Success Stories

The Inner Workings of a Creative Mind

With fierce determination and an artistic approach to his work, Gerrit McLean, Creative CEO of The Gorilla Graffix Group, lives for moments when he gets the job just right and witnesses the excitement on a customer’s face.

A true creative, Robert Gerrit McLean - who introduces himself as Gerrit - runs his graphic design and creative services business with the same meditative focus and step-by-step approach that he applies to creating his pen-and-ink wildlife art. He took a leap of faith when opening up his own shop to steer clear of the alternative. “Everybody's had one of those jobs, you know, where you're sitting doing a job and the day just drags. Every day, you go to work, and it just drags. And the whole time you're at that job, you're questioning why you're at that job. Or, is this job all there is? Is this what life is going to be? That's why I'm doing the creative thing, because I was going to be driving myself crazy in some mundane production job in a factory,” Gerrit explains.

“I have a mind and it needs to be challenged, and doing the creative stuff [challenges me],” he continues then proceeds to describe what sets him apart from others in his profession. More than a client-focused attitude, as a graphic designer Gerrit brings a genuine curiosity and eagerness to bring a customer’s idea to life. “If the response is, ‘Oh, yeah, that's pretty good.’ Then you didn't do it. The response has to be, ‘Oh, that is it!’... You’ve got to have that excited response. And I'm pretty good at getting the excited response. So, it's sort of one of my skills, it’s being able to take somebody's idea and make it a tangible thing.”

Let’s talk about the business

The Gorilla Graffix Group, with Gerrit at the helm, doesn’t simply offer graphic design services, labels, stickers and custom clothing. As its tagline, “We Make It Personal,” implies, this agile small business in Victoria, B.C. also takes on signs, banners, sandwich boards, trade show displays, restorations, vehicle graphics, and boat names. “If I'm doing clothing for a company, it doesn't have to be these big, huge, loud things. It can simply be the employees name on the sleeve, the logo on the pocket.”

Gerrit takes a pragmatic approach to his business and the creative work he does, which speaks to his authentic brand and style. His comfort is the inspiration for his custom clothing partly due to necessity, as he manages chronic pain, but also due to his personable character and passion for the work he does. “I tend to wear, like, more athletic clothing, the hoodies, t-shirts... So I figured, that's what I would brand and label because I'm gonna wear it. So, everywhere I go, I'm always wearing me. There's Gorilla Graffix up or down pants, tops, whatever it is, but I'm covered… I have to live and breathe it,’” he says with confidence.

Gorilla Graffix Jacket Graphic

[Image description: Model turned away front the camera wearing a black and white jacket with The Gorilla Graffix Group logo imprinted on the back.]

One thing that Gerrit says distinguishes him from other creative services shops is the fact that, “There are a lot of shops that function off of a vinyl cutter, there are a lot of shops that function off a large-format printer, I have both. And then on top of that, I have a heat press. So I'm able to do labels, stickers, and all your standard printing. But I'm also able to do clothing and printing. So, that was the other thing that, in my business plan, was crucial. Because if one area dries up, or is a seasonal thing, you can switch your focus to something else,” Gerrit says with pride. 

When it comes to his shop, “I have a great location now… A bunch of us have pooled, and we're in a three-storey place, and I have an office that is a separate room... I have a production room for the printers and vinyl cutters all to themselves. And then I have a wicked enclosed carport, that is like the production area… This is an amazing place!” he exclaims. Gerrit is cautiously optimistic about where his business is headed. While he doesn’t call it a “success story” just yet, he has high hopes, and knows what it takes to get there.

What inspires Gerrit the most about what he does?

While the service he provides and the “wow” factor he is able to deliver his customers day in and day out fuel his work as a business owner, it’s his passion for raw visual art sculpting and drawing that fuel his work as a creative. He recently sold one of his pen-and-ink illustrations of an owl at an online auction where a portion of the proceeds were donated to Pacific Wild. Albeit time-consuming, he is able to continue this fulfilling creative work in tandem with the shop.

When asked about the inspiration behind the Gorilla name, Gerrit divulges that, “[the gorilla] is my favorite creature on earth. I just, I don't know, they inspire me. I think they're amazing. And I just think that they're, they're so close to us, and they can live so peacefully, and yet be so powerful. I don't know. I just love gorillas. I have since I was little,” he says with a smile. As for the company name, when he first decided on the name and went live with his website, he stumbled upon so many similar iterations. That’s how he learned to play around with his brand in creative ways.

How the business has impacted his life.

It was a turning point for Gerrit when he realized that he could pour his effort and time into creative endeavours for himself instead of for other employers while managing his different abilities. “I decided, like, rather than make everybody else all this money, I can do it myself... And that was the other motivating factor, is my injuries. You don't know how you're going to feel from one day to the next but for the most part, even on my bad days, like, with my symptoms being totally obvious, [I can still] get what I need to get done,” Gerrit explains.

