Mail Boxes Etc. UK & Ireland's blog


The power of two

Making the most of market opportunities

When marketing expert Howard Woodward left the corporate world, he found the ideal way to be his own boss with a franchise from Mail Boxes Etc.

After taking a degree in international marketing at Greenwich University and spending much of his career in product and channel marketing, Howard Woodward found that redundancy forced him to evaluate what he wanted to do for the rest of his working life.  Self-employment seemed attractive, but he didn’t have any specific ideas, so he decided to visit The Franchise Show for inspiration.

The concept of taking on a franchise appealed, because it’s an established business model and comes complete with start-up support, and Howard was drawn to MBE because, he explains:  

“You’re not relying on one revenue stream.”  Exploring opportunities to relocate from Oxford to somewhere near the coast, he found an ideal opportunity in Bournemouth.  “An MBE store had already opened there about 18 months earlier, but it’s a big area and I knew it could handle more than one store,” he says.  

At first, Howard had no plans to own multiple stores but in time he would develop his business to the point where expansion was an obvious next step.  “I opened in June 2003 in the Lansdowne area, grew that business for a few years and then in 2010 I took over the other MBE store that was already established in Bournemouth Triangle,” he says.  

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Having the two stores has allowed Howard to leverage the mix of services that MBE offers, coping with the challenges of the changing marketplace and making the most of opportunities as they arise.

Developing core services

Howard finds it rewarding to be an MBE franchisee:  “The best part is being your own boss, and it’s an interesting challenge to try and make it work.”  One of the upsides of the multiple revenue streams in the MBE business model has helped him prosper on the high street.  In developing the core services he offers, Howard and his team have been careful to focus on customer needs, capitalising on any movement in the marketplace.  This has worked very well with print:  “There is less competition now, which is good, and we’re still here to take the business that’s there.  It’s important to be able to offer what customers are looking for – including low print runs, cost-effective design services and fast turnaround.”

When it comes to adding value to the postal and shipping side of the business, Howard thinks MBE’s consultative sale approach, offering expertise, face-to-face service and a choice of providers, has helped him carve a niche that separates him from the online competition and draws customers who want personal service.  “You do build up a knowledge bank, which means you usually know what to do – whatever the size and shape of the package and wherever it’s going.  Our experience means we can often pre-empt problems and advise the customer accordingly.  It’s unlikely they’d get that online.”

Howard focuses on print in his Triangle store, which has the fifth largest print turnover within the MBE network.  “Tony, the store manager, has a print background as well as being very good at Photoshop, and we also employ two graphic designers.  The store has evolved to reflect these skills,” Howard explains.

The growth of online bidding in the auction sector has meant an increase in antiques and fine art shipping.  “We serve most of the auction houses in Dorset, which keeps our Lansdowne store very busy.”  The store’s reputation brings in plenty of direct business, as well as auction houses and buyers who find his services as part of MBE’s branded Auction Logistics offering.

Another steady income stream is in mailbox rental. “We find it’s mostly small businesses who don’t want to use their home address.”  Business customers often need print and shipping, so Howard ensures the stores are well merchandised inside to alert customers to the full range of services offered.

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Asked for his advice to budding entrepreneurs, Howard says it’s important not to underestimate how much hard work is involved in being self-employed.  “Make sure you’ve got something that suits you – do your research.  And try to find a business with multiple revenue streams.”

He encourages fellow MBE franchisees to make use of the resources offered to them from the marketing team and the business support from both head office and the area franchisees.  “Everyone is very helpful and there’s a lot on offer – you can choose the things you’ll get the best potential from.  It’s all there, so make the most of it.”


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