Franchise Rising featured Interview with Laurie Spivack
Goodbye Graffiti, Hello Entrepreneurship feat. Laurie Spivack of Goodbye Graffiti USA
Written by Erin Carpenter
March 14, 2019
Erin Carpenter: Welcome back everyone to another episode of the Franchise Rising podcast. Thanks so much for joining us today.
I am thrilled to bring on a brand new guest today, and this guest is extra special – Laurie Spivack, the master franchisor for the U.S. of Goodbye Graffiti. Goodbye Graffiti USA happens to be a sponsor of Franchise Rising, so we’re really thrilled to have this brand be a part of the Franchise Rising family.
We’re really selective about the brands with which we join to present to you as potential brands and potential fits for you as you explore what might work for you if you’re considering joining a franchise.
During this episode we’re going to talk to Laurie and we’re going to really dig into what it means to be a franchisee of Goodbye Graffiti among other things. Laurie, welcome to the show.
Laurie Spivack: Thank you, thank you. I’m really glad to be here.
Erin: Thank you. Thank you for being here. I’m really excited to have you on the show. Laurie, will you get started by telling us a little bit about yourself, yourself as a businesswoman, how you decided to join up with Goodbye Graffiti, and what this journey has looked like for you up until this point?
Laurie: Sure. Well, we have to go back about 16 years. Way back then I was a mom of two school aged kids. I stayed home with my kids, but I wanted to get back into the workforce and contribute financially to my family, so I waited until my youngest was in kindergarten and then I started looking for things to do.
I have a cousin in Vancouver, British Columbia who is the founder of Goodbye Graffiti in Canada and we spoke and he said, “I will give you a license to start a Goodbye Graffiti in Seattle,” since he wasn’t franchising in the United States. That was the arrangement that we made. He has franchises across Canada currently.
So, I started my Goodbye Graffiti, me and a technician, and we’ve grown since. We’ve moved twice and we are currently in a very large 5,000 square foot space with a big shop and office space and room to grow.
About two years ago, I got into a program through Goldman Sachs and Babson college called 10,000 Small Businesses, which I recommend to any small business owner to look into. It’s basically a condensed master’s program in business. I went through the program and one of the things that I decided to do was to talk to the founder about franchising across the U.S. because there was nobody. He was talking to who was going to do it and I thought, well, I can do it. So that’s what I did. We’ve made all of our contracts, got everything set up to be a franchisor in the United States, and here I am.
Erin: Wow. How exciting. Congratulations and fantastic of you to take that kind of initiative. I actually heard have heard of that program, so it’s exciting to hear about someone who’s actually gone through it.
Erin: And praises it. What I love about your story, which is similar to the story of some of our other guests, is a lot of us women parents, some who have kids and some who do not, but I’m speaking to the ones with young kids. We do find ourselves in that space of wanting to do something for ourselves. You know, it’s part of our journey.
We spend our time and pour our heart and our souls into our kids, as we should, and at the same time, there’s that other slice of us that really wants to progress professionally for many reasons, and that’s one of the things that I’ve come to love, love, love about franchising, is it can present a unique opportunity to really quickly step into the role of business ownership as an entrepreneur without starting from scratch.
You know, your youngest was in kindergarten, you stepped in and plugged in and here you are now taking over as a master franchisor for the U.S. That’s really exciting. And what a great example to set for your kids as well.
Laurie: Thank you. Thank you.
Erin: Now when you spoke with your cousin way back when he offered to give you a license for the U.S., at that point, did you, did you look at any other brands?
Laurie: No, I didn’t really consider that I was shopping for a franchise. I saw the opportunity right away and I just grabbed it because I knew that there was a lot of potential in Seattle. But I also saw as I started working on it how many opportunities there were just just from the point of going around the city looking for graffiti. Then I started looking at it in a different way, in terms of what is the graffiti on and where can those assets lead me?
Erin: So when you evaluated the opportunity, it sounds like you put your foot on the ground, wheels on the ground, and you took around look around the city and you saw that there are opportunities for graffiti removal, right?
