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Vehicle wraps present growth opportunity for sign shops

Features, Graphics | March 1, 2007 | By:

The owner of every car, boat, minivan, helicopter, semi-truck trailer, and fleet vehicle in your city is a potential new customer.

Hey, look at that! Ten years ago, a car, truck, or van driving down the street covered in colorful vinyl graphics would have stopped pedestrians in their tracks. Now, vehicle wraps have become an explosive growth opportunity for sign shops and the manufacturers that serve them.

David Grant, vice president of marketing at Oracal (Jacksonville, Fla.) recalls, “It used to just be that the major corporate identity programs utilized vehicle wraps. It was very much a novelty. Today vehicle wraps are becoming accepted as an economical effective form of corporate advertising.”

Jared Smith, president of Blue Media in Tempe, Arizona notes, “The marketplace is finally becoming aware of the value of the space on fleet vehicles. It is now more obvious than ever that blank vehicles are expensive. There are flat out too many missed opportunities to leave a vehicle blank day after day.”

The cost of entry

Falling equipment prices have made it easier for smaller shops to consider adding vehicle wraps to their service offerings. “If you look at the market four or five years ago you only had people with $300,000 pieces of equipment who could do a vehicle wrap. Now you can buy a solvent printer for $15,000 and with media and materials get into the market for around $25,000. It’s been a huge swing in the number of people that are able to it. The costs have come down while the quality has continued to go up,” reports Tiffany Wicham marketing communications manager, Avery Dennison Graphics & Reflective Products Division in Pasadena, Calif.

Grant adds, “We are seeing a lot of smaller sized shops saying why can’t I do this? This could be a significant new revenue source for my company. It’s also a customer control and service issue. If the customer wants a wrap and you can’t provide it, the only choice is to outsource it or lose the business altogether.”

Economics are also influencing business owner’s decisions. Smith says, “The buyers are starting to realize how much of a bargain this medium is. It costs the same to put a 4-inch ad in the local paper as it does to wrap a vehicle and put it on the road—marketing every day in full color with larger than life messaging for three to five years!”

Committing to a growth market

As exciting as the growth potential is, shop owners need to carefully examine all operational issues before jumping in. Grant offers his thoughts on potential obstacles. “Most of the concerns and fears are based on a real life story somewhere along the line. But what was an anecdotal one-off experience became gospel that tends to travel around. The thing that keeps the average shop from getting much of this business is they don’t feel confident, so they approach it with a small operation. Some quit right there after a bad experience. We found that the people who go through the proper training find that this is something they can do.”

Smith shares Blue Media’s experience. “It takes a serious commitment that reaches much further than buying a printer and a laminator. The learning curve includes ink selection, warranty offerings, color calibration, tem-perature and humidity control, qualified installation, printing rooms, install bays,and a myriad of other factors that are possible to overcome but take time and money to win at. It took us five years to get it right and at $2,000 to $3,000 in costs alone most shops can’t afford to screw up too many of them.”

Mastering vehicle wraps requires expertise in printing and application. Wicham describes challenges printers face when they are learning to use new equipment and materials. “They want to able to put the image on their screen, push print, and it goes to their wide format printer and prints out on vinyl exactly the way they want it. That doesn’t necessary happen because there are different gloss levels, different ink sets, print speeds, and heat settings. All those pieces of the pie need to be set at a certain setting and everybody’s printer is different even if you have the exact same components. No two digital printers print exactly alike.”

Selecting the right equipment

Before outfitting a shop with new equipment, Wicham suggests discussing options with a range of manufacturers. “They need to talk to the equipment manufacturers first. While one machine may be great for the smaller shop doing one vehicle wrap a week, it may not necessarily be fast enough or quick enough or have the right resolution for a shop that wants to do 10 a week. They really need to understand what kind of application they are going after initially to choose the right equipment for their environment.”

Through careful consideration, Blue Media has installed JV3 Mimaki Solvent based printers, a Roland 60″, the HP5000 and HP 3500, an Epson 4800, an HPScitex XLJet3, and Graphtec Plotters combined with Dell RIP Station featuring Onyx RIP software to serve their clients. “Our customers vary as much as our printing options. We do graphics for everything from football, hockey, and baseball stadiums to NHRA to Wells Fargo. Our average customer needs big graphics, installed in a unique way, in a hurry, and with a budget,” explains Smith.

With the equipment dialed in, Smith and his staff addressed other challenges. “Getting our installers trained to be able to install correctly and getting the right color, in the right amount, on the right media, to last for years—that was tricky.”

Mike Stemple, founder of Orig-inal Wraps in Golden, Colo. is taking vehicle customization to a higher level. “We work with car manufacturers and car accessory manufacturers to personalize their products for them to sell through their dealers. The mandate of Original Wraps is just not automotive: It’s vehicles. We work with everything from snowboards to kayaks to motorcycles—anything that moves a human being or an accessory for that vehicle.”

Beginning in March, Original Wraps will launch a partnership with Thule Inc., a manufacturer of cargo boxes and carriers for bikes, boats, and skis. Consumers will select from a variety of graphicimages and designs. Ordered online, the materials will be shipped directly to the consumer for installation.

Any consumer concerns about durability have been addressed. Stemple explains, “Hats off to the vinyl manufacturers who have done a good job over the last five years of formulating vinyls and more specifically adhesives that are weather tolerant. The extremes that we’ve seen from the desert Southwest to the upper Midwest are dramatic as far as temperatures go. We feel confident the materials will hold up.”

Shop owners who want to focus just on vehicle wraps for fleets, corporate promotions, and small business will find plenty of business waiting for them.

Grant offers his opinion of the markets potential. “Vehicle graphics—it’s kind of a blank slate when you think of all the commercial vehicles still unadorned. It’s also a market that replenishes itself. They get changed out when promotions change. It’s kind of a self-perpetuating market. It’s attractive incremental business for these shops.”

As marketers discover the communications value of vehicle wraps, Smith says Blue Media will be ready. “Our job is stay abreast of the latest technologies and set the trends in customer service, turn times, quality, and cutting edge creative.”

Lou Dzierzak is the editor of Fabric Graphics.

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