By Peter Saunders
Hadi Nouri, founder and CEO of GTA Car Wrap, did not enter the sign industry through a traditional route. After earning a bachelor degree in software engineering in Iran, he moved to Canada in 2006. He studied English as a Second Language (ESL) at Seneca College of Applied Arts and Technology in Toronto, followed by Seneca’s Digital Media Arts (DMA) course at York University, which focused on working with interactive multimedia applications for the web, mobile devices, social media and other new development platforms. Nouri honed his graphic skills on website design, but realized it was a highly competitive field and began to look for other business opportunities with equal or greater growth potential.
“I always wanted to run my own business, rather than work for someone else,” he explains. “One of my professors at Seneca, Andrew Tedford, was very cool and understood the graphics business. As he put it, website design is a good field, but you have to be so powerful to really stand out in the market. Then a family friend inspired me to turn my graphic design background to vehicle wraps, by pointing out how they were related.”
Having no inkling about the car wrap business, Nouri researched the market. He watched how-to videos online, took hands-on courses with 3M Canada, practised wrapping his own car and made new contacts in the industry. The more he learned, the more he realized there was still a largely untapped opportunity to sell wraps to small businesses.
“At the time, it seemed like the big car wrapping companies already had their own big customers and were not looking to add more,” he says. “I decided to target small businesspeople who, like me, didn’t know anything about car wraps before. I had to learn to sell them something they’d never bought before. And at first I didn’t even know how to price it!”
Building the business
Following this steep learning curve, Nouri launched GTA Car Wrap in 2009 as a division of Toronto Media Pro, his website design and development business. He opened a 260-m2 (2,800-sf) shop in Vaughan, Ont., where his first wrap customer was a referral.
“It wasn’t busy at first because, as mentioned, I was approaching people who didn’t know yet what car wraps were,” he says. “That was so hard. I had to explain the medium to them, how it’s like free advertising compared to buying a billboard.”
In particular, Nouri approached businesses that were using plain white vans, as these provided the most obvious opportunities for wrap-based advertising. From construction contractors to restaurants with delivery vehicles to mobile businesses where the van is the owner’s office, he found all of these businesses came with their own ideas for wraps.
For the first year, he ran the entire business himself, outsourcing the printing to nearby shops.
“Business was so slow that year,” he says. “I was wrapping a maximum of two cars a month.”
In 2010, Nouri purchased his first printer—an HP Designjet—to bring the work in-house. In 2014, when he moved the business to its current, slightly larger 279-m2 (3,000-sf) facility in Richmond Hill, Ont., he replaced the Designjet with an HP durable aqueous ‘latex’ inkjet printer.
“I like the quality of latex inks,” he says, “and they dry right away, so we can laminate the graphics right after printing them.”
Over the same period, he replaced his original, basic laminator with a new Royal Sovereign model and added the latest Graphtec laser cutter for plotting.