Erin: It showed you that there was potentially a market for it.
Erin: Was there anything else about the opportunity that seemed promising to you?
Laurie: Well, the potential was that I could make money for my family and that was really important to me because that was my goal: to contribute financially to my family.
Also, the idea of being an employer was very motivating to me. The idea that I could create a job for somebody that is challenging and satisfying, and that I could help to increase somebody’s quality of life was very motivating to me and that’s actually continued.
The idea is still with me as a Franchisor, I just would have more influence that way on a bigger scale because my franchisees would be hiring people and so we would all together be creating really great opportunities for people to have good living.
Erin: So there’s really a multiplier effect when you’re able to sit as a franchisor and influence even more people in that regard, I think greatly. I love that you’re walking into this with that perspective, and I know that we’re going to get to the unique aspects of your leadership a little bit down the road because we’ve talked about that a little bit offline, which I appreciate as well. We’ll get to that.
All right, so let’s dive in a little bit to this brand because I know a lot of our listeners are curious the Goodbye Graffiti brand. This is a little different than some of the traditional brands that we may have had on the show or some that are, you know, typically fall into the bucket of what people would classically think of as a brand that was designated for a mom, or a woman, or someone coming out of corporate.
That’s what I love about this, is that you’re really bringing a unique aspect area and unique brand to the table and something that just shows that it doesn’t matter. We don’t have to have our brands fit into the classic stereotypes in order for it to be a successful one for us. So, tell us about Goodbye Graffiti.
Laurie: Well, Goodbye Graffiti is a service business. We remove graffiti. We’re specialists in graffiti removal. Some of the things that we are able to offer our franchisees are proprietary removal products and methods. Also, we have very high environmental and safety standards. We have our own software for our franchisees.
It’s a business that someone could start at home and then as the business grows then move out. But you would set your foundation at home, and that could keep your costs down as well.
We earn our money two different ways. One way is through just small contracts that we find. We find the work in a multitude of ways that I can talk about later if you want. But the other piece is what we call our recurring monthly income, and that’s in the form of a maintenance program that we call everclean. Simply put, we put the property on a route.The route gets patrolled every week. We remove whatever graffiti is there.
We charge our customer a flat monthly fee, and we bill them three months in advance. We bill them at the end of the month. So at the beginning of the month you can look at your books and say, “Oh, I’m going to be billing out this much at the end of the month,” and it’s great for your goal setting. It’s also great for planning expansion and increasing your employee pool and general growth of the business.
Our commercial customers are primarily property managers, and also we work with property owners, facilities personnel, and government as well. Approximately 20% of our business comes from government contracts.
Erin: How do you even begin to build the business and market to these customers and get them as recurring customers? Recurring members?
Laurie: One of the things that I do in the training is I have a program I’ve developed called “Initiation Launch,” and it’s a quick-start marketing program. So, I sit down with my franchisee. I’ve done some research beforehand and my franchisee has done so as well to get a better feel for their local market. We identify the stakeholders, the stakeholders may be different than what you would expect, and then we set a three-month marketing plan to get the franchisee in front of these people so they can begin to develop relationships.
It’s a relationship-building business. It’s for long-term relationships. I have my very first Ever-Clean maintenance program that I got 15 and a half years ago, almost 16 years ago, I still have that customer, I still have that account and Goodbye Graffiti is their go-to.
One of the things that has happened as we’ve built the business is we get call-ins. So besides going out and looking for work, we’ve built relationships so that people just call us when they get the graffiti. So, 40 times a month we get calls, “I have graffiti, go take care of it,” and we’ve worked building those relationships to get to that point. That’s something that is part of the business model that I encourage and I work with my franchisees to develop that.
Erin: So as part of that flat fee, do they pay the same fee whether they have a need one time a month or 40 times a month?
Laurie: Well, we come every week and remove whatever’s there. So, basically they’re paying us to keep the graffiti off their properties. And we work on pricing it so it’s fair pricing, so that we’re not losing our shirts and they’re not losing their shirts. But the model is really, you want to focus on the group and not each individual account so much because you’re earning revenue on a group of businesses.
