'War wagon' battles graffiti

Kalimeris and Bowman almost lost their chance at their franchises from difficulty obtaining insurance and the resistance of Canadian banks to lend money for small business start-ups. Because Kalimeris had a history with Goodbye Graffiti, they were able to wrangle insurance. In the end, the partners financed their new enterprise themselves when the chartered banks demanded a 100 per cent secured loan.

The Toronto Star
June 28, 2004

'War wagon' battles graffiti
Franchise system mixes elbow grease, Internet, e-mail. Business model built on restoring surfaces quick.
Donna Jean MacKinnon

Brent Bowman and John Kalimeris are fast becoming the scourge of Toronto's graffiti scribblers.

They are partners in Goodbye Graffiti, a franchised company that removes unwanted "art" and defacements from walls and buildings.

Graffiti is defined as something applied to a building without permission, according to Kalimeris.

"Most graffiti is done by teenaged ‘taggers’," he explains.

"Tagging" is a sub-culture and the more tags (signatures) a kid has, the more prestige he or she has. Tagging, however, is also vandalism — a crime often resulting in expensive property damage.

A career in stamping out graffiti began for Kalimeris when, as a security consultant, he was investigating a graffiti problem for a Vancouver client. He discovered the services of Goodbye Graffiti and, in 2002, ended up buying the franchise for Victoria.

Goodbye Graffiti Inc. is the brainchild of Vancouverite Perri Domm. He started by trying to erase graffiti from his own condominium using an assortment of ineffectual removal products. Domm went looking for more effective cleaning products and, with a chemist, developed his own — a multi-product system that efficiently cleans graffiti vandalism from structures.

Four years ago, Domm became a franchisor, and sold his first franchise in Surrey. Goodbye Graffiti now has 11 franchised locations including Tacoma, Wash., Atlanta and Toronto.

Domm describes his cleaning products as the "most multi-faceted anti-graffiti arsenal in the world," though the company also says they are non-toxic and environmentally friendly.

The franchisees have 16 different formulas, each specifically designed to get graffiti off particular materials, such as brick, wood, marble — whatever kind of surface is defaced. Two other goops help crews restore de-graffited surfaces.

Most large companies budget for graffiti removal as part of the upkeep of a building.
Goodbye Graffiti uses computers, custom software, the Internet, and digital photography to manage the service and communicate with customers.

Clients report graffiti by phone, Web or e-mail, and crews respond in the flesh. "We take a digital picture of graffiti, send it with a removal estimate. They say okay. We do the work," says Kalimeris. "They get invoices. We get paid."

A typical online estimate shows a list of defilements, their nature (spray bomb, ink marker, paint), and thumbnail images of each scribble. "The Beer Store sends us all over the place, and Starbucks calls us from Seattle," Kalimeris says.

Kalimeris decided to return to his hometown Toronto. Enter Bowman, who has a background in customer service, and has been friends with Kalimeris for 20 years. After a trip to Goodbye Graffiti's head office in Vancouver, Bowman decided graffiti eradication was the career for him. He was impressed with the franchiser's emphasis on service and low overhead, since the business runs from a home computer and a customized truck.

Kalimeris sold his Victoria franchise and the partners then bought two franchises — east and west Toronto — in September 2002. After four weeks training, they began organizing their Toronto operation and by March 2003 they were up and running.

Demand has been brisk enough that in less than a year the partners were able to add a second truck and hire five full-time employees. "The business is here," Kalimeris says.

Their roster of customers also includes Starbucks, The Gap, The Beer Store, 7-Eleven and Aldo Shoes; the company has contracts with three mainstreet Business Improvement Associations in Toronto.

Graffiti removal is not always routine. Sometimes it's eight storeys up because vandals have hung off buildings with long rollers to apply it, according to Kalimeris.

"On the May 24th weekend, 400 of our buildings were hit," he says. "At one building on Spadina, one guy did 15 tags."

And during March Break, 25 buildings were defaced in one night.

Goodbye Graffiti has developed a marketing strategy for its franchisees called the Ever-Clean Program.

This initiative's backbone is a monthly maintenance fee, paid by a client. The $109 average-per-building fee entitles a client to a weekly inspection of properties with an immediate estimate for graffiti removal.

Besides pressure washing with appropriate chemicals from their truck, graffiti "technicians" tear down posters, clean windows, remove gum, repaint and generally keep a client's turf free of unwanted debris and visual abrasions.

The partners also advise customers on how to prevent graffiti with lighting and thorny bushes.

"Some property managers have 40 or 50 buildings to check, so graffiti is the least of their problems," Kalimeris says. "They like to have us take care of it all." Bowman and Kalimeris paid about $160,000 for the two franchises, a price that included the use of the Goodbye Graffiti trademark, customized online computer systems and access to the propriety cleaning products(for comparison, a Tim Horton franchise runs about $350,000.)

There are on-going fees paid to the franchiser: 5 per cent royalty on gross sales and 3 per cent of gross sales for research and development.

The Goodbye Graffiti trucks, dubbed "War Wagons," were developed by Domm so all equipment for removing graffiti is neatly stowed under an aluminium canopy. There is a complete set-up for repainting, safety equipment on racks and a toolbox.

The rig also has a 75-gallon water tank for the hot water pressure washer (worth $12,000 to $15,000). The water is kept warm by a diesel heater that also keeps all the paints and chemicals from freezing.

"The truck is a symphony in efficiency," Kalimeris says. "Everything is snugly fitted in and it's set up so one person can run the truck and do the work."

Kalimeris and Bowman almost lost their chance at their franchises from difficulty obtaining insurance and the resistance of Canadian banks to lend money for small business start-ups.

Because Kalimeris had a history with Goodbye Graffiti, they were able to wrangle insurance. In the end, the partners financed their new enterprise themselves when the chartered banks demanded a 100 per cent secured loan.

But that's all behind them. Looking to the future, Kalimeris's and Bowman's goal is to buy up more Ontario franchises.

For information about a Goodbye Graffiti franchise and its services, visit goodbyegraffiti.com.


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