"I spoke to John and he is willing to fly you out to Cali, get you a meeting with Gary and provide you a car so you can go visit Chuck in San Diego. When do you want to go?" Gregg asks.
"Next week," I reply.
"Okay, Angela will call you and set it all up. I'll talk to you when you get back."
And with that exchange, the wheels were in motion for me to become a Money Mailer franchisee. Not that I really thought it would happen.
"If you don't think you want to do it, why are you taking the trip," Silvia asks me over lunch at Panera Bread the following day. Since my unemployment, my wife and I had been lunching together most days. Nice.
"Because I'm trying to explore all of my options and I'm also trying to be open to the possibility that there are things I don't know that will cause me to change my mind."
"I don't know."
Money Mailer is based in Garden Grove, CA. The Orange County locals call it Garbage Grove but that seems a little harsh to me as I roll down Western Ave. to the "new" headquarters building. Money Mailer has been based here since 1991 but moved into this 192,000 square foot facility in 2007. At the time of the move, it was said that Money Mailer had been "bursting at the seams" of their 132,000 square foot facility. Ironically, I was to learn that even the old facility would be more than large enough to accommodate the Money Mailer that Gary Mulloy envisioned.
Gary Mulloy took over as CEO of Money Mailer in 2010 as part of a corporate buyout by Madison Capital Partners. This move was met with trepidation by the employees of Money Mailer as they loved the previous CEO, Godfred Otuteye.
Gary was expecting me and I was ushered into his 2nd floor corner office immediately upon entering the building. I hardly had time to notice they had spelled my name correctly on the "Welcome" board in the lobby when I found myself sipping a Diet Coke and relaxing in a leather, swivel chair with Gary sitting across from me. My initial impression and the one that has stuck with me is that Gary really believes in direct mail (he had been CEO of Advo Systems until 2004) and he has no doubt that a "shared" envelope product, like Money Mailer, has a long future. But, the most important thing I learned that day was that Gary is a principal in Madison Capital Partners. That means, he put his own money into buying Money Mailer. Impressive.
I met all the VP's that day as one after the other they told me their history with Money Mailer and why they love the company. Say what you will about the predictability of this cavalcade but it was impressive when John Patinella, Sr. VP of Franchise Operations, told me that he's been with Money Mailer for twenty-seven years! Later, I would learn that longevity isn't unique to the upper echelon as nearly every employee I met told me they had been with Money Mailer for 7 or 10 or 17 or 30 years. Unfortunately, some of those 30-year vets worked on the 50,000 square foot printing floor and had already been told that Money Mailer was getting out of the printing business. Come June, they would be out of jobs.
While I felt badly for all of those people, I breathed a sigh of relief. After seeing Valpak's fully automated, $300 million printing and distribution facility in Largo, FL, I couldn't imagine how Money Mailer would be able to compete much longer with printing presses and insert machines from the 1970's. Luckily, Gary was way ahead of me and Money Mailer was preparing to outsource all of its printing to four regional printers spread throughout the country. Gary had considered investing the necessary money ($50 million by his estimation) to update the machinery but had decided that there was plenty of excess printing capacity in the U.S. and many printers would be willing to compete for Money Mailer's huge volume. This struck me as a fairly courageous move. Money Mailer, a company that has made its money printing advertising for franchisees, was no longer going to be in the printing business.
While there was nothing interesting about Money Mailer's facilities, I had to admit their people were kind of impressive. And, when you get right down to it, a franchiser is a support structure that depends on the strength of its people. The conversations with the key personnel at Money Mailer were echoing in my head as I hit Interstate 5 on my way to San Diego to meet with Chuck - the franchisee who had recently owned all of San Diego. In a move to save his sanity, he had given up half of the geography and was awaiting word from Money Mailer who would become his franchise neighbor. Regardless of how I felt about corporate, if I wasn't impressed with Chuck there was no way that I was going to invest my money. The critical importance of neighbors in the shared mail business can not be overstated.
One has to be vigilant while traversing Interstate 5 South. The citizens of Southern California are in a hurry to get to the mall or the beach or the skate park or juice bar and with 5-8 lanes, exits on the left and right, one small mistake can land you in one of the many accident turn-offs. Add to the volume, the beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean, the uniqueness of a nuclear power facility right on the beach at San Onofre State Park and the opportunity to pass right through a Marine Corp Base Camp (Pendleton), the drive from Orange County to San Diego is action-packed.
As I cruised through Oceanside and Carlsbad on my way to Chuck's office off the 56, I was struck by the beauty of San Diego. While it's the weather that people think of when they say San Diego is a great place to live, its the vistas that amaze me. Downtown San Diego looks fondly over the harbor and its pleasure craft flirting with massive cruise ships and formidable naval vessels in a scene unmatched by any waterway in America. Drive five miles east and the interstates wind their way through the foothills of the Peninsular Range with gorgeous canyon views and lakes hidden by mountains around every turn. Falling in love with San Diego isn't difficult but I was determined to steel myself from its siren call and evaluate the business opportunity independent of its location.