Erin: So you want to focus on multiple accounts at once. Is that what you mean when you say focus on the group?
Laurie: No, I’ll give you an example. So, if there’s an organization that’s a non-profit, I’m going to give them a discount because I know that their focus is not on making money, it’s more on continuing their cause or their mission. So, I support them that way. I might have 10 accounts that are from organizations like that and my profit margin is either zero or very low. I know that. So, I can make that up in other ways. That’s what I mean by looking at it as a group.
Erin: Okay. I see. I see. So it’s looking at the accounts collectively as opposed to just one. Okay. I’m really curious as a franchisee, as the owner of one of these franchises, what are the expectations of me personally in terms of cleaning up this graffiti? I mean I have these images of me standing on a ladder and with a big spray gun. I don’t know. What does this look like? Am I going to have to roll up my sleeves and do it?
Laurie: If you have tendencies towards that, then I would say that would be a good place to start. The skill set of the starting organization, and I’m not saying the franchisee, but the starting organization is: we’re going to need some technical abilities. We’re also going to need some sales abilities, and then all the administrative is kind of ancillary because the sales and the execution are the two main things.
I don’t like getting my hands dirty. I started, I hired a technician, and it was a bit of a juggling act at the beginning, but I just trusted that I was going to make it and I had work for my technician. It’s very motivating when you know that you’re responsible for somebody’s well being to get the work on the board, and it just becomes easier and easier. So if you want to be the technician and then hire somebody to be the salesperson, or if you want to start by doing both, there’s no specific recipe that I require.
Some franchises would require a specific number of employees to get started, but I don’t. I also know that if you started with another employee, you’d have the opportunity to build your business quicker. So I hired somebody, I got him trained, and I managed him and I did the sales. That’s what I did to start.
Erin: Alright, that’s great. So what are the property managers and building owners and facilities managers, what are they doing absent Goodbye Graffiti to clean it up? What are their alternatives?
Laurie: They may have janitors or handymen who do it for them. They might do it themselves. There may be another pressure washing company that also does graffiti removal in the area. There might be another graffiti removal company in the area.
However, none of those people can touch us because of the technology that we have, the systems that we have in place, the revenue-creating systems that we have, and also the different ways that we can find work. They don’t have that. All that is was built into the model. Technically, we’re able to offer 100% removal with zero damage to your building, and there’s nobody else out there who can do that on a consistent basis.
Erin: That’s really compelling. I can see how it’s a unique opportunity and especially just with the monthly model, it seems as though it would really reduce the friction on the part of the property managers. I’m speaking to the property managers, but building owners who are dealing with tons and tons of vendors on a regular basis, to make this just an automatic transaction that they don’t have to think about has to be a huge win.
Laurie: Yeah, basically it’s our problem now. We also have a component, not getting too much into the weeds, but there’s an unlimited on-call. So, the spirit of that is, if maybe the resident manager comes out and sees there’s graffiti, he or she can call it in and we’ll take care of it before our next patrol because we don’t want it sitting there collecting more graffiti.
Erin: How do I know which areas would be best-suited for this kind of model, for this kind of system. I mean the ones that are prone to graffiti, so to speak.
Laurie: Well, urban areas definitely. Urban areas and also suburban areas surrounding them. The denser the area in terms of population and commercial businesses, the more the likelihood of graffiti. So, that’s part of the way I determined my territories. I look at other things as well, however the density, and the commercial properties, and businesses are the main thing that I look at to create the territories. We’re talking about territories now.
My commitment is to provide generous territories where people can meet their potential. I’m not interested in having 10,000 Goodbye Graffitis in the United States. There’s going to be a limited number, and I want all of my franchisees to have the opportunities to reach their professional and personal goals.
So I make that, I don’t want to say easier, but I make that more possible by the size of the territories that I provide.
Erin: That’s a really good thought and it’s honestly something that I hadn’t considered when thinking about these other brands. I’m sure there are a lot of brands that slice and dice really small territories so that they can have a big volume of franchisees, but it can also limit the potential of each franchisee by doing so.
