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Going Ape for Vehicle Graphics

An Expert Offers Practical Advice

Part 2 of 4

By Gretchen A. Peck

The tag line you’ll find on Coronado, CA-based APE Wraps’ Web site is "The Art of Vinyl." And that is truly how owner Troy Downey thinks of vehicle graphics—creating beautiful works of art.

"We started out in the hot rod industry—vehicle restoration—years ago, with custom paint jobs," Downey recalls. "About seven years ago, we started to notice digital print that could actually simulate paint jobs that would otherwise cost between $40,000 and $60,000."

Downey invested in some equipment—including a Seiko I Infotech Inc. ColorPainter 64—and APE Wraps was born.

"Since then, we’ve seen a 780-degree change in the industry. It has reinvented itself three times over," Downey asserts. "I think we’re actually at a pinnacle now, when the inks are right; the equipment is right, and the media is thinner. We’re at a point where the focus is on execution."

The Customer is Always Right
Managing customer expectations presents a challenge at times, according to Downey.

"In terms of color, we are provided a lot of latitude by our clients," he confides. "Three or four years ago, you didn’t dare mess with anybody’s color. Nor did you mess with things like logos. But the world has changed perspective, and that’s because of a confidence and trust in our clients.

Besides dealing with high expectations for color and quality from customers, producing vehicle graphics presents some other unique challenges.

"It’s not just a matter of buying the equipment," Downey forewarns. "You must ask yourself—‘Do I possess the skills necessary to interpret and design what the clients ask for?’ Because if you make a mistake on interpretation, you’ve wasted ten hours."

"And, ultimately, you have to be able to set the files up and to print them, knowing that they’ll be installed just as predicted for the client," he continues. "Do you possess the skills to understand how a single-dimensional object will work with a three-dimensional object? After all, just because you start with a vehicle outline doesn’t necessarily take into consideration all the compound curves."

Consider Getting Involved
Currently, APE Wraps employs printers from Mimaki USA, Inc. and Hewlett-Packard. The original Seiko ColorPainter is still in limited use as well.

Though Downey has seen a lot of new vehicle graphics suppliers sprout up in the greater San Diego area, most of APE’s business is derived from other parts of the country and abroad. "About 98 percent of our business comes by word of mouth," he notes.

Downey admittedly learned a lot during the course of the past seven years spent in vehicle graphics printing, and offers two key bits of advice to those considering getting into the game.

First, don’t undervalue your services. Not only should prepress, print, and install time be factored into the price, but obviously, so should media and consumables. But beyond those costs, there is time likely spent interfacing with the client.

"Just for one vehicle, there may be 35 phone calls. So, what does that equate to? That’s part of the day in the life of a vehicle wrap, and you to determine how much that day is worth to you," Downey suggests.

When he first started the business, 90 percent of the jobs he was asked to do were full wraps. Within a year, that figure flip flopped, and approximately 90 percent of the workload became partial wraps, and it remains that way to this day.

Downey’s second point of advice is to start out small. Offering partial wraps is a good way to test your entry into vehicle graphics, without the inherent challenges of wrapping entire vehicles.

Despite Downey’s experience and well told advice, only you know if the time is right for you shop to enter the vehicle wrap fray. Research, start small, and good luck!

Click here to read Part 1 of this exclusive online series, Cool Cars.

Sep2008, Digital Output

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