$3 million a year making buttons, badges and specialty items.

It’s fitting that Jeff Tino’s schooling is in mathematics. During his 17-year association with Recognition Express, Tino’s problem-solving skills have been put to use on a regular basis. However, the president and CEO has repeatedly proven unusually adept at overcoming obstacles.

Started in 1972, Recognition Express is a franchised, global leader in the recognition industry, producing personalized name badges, interior signage, awards and advertising specialty items for customers that range from some of the largest companies in the world to local, family-owned businesses.

Tino, who holds a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Loma Linda University in Riverside, Calif., began his professional career as a logistics engineer for General Dynamics in San Diego. “Bored and looking for something new,” Tino became a partner in a business brokerage firm in 1988 and the following year became part of a four-person ownership group that bought Recognition Express.

The ensuing years have produced more twists and turns than an Agatha Christie novel, but Tino, who became president of Las Vegas-based Recognition Express in 1996, has weathered the storms to position the 10-unit network to grow.

“It’s an absolutely exciting time,” said Tino, who also doubles as a Recognition Express franchisee in Las Vegas with annual sales of more than $3 million.

Although its franchising program has been dormant for the last decade, Recognition Express has continued as a global leader in the recognition industry, counting some of the world’s best-known companies among its clients including Disneyland Resort, Century 21, Dairy Queen, Radisson Hotels, Blockbuster and Hewlett-Packard. The company’s primary niche is producing personalized name badges that promote clients’ branding and customer service efforts.

With a new franchising effort under way, Tino projects Recognition Express can eventually grow to 400 U.S. franchises and possibly 1,000 if it expands its presence in the fast-growing, multi-billion-dollar advertising specialties market. Recognition Express is the largest and only nationally franchised company in its niche in the fragmented recognition industry, comprised primarily of small “mom-and-pop” trophy shops.

Tino said he is initially targeting growth opportunities in western markets such as Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix and the Bay Area, but said the company would readily consider growth opportunities in markets throughout the United States. Recognition Express currently has franchisees in California, Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Texas, Illinois, Connecticut, Georgia and Florida.

Dick Ferguson founded Badgeman—the predecessor to Recognition Express—in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., in 1972. Ferguson was an associate of California real estate broker Art Bartlett, who co-founded Century 21 Real Estate Corporation in 1971. Badgeman was begun, in part, to produce personalized name badges for realtors within the upstart company.

Franchising began in 1974 and the company grew to almost 90 U.S. franchises and a prospering master license network in Europe. The company was renamed Recognition Express in 1986. That same year, Ferguson suffered a stroke from which he would never fully recover. When Ferguson died three years later, the franchisee network had fallen into shambles and only about 25 franchisees remained.

In 1989, Tino and Dennis Hunt purchased Recognition Express along with two silent partners. Fifteen years earlier, Hunt had helped launch the company’s original franchising program. A freewheeling sort, it was Hunt whose business brokerage firm Tino had joined when he left his engineering career. The two made an interesting pair given Tino’s staid background in math.

Although Recognition Express franchisees were performing well, the franchisor-franchisee relationship had frayed considerably when Ferguson’s health problems began. While Tino worked to repair those relationships, the Gulf War that had begun in 1990 thwarted franchising efforts.

“We couldn’t have picked a worse time to sell franchises,” Tino recalled. “It hurt.”

In 1991, Tino and Hunt bought the Recognition Express franchise in Las Vegas from its retiring owner, with Hunt focusing on running the franchise system while Tino worked on restoring the faltering Las Vegas operation. Sales were a lowly $3,000 per month. Vendors were owed money.

Pursuing potential clients with dogged persistence, Tino gradually improved sales until after three years they were close to $500,000 and within about five years Tino had transformed Las Vegas into the top-performing franchise in the Recognition Express system. Today, Tino’s Las Vegas franchise has 34 employees.

“It caught the attention of our franchisees,” Tino said. “Pretty soon they started calling and asking, ‘How do you do this? How do you that?’ They respected what I had accomplished.”

But the optimism was tempered. About the same time that Tino had begun turning around Las Vegas, a group of nine franchisees stopped paying royalties, claiming they were dissatisfied with the growth of the system. However, an arbitrator resoundingly ruled in favor of Recognition Express, siding with the franchisor in eight cases while the other was declared a draw.

Tino had one last obstacle to overcome. Hunt-Tino’s longtime business partner, who had been diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 1986, passed away in 1996 at the age of 46. However, a three-and-a-half year court battle ensued with Hunt’s widow, who had contested the buy-sell agreement between Tino and Hunt. The case was finally settled in 2000, when Tino became majority owner of the Recognition Express franchise system before later assuming sole ownership.

With an initial investment of $79,900, Recognition Express affords franchisees the opportunity to operate a business-to-business concept from either their home or a small commercial space of approximately 600 square feet. While two-thirds of its business is derived from personalized name badges, Tino said recognition Express is expecting sizable growth in the interior signage (currently 10 to 15 percent of revenue), awards (10-15 percent) and advertising specialties (seven percent) categories.

Fifty percent of Recognition Express franchisees are husband-wife teams and the easy-to-operate concept can be launched by a single franchisee with only one part-time employee.

Taken from WEB