Laurie: Correct. One of the things that I’ve learned about franchising is that, in order to start your franchise, you pay a franchise fee and then you pay royalties based on your revenue.
If there is a franchise brand that’s making their money from franchise fees, that’s not sustainable, and that also creates a scenario where they have to keep selling franchisees in order to stay profitable. That’s not a successful model. I don’t use the franchise fees to run the business. The royalties run the business, and that’s how a successful franchise ought to work.
Erin: Right. That’s smart. You’re really more invested in the long-term potential as opposed to the initial transaction for franchisees. What’s a good indicator in general in your opinion of brands that think that way? How would I know going into this that a franchisor thinks that way?
Laurie: Well, one of the things you can look at is currently the number of franchises, and it’s also has to do with the type of franchise. So for instance, a service franchise is different than a restaurant franchise or professional services because they create their territories in different ways.
For instance, with a restaurant, you can’t really have a protected territory because anybody can go to your restaurant. There’s no restrictions that are created for who can go, even if there’s the same franchise two blocks away. So from that standpoint, that’s not a benefit to the franchisee. Also the rate in which the franchisor is bringing on franchises, and you can look at their financials and their financials will give you an indication of where their money’s coming from.
Are the royalties supporting the organization, or are the franchise fees supporting the organization? Because the franchise fees ought to just be for bringing the franchisees aboard and to train them. That’s all that money should be used for.
Erin: Smart. Thanks for that advice. All right, so I am considering joining a franchise, potentially Goodbye Graffiti. How do I know if I’m a good fit?
Laurie: One of the things that we’re looking for is, we’re looking for executives. I don’t mean you have to have been an executive technically, but it’s an executive model. What that means is, as you develop your business, you’re moving away from the day-to-day things.
You may start as the technician, you may start as the person doing all the sales, but you’re going to build your business and you’re going to replicate yourself in those roles. Otherwise, you won’t be able to build your business. You’ll be stuck doing a role in the business.
So, I’m looking for people who have that ability to manage people, people who are good employers, who are good communicators because like I said, for me, I focus on my employees and my employees focus on my customers.
I’m also looking for people who see the opportunity, obviously, who are creative thinkers in terms of looking at what’s out there and to be able to find opportunities. There’s so many opportunities, but if you only think in terms of, okay, I can only talk to property managers, then you’re missing out on a lot of business that can be there.
So, people who can lead and manage people, who are good communicators, people who are creative thinkers in terms of looking for the opportunities, those are some of the main things.
Of course, I need people who can follow the program because the program works, so they need to trust that, that if they follow the program, that they’ll have success, as well.
Culture is a big thing for me. I come from a culture where trusting in other people’s abilities is important, and also supporting people is important. That’s one of the things that I bring into my business.
One of my goals is to allow people to reach their potential and support them as they do that. I’m not a bean counter. Of course revenue’s important, but I kind of feel that if I support the people then the revenue’s going to come because I’m supporting them to be successful and to reach their goals. That’s the culture that I’m creating and I’m looking for people who will and who can embrace that culture and create that type of culture in their operation.
Erin: Fantastic. I firmly believe that the companies that focus on culture and brand are the ones that are really going to win in the current state of business and beyond.
Laurie: I’ve always thought that it doesn’t really matter what I’m selling. Like I could be, you know, selling widgets. But it doesn’t matter if the bones and the muscles of my organization are weak. So that’s the thing that I focus on. Having an executive franchisee with that mindset will allow you to move, to be in that position so that you can be working on your business instead of constantly being in the business on a day to day basis and not to be able to build from the inside out.
Erin: That’s great. Thank you. So, what are some of the costs currently that I can expect as a Franchisee for Goodbye Graffiti?
Laurie: In terms of getting started, there’s an investment range of $72,000 to 95,000 and those are assuming that your large equipment fees are being financed, which the majority of franchisees finance their equipment costs. That includes the training. It includes a startup kit of approximately one year’s worth of removal products, and uniforms, and marketing materials.
