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O.C. ENTERPRISE / SUSAN KARLIN

Making a Name for Herself in Graffiti Removal : Kelly Taylor attributes much of the success of her firm to the fact that she specializes in ridding markings from glass.

September 27, 1993|SUSAN KARLIN

ORANGE — In a business known for removing names, Kelly Taylor is making one for herself.

And she has done it the hard way. With no prior experience in this male-dominated field, the 31-year-old Taylor in February opened her graffiti abatement company, Metropolitan West. Since then, she has landed contracts with major corporations, shopping malls and theme parks and expects to gross more than $200,000 by year's end.

Taylor's success is largely due to the fact that she specializes in removing graffiti from glass. She estimates that graffiti on glass can cost a businesses three times more to clean up than graffiti on walls, which Metropolitan West also deals with. The technique involves coating the glass surface with a 7-millimeter-thick clear polymer layer. Vandals end up defacing the film instead of the window. Businesses can replace the coating for 30% to 80% of the cost to replace glass.

Metropolitan West clients are impressed by the company and its service. Several clients spoke on the condition of anonymity, concerned that would-be taggers would learn their strategy.

"I'd used other outfits, but Kelly's prices are the best and the material she uses is almost twice as thick as her competitors', so it lasts longer and protects the property better," said a spokesman for a Los Angeles shopping mall that regularly hires Metropolitan West.

"Not only that, but Kelly is incredibly dependable," he added. "We would set up a schedule for her team to come at night and work on our building. They arrived on time and finished an hour or so ahead of schedule. It didn't happen just once, but four or five times. And we never had to make changes."

Taylor said that as a female owner of a graffiti abatement company, she is a rarity. "My competition is mostly young men in their early to mid-20s," she said. "I've heard about derogatory stuff said about me, but it has more to do with how fast my business is growing than the fact that I'm a woman."

By 1990, Taylor had tired of the catering and restaurant management business that she worked in after graduating from Azusa Pacific University in 1984. She began working as a sales representative for her mother's contracting business, Millie Taylor's Home Improvement Corner in Orange, which now houses Metropolitan West.

"I was pretty bored and wanted to start something for myself," Taylor said. "Someone had mentioned the need for graffiti protective coating. I already had the key ingredients--an office, staff and general contractor licenses through my mother's business, so I spent last September to January researching manufacturers and products and how to apply them. It took a lot of experimentation to learn how to get the film on correctly."

The labor-intensive process involves cleaning the glass by meticulously scraping it with a special razor, wetting the glass and polymer sheets with water, then hand-pressing the polymer against the glass with the use of special tools to squeeze out the water.

To find clients, Taylor toured local neighborhoods, then began calling businesses she thought could use her services.

"After a while, I learned that smaller businesses are more likely to leave it alone or clean it themselves," she said. "I realized I had to go to larger businesses that were concerned about outward appearances. While I am starting to get more references and referrals, I always have a piece of paper on the windshield of my car to jot down the addresses of potential customers."

With a staff of seven full- and part-time workers, Taylor is trying to expand her business by urging insurance companies to offer reduced premiums to clients who sign on with Metropolitan West. By reducing their liability costs, the insurance companies could pass on the savings in reduced premiums.

"If it costs $1,000 to replace glass and $200 to replace the coating, everyone wins," she said. "The problem has been trying to get through to the right people at the insurance companies and explain the process."

Taylor said she works six days a week, with plenty of 13-hour days, calling and visiting clients, making sales presentations and measuring properties. Her 18-month-old car has already logged 48,000 miles, but she said she loves her job.

"I'm not confined to an office, I'm on the road and meeting people," she said. "I've always worked for other people, so having my own business is incredible."

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