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RETAIL — Mail Boxes Etc. Founder Duplicating Success

Retail: PixArts Franchises

Beginning to Spring Up

In 1980, Tony De Sio opened Mail Boxes Etc. as a single store in Solana Beach. One store became two, then four, and by the time De Sio sold off Mail Boxes Etc. for health reasons in 1997, his operation had grown to almost 4,000 stores in 50 countries.

Now he’s back from open-heart surgery and looking to do it again , starting from scratch with one store in one location. PixArts, a multiple-service digital photography studio, opened its first store in Mira Mesa late last year.

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Already, the single store appears to be doing well. Barbara Roberts, co-owner of the Mira Mesa location, reported sales at her franchise have average about $13,700 a month since it opened in December.

PixArts will open two new franchises over the next two months, in Poway’s Twin Peaks Plaza and in The Canyon Plaza in Chula Vista. Six more stores are under construction in San Diego County, Las Vegas, Denver and Puerto Rico.

De Sio hopes to have as many as 50 locations by the end of the year. By the end of 2001, that could balloon to 200, mirroring Mail Boxes Etc.’s growth, De Sio said.

Joining De Sio are several key players from his Mail Boxes Etc. days, including Bill Lange, Blaine Roberts and Rick Nestor.

De Sio started PixArts with the same idea that helped launch Mail Boxes Etc.: combine several already-existing concepts and market them under one roof. In MBE’s case, De Sio combined mail boxes, postal services, copying facilities, United Parcel Service pickup and office supplies.

PixArts packages a photography studio with a frame shop, an art gallery, a commercial sign shop, and even interior decorating concepts. Each of these businesses would do mildly well on their own, but couldn’t survive in a high-profile location where rents are high, such as a strip mall, De Sio said.

Technology Opens New Doors

Combining the services under one roof allows PixArts to increase the number of customers per square foot of business, he said.

Making all this possible is new digital imaging technology which obviates the need for huge printing machines and other equipment that would be incompatible with a strip mall location, he said.

De Sio expects PixArts to do well as a franchise because it has a number of advantages , even over Mail Boxes Etc.

“This is a very customer-friendly business. People just love the product,” he said. “The other thing is the margins are high, as compared to Mail Boxes, where there can’t be a very big margin on the sale of stamps. Here, we have some significant margins that we can work with, so that also helps the bottom line.”

Plus, potential franchise operators find they have an affinity for this sort of business. They imagine themselves to be amateur photographers or interior decorators.

The PixArts line of products and services includes a digital photography studio, where pictures can be printed on a number of surfaces , including canvas , so a baby’s photo can be framed and mounted like fine art.

The ability to print photographs on fabrics also allows PixArts to dabble in interior decorating and clothing concepts, such as custom throw pillows and silk scarves.

Customers can also digitally manipulate already existing photos, for example restoring old photographs or even removing an ex-spouse from the picture, De Sio said.

PixArts also makes transparent illuminated signs in its in-house sign shop, while its art gallery has licenses with several artists to digitally store and reproduce their paintings, allowing the shop to maintain thousands of paintings with a limited amount of floor space.

Putting all these features under one roof should be key to PixArts’ success, said George Whalin, president of San Marcos-based Retail Management Consultants.

“It’s a heck of a deal for consumers, and having somebody like De Sio involved makes all the difference in the world,” Whalin said.


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