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Last updated 08:04 27/02/2013
Maarten Holl/Fairfax NZ
Verboom owner Phil Callaghan

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Humourous and controversial merchandise maker Verboom is expanding to Australia and closing its Wellington store to focus on internet sales.

Verboom makes customised badges and T-shirts for individuals and businesses from a store in central Wellington's Left Bank Arcade it has occupied for five years. Last year it sold its millionth badge.

The business grew quickly since day 1 from a spur-of-the-moment idea.

Phil Callaghan worked supervising a kids area at Te Papa when a badge-making machine the museum used for activities caught his eye.

He advertised an "I Survived the Lions Tour" badge on a Barmy Army website and was shocked to receive an order from a tour company for 500 units within hours.

"It all just happened so quickly. I started thinking about other things we could do and it just grew."

Callaghan started the business officially with a $1000 badge machine, priding himself on never taking out a business loan, and originally rented a $60-a-week stall in the now-defunct Wakefield Markets.

The 31-year-old soon got orders in large volumes for companies and charities.

Sandwich bar Wishbone orders different badges each week for staff to wear, and other customers include beer company Monteiths, Massey University and charity The Cancer Society.

Verboom moved to Left Bank in 2008 and will close on Saturday before Callaghan relocates to Melbourne.

A friend started an Australian branch of the business last April and within a week it received a "huge" order from entertainment company 20th Century Fox to produce catch-phrase and promotional buttons for its American TV shows, such as "Simply Adorkable" for sitcom The New Girl, "I'm A Gleek" for Glee and "Suit Up" for How I Met Your Mother.

It recently scored a contract to produce thousands of badges for staff at an Australian gas station chain.

The strength of the Australian business, combined with the high cost of rent for its Wellington shop and the fact most of its orders came from its website, made Callaghan decide to relocate across the Tasman to focus on expanding it further.

"Australians have more money to spend," Callaghan said. The spend per head for items such as Dr Who badges he sold at Science Fiction conferences was consistently higher than at similar events in New Zealand.

He will retain an interest in the New Zealand business that will be run online by a person based in Christchurch. The Australian store will be entirely online. "It makes a lot of sense to do things on the internet now, it's so much cheaper.

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This has been a good business in this economic climate because they're reasonably cheap products but personable and fun. People like funny cheap things."

Callaghan said his T-shirt with the slogan 'The awkward moment when a T-shirt slogan doesn't end the way you octopus' always makes people laugh.

Verboom badges and T-shirts:

  • In 2009 McDonald's ordered Verboom to stop making "Bring Back Georgie Pie" T-shirts because it owned the intellectual property for the pie brand.
  • In January, a Qantas flight passenger was accused of intimidating other people on the plane by wearing a Verboom T-shirt featuring the famed quote from 1987 film The Princess Bride, "Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die."
  • Last year it made 5000 "I Love Hutt City" badges for a council promotion. People sent in photos of themselves wearing the badges on the top of mountains around the world and at the Eiffel Tower.



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