see what is on the walls and tables and stashed away in drawers.
“We are not affected by too many economic factors. We went through a recession and our business grew,” Bruno said. “Photo products are low-cost items that have a lot of value to our customers. It means a lot to parents to have pictures of their sons or daughters. For $20 or $25 they get something that makes them feel very good.”