And then also if you’re starting your business in your home, you have less overhead and you have less startup costs. Some of the things you probably already own as a professional, for instance, just your office equipment, you probably already have that, and those sorts of things are really easy to acquire.
That’s it. Less than $100,000.
Erin: So it sounds like that includes the franchise fee?
Erin: Right, so the franchise fee as well as startup kit and how much it would cost, assuming you’re going to finance your equipment.
Laurie: The franchise fee is $45,000, but I have a 25% discount for military and first responders.
Erin: All right, that’s great. Good to know. Good to know for sure. Thank you. Well, this has been really, really helpful to understand and it’s been really enlightening to learn more about Goodbye Graffiti and bring this story to our listeners. I’d like to end with just a couple of questions, Laurie. First, what is the best business advice you’ve ever received?
Laurie: Well, I’ve kind of been been hawking this idea already, which is to put your customers first. Do what it takes to keep them happy, but also be true to what your mission is and what your business goals are. Also, it’s okay to fire a customer.
Erin: There you go. That’s a good one. I like that.
Laurie: Not something you want to do a lot, but you know if you can’t please someone, then they’re welcome to go somewhere else. You know, some, some people are like that and it’s okay.
Erin: Yeah. That’s what they say about one bad apple, right?
Laurie: Yeah, exactly.
Erin: That bad apple can spoil the bunch. You want to keep the health of the overall organization and portfolio of customers, focus on that. That’s a good one. What advice would you give personally to another woman looking to buy a franchise?
Laurie: I think one of the things that I think about is, just superficially, this may not be the type of idea or brand or concept that would be a brand that women love because the majority of people who I work with and my staff are men and it’s kind of a gritty, gritty kind of business.
However, there’s a lot of things about Goodbye Graffiti, and any business, because it’s what you make it. I’ve explained where I’m coming from and the kind of organization that I’m building.
What I would recommend is for people who are looking to become franchisees is to really look at who they’re going to be working with for the next seven to 10 years. Do you fit in with the culture? Because business is business. Basically businesses are the same, it’s just what you’re doing and the people you’re working with, and how the organization moves.
So I would say to really make sure that it’s a good fit for you so that you can position yourself in the organization to have good interactions and good outcomes.
Erin: That’s great advice, and this is one of the reasons honestly why we decided to partner up Goodbye Graffiti with Franchise Rising.
When I spoke with you initially, Laurie, and I heard how important it is for you to adhere to core values, that’s something that’s also true to my heart is businesses that are focused on ethics and value, and really getting at the heart of what it means to own and run a business successfully.
And then the other thing that resonates with me personally that I’ve actually transferred into my businesses is the idea that people need to be able to open their minds and accept that perspectives may change. They need to be willing to grow and think differently than they may have before. So you said, even though it may not fit into the traditional brands women love, this is an opportunity for us all to open our minds and change the script about how we think about business and instead decide, hey, this is a brand women love, right?
It’s just like anything, it’s about the lens that we put on, in life, in business, and everything. So we can make a decision either way about an outcome or about how we see things. And it’s up to us personally to decide that. Thanks for providing that perspective.
And we are so thrilled to have you aboard and have you on the show, all of the above. And for the listeners and anyone else, where can they find you, Laurie, and learn more about Goodbye Graffiti aside from on Franchise Rising’s website?
Laurie: Go to goodbyegraffitiusa.com.
Laurie: And just a little word of warning because I don’t want people to get confused. There’s the goodbyegraffiti.com, which is the Canadian organization. If you do end up on their website, you can still get to ours. There’s places that you can click on to get to the United States, but we’re Goodbye Graffiti USA.
Erin: Okay. Yeah. It’s good to point that out, and I will add that in the show notes as well. So, hey everyone, if you go and you check out Goodbye. Graffiti USA, contact Laurie, let her know that you heard her on Franchise Rising, and she’ll take care of you. Alright Laurie, thank you so much for everything. You have an amazing day.
Laurie: Thank you, Erin. You too.
Erin: Take care.