The flexibility of being his own boss has helped him keep even keel through the ups and downs of his graphic design business. “I'm able to have a little more say in the work that I'm doing. You know, and I can control the rate at which that comes in. Of course, you're not turning work away if it's good work. But on the flip side of that, I can schedule it so I can physically handle [it] if I need to adjust. Yeah, and that's something you can't do working for someone else,” he concludes.

Gorilla Graffix Group Druck Pose Sticker

[Image description: Illustration of a blue and white baby dragon with wings in flight - Gorilla Graffix Group.]

3 ways partnering with Community Futures BC helped Gerrit thrive

  1. Helped him secure a small startup loan, which he was unable to do with any of the local banks. The financial assistance helped him elevate his company through the purchase of much-needed office supplies, which included the purchase of a brand-new colour laser printer to replace his old one.
  2. The financial assistance also helped him repair and refurbish his large-format printer, which is a key component to his company's production equipment.
  3. The supportive staff at Community Futures demonstrated to him, on more than one occasion, that they were there to help him succeed. That was a big motivator for him.

 

How Gerrit overcame barriers on his entrepreneurial journey.

Gerrit is accustomed to being flexible and rolling with the punches, which has helped him jump over hurdles he has faced as a business owner. When Gerrit had to shut his doors due to the pandemic, he recognized quickly that he needed to take both his store and his sales efforts online in one fell swoop. For those who run retail businesses, the transition to doing business online rather than face-to-face is a significant culture change, to say the least.

Through the Entrepreneurs with Disabilities Program (EDP), Gerrit was connected with consultants that have provided the training necessary for him to gain valuable business skills he needed to up his game in the online environment. “Immediately right now they are wonderfully helpful,” he beams. The online masterminds and business education offered by the Start Up Essentials training have been tailored to Gerrit’s needs, helping him directly apply his learnings to his business in real time.

“The EDP was really important in helping me get the small loan to start. I mean, it didn't happen without them. It hadn't happened yet,” he starts. Unable to qualify for a loan due to his disabilities, he was in a tight spot. “It was when I contacted the EDP program, they suggested they might be able to help with resources. And so we worked on developing the business plan,” he continues, then proceeds to describe how Community Futures helped him prepare his application, and worked with him to get the loan approved.

Gerrit’s best advice for fellow entrepreneurs.

Through trial and error, Gerrit has developed a growth mindset when it comes to his small business. “I’m an old dog having to learn new tricks, and the tricks make a big difference… Always be open to having somebody give advice. Always be open to learning. The learning is important. You'll be learning something new every day and you have to be open to it. Can't have a closed mind. Got to keep those doors open,” he suggests.

Gerrit’s one-step-at-a-time approach reminds professionals and business owners alike that life is unpredictable, and that we can overcome the challenges ahead of us through perseverance and hard work. He sums up his philosophy and hopeful pearls of wisdom by saying, “Keep your nose to the grindstone, head down, one foot in front of the other. If you think about the big picture, it's very overwhelming, and it can almost be disheartening. So, you focus on the one thing in front of you. And you do that until it's done, and then move onto the next thing. That's how I'm approaching this. And like I said, you can't fail if you do it that way. You can't fail. You can make a mistake. You can learn from it, but you can't fail.”

Here’s what Gerrit learned about his business amid the pandemic.

Gerrit felt the impact of the pandemic on his business immediately. His core business, which caters to printing for special occasions, gatherings and public events, took a hit. That’s when Gerrit learned something, “The lesson learned was that I need to have a more comprehensive online presence. So I have been learning on the fly and have started posting on social media, and expanding my website and online options for potential customers.”

The exact moment he felt the most proud of his business.

One major source of pride in his business is derived from the customer feedback he receives. “Every time I make a customer excited or extremely happy, that is when I am most proud of [my] business. It is less tangible compared to hammering in the last nail, or finishing the final setup of the business location, or getting paid by a client, but it is just as sweet, maybe even sweeter.”

What’s next?

Gerrit is eager to explore creative projects with his clients, and he encourages people to visit his website to find out what he can offer, and even what is possible.

“I want to thank Community Futures for not being like most financial institutions… Normally a loan is issued and the focus is to have you repay the loan, a very cold impersonal process. Community Futures has the same goal - to have the loan repaid, of course - but their methods are very different. They truly want to help me... They know the best way to get the loans paid back is to ensure the venture requiring the loan is as successful as possible.”

-Gerrit McLean, Creative CEO of The Gorilla Graffix Group

 

Contact

Community Futures British Columbia
C230-7871 Stave Lake Street
Mission, BC  V2V 0C5
  1-604-289-4222
 

About Community Futures

logo whiteFor over 30 years, we’ve been fostering entrepreneurship in rural BC. We offer small business loans, business counseling and specialized services to help you start or grow a business, and to help communities become more resilient and dynamic. Learn More