Biz-Life is a series where we highlight local businesses, big or small, giving insight into how they operate and succeed in our economy. By interviewing those behind it all, we gain an understanding of pros, cons and what it takes to have a successful business in SA. The bonus is Shelflife get to highlight businesses that we believe in!
We recently sat down with Mr Bzar from We Do Graffiti to find out more about his business and how he turned graffiti into a profitable, legal gig.
Read the interview below!
For those who don’t know, who are you and what do you do for a living?
So, before I say anything let me introduce myself, some people call me Mister, some people call me Bzar, so you can just call me Mr Bzar.
Basically, what I do, is take boring walls and make them look pretty. But no really, jokes aside, in a way you could say I create custom spaces, through creative design, produced as murals. Or in layman's terms, I’m a graffiti artist and muralist.
How did you get into graffiti? And then later turn it into a profitable business?
How do you cut a long story short? Without going too in depth, I left the typical high school scene after Standard 8, and moved over to a more alternative Government College, to pursue my studies in the Visual Arts. This place was riddled with reprobates; I may have even been one myself. I always had a slight interest in Graffiti, but it was here that I got introduced to the actual scene.
Fast forward 10 years, countless late nights in bushes, watching trains, bullshit politics, a good few fights, 3 nights in the cells... You get the idea.
Come to the end of 2015 when, funny enough, I decided to resign from my position as Head of Design at Shelflife. I chose freedom, over full time employment. And here we are in the 4th year of fun times and I have never looked back since.
Who have some of We Do Graffiti’s clients in the past been?
Our client base is super broad, from big corporates, agencies, alcohol and cigarette brands to smaller restaurants, BnB's and personal homes. We are currently doing quite a lot of work for Corona Extra, with previous jobs for liquor brands such as Budweiser, Hunters, Olmeca, KWV and Castle, to name a few. We recently completed two large jobs for Yoco and Ridley Scott Productions.
What are some of the business's highlights?
Not so much a business highlight as a highlight of the business, is the opportunity to travel to new destinations. Anything from a small trip to George or Plett, to further up country to Gauteng, the North West & Mpumalanga. This really adds a new sense of satisfaction to the 'job'. We are currently working on some international gigs and plans for next year.
How big is your team?
Currently we have 2 main artists, which is the ideal number for most of our projects. If required, we expand the team accordingly, such as on the recent production set for Ridley Scott. Here we had a total of 6 artists, over one and a half weeks.
How important do you think marketing is for a brand?
A brand cannot exist without marketing. A 'brand' is your clients' perception of your business, not the business itself. Without any form of marketing, there is no exposure, therefore no perception or brand. So to answer your question simply, it is essential. That's the easy question, the more complex question is how do you do marketing?
What new skills have you had to learn running your business?
Definitely management. Be it time, projects, clients, financials etc. Learning how to manage all the elements is a constant learning experience. This is my second successful business and I still learn new things all the time. It has been amazing to grow as a person while doing the “work” you love.
Which rules do you think any brand trying to make it in South Africa should follow?
I'm a graffiti artist, I'm not exactly one for following rules. My best advice would be to stand out and be recognisable. Don’t be afraid to try new things. As long as your product provides value and caters for the people of SA. I could probably learn a thing or two from my own advice. (laughs)
Have you seen an increased interest in commercial or ‘legal’ graffiti from the corporate side of things? What do you think of it?
Yeah there definitely is, which is good for business as well as for the graffiti culture in general. Big corporates aren't always the easiest customers, but once you learn how to deal with them, it's easier to satisfy them and take their money.
What are the biggest hurdles/setbacks you have to deal with?
Not so much a hurdle, but something that many companies have to become accustomed to is the irregularity in income. The stressful scenario of either having no work, or too much work, the latter being the preferable stress of course. I find it's always best to be proactive apposed to reactive when it comes to sourcing clientele. A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.
Any crazy requests from client’s you can talk about?
I had a dude ask me to paint his DJ name on the M3 freeway once, haha. I told him I wasn't interested
Do you have any advice for dealing with tough clients?
Is the juice worth the squeeze? (laughs)
If you could collaborate with any brand or artist, who would it be?
Ah hands down @glossblack aka Mecro. He is such a versatile artist with an amazing skill set. I love his style and compositions. If you don't already follow the homie, you should definitely check out his work!
Do you have a favourite sneaker brand? If so, which one and why?
There's something about the aesthetic and craftsmanship of a New Balance that speaks to me. It's like a people's shoe, there's one for everyone. They've really done a great job with their branding. And then you get the Jordan 4 silhouette, which has to be my favourite sneaker of all time. I grew up skateboarding and I think the 4 has certain elements that tie in with my earlier skating shoes. This sneaker has so much style and appeal. Pity I’m too stingy these days and almost refuse to add any more sneakers to my collection.
Any exciting plans for the future that we should look out for?
I’m always looking to evolve the business. I have a ton of ideas, it’s just a matter of time and direction. I am not one who talks about it all the time, I work quietly, but my designs and business speak for themselves. Look at Shelflife as an example, they’re not exactly your typical sneaker retail store, they’re so much more. There are no rules when it comes to this.
Any advice to those wanting to stand out in your industry?