Room to grow Featured

9:50am EDT July 22, 2002

After building a $200 million printing and promotional products empire through an aggressive franchising strategy, Greg Muzzillo found himself on a North Carolina golf course a little more than 12 months ago, laughing with his friends about the soaring value of Internet stocks.

“I’m not sure that I really understood where the Internet was headed,” says Muzzillo, founder and CEO of Cleveland-based ProForma. “A couple months later, after I started doing some research and talking with consultants, I wasn’t laughing anymore. I realized I’ve got to get off the golf course and work very hard because there is a huge opportunity for somebody to be the leader in the e-commerce world for printing and promotional products.”

On Sept. 1, ProForma launched a $1 million e-commerce arm of www.proforma.com, which Muzzillo envisions will become an e-commerce leader in the industry and serve as the vehicle to finally expand the company’s sales reach outside North America.

“There are a lot of people who say there isn’t space,” he says of the idea to sell printing and promotional products online. “But you know, you can go put books in a search engine and you’ll come up with a lot of companies that think they sell books, but it quickly reduces itself down to Amazon, Borders and a couple of distant players.”

Muzzillo is used to mixed reviews for his innovative business ideas. When he entertained the notion of franchising 12 years ago to expand ProForma outside Cleveland, many people told him it would never work.

“People were laughing at us, thinking franchising was just for burgers, fries and oil changes, and it wasn’t something for our industry,” he says.

Nevertheless, Muzzillo started attending business ownership shows, where he pitched his business model alongside people trying to peddle gumball machines and Bic lighter dispensers.

“There were even things like mink farms and ostrich farms,” recalls Muzzillo. “There were just all kinds of what seemed to me pretty silly business opportunities, and a lot of things that were part-time opportunities, so it was easy for us to look exciting.

ProForma sold its first 40 franchises that way and reached 100 within five years. Today, the company has more than 450 franchises spanning North America in almost every state, Canada and Puerto Rico. But expanding beyond the boundaries of North America and rapidly increasing sales revenue is what Muzzillo now has on his mind.

His ultimate goal is to capture 10 percent of what is a $135 billion international industry, and he is not bashful about discussing the lofty goals he has for his company during the next several years.

“I don’t think we’ll get there in the next five years,” says Muzzillo of his 10 percent goal. “But certainly we would like to become a multibillion organization in the next five years. We are really early on putting together the model and the plan (for the Web site) and that’s really the wild card, but I expect we would be doing a minimum of $2 billion five years out.”

Jim Vickers (jvickers@sbnnet.com) is associate editor of SBN.