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Revving Up Profits with Wraps

Profitable sign shops share vehicle wrapping experiences.

By Melissa Tetreault

Adding a new service to your sign shop is overwhelming. Questions such as—"What is the demand?" "Will we be good at it?" and more importantly, "Is it profitable?" all need to be addressed. Expanding your current business or starting your own is not something to be taken lightly.

Humble Beginnings
More often than not, those interested in vehicle wraps have experience with cars. What they may not have is experience wrapping them.

Rod Voegele, CEO, GatorWraps, started his Las Vegas, NV-based business with no previous wrap experience. With a background in customer service and marketing, Voegele’s car-related experience involved custom paint jobs.

Realizing the potential of vehicle wraps, but lacking the knowledge of how to run a sign shop, raised initial concerns. "However, I quickly learned that vehicle wrapping is just like any other business," he admits. "People want great service and vehicle wraps are about marketing, whether it is marketing your personality through personalizing your vehicle or marketing your company to potential customers." Now, 95 percent of GatorWraps’ business consists of vehicle wraps.

Jimmy Schiltz, owner, Dirtwrap by Jimmy’s Custom Decals, is a mechanical engineer by trade, but became involved with cut vinyl graphics because of a love for racing. Schiltz’ niche, as evident from the business name, is wrapping dirt racing cars.

After working as an engineer for ten years, Schiltz applied for a job at a local university in 2006. While waiting for the job offer, he decided to purchase a Roland VersaCAMM SP-540V just for fun. Fun became a career. "Once I bought the printer I became fully immersed in it, I just didn’t have time to get a job," says Schiltz. His Hickory, NC shop, which is a 200-square-foot room above his garage, went from relative obscurity to servicing over 150 customers in 17 states in one year.

Growing with Knowledge
Many experienced shops add vehicle wraps to their service list and dedicate much of their time and team to learning the ins and outs of wrap workflow. Sign shops contemplating vehicle wraps should consider hiring professional installers to help produce output. If that isn’t in the budget, many training classes are offered by media and printer manufacturers across the country.

Voegele’s seven-man team took a class at FELLERS, Inc. headquarters in Tulsa, OK. The training class started with the basics and ended with advanced installation techniques. Both in the classroom and hands on, the class is taught by several experienced FELLERS employees.

In spring 2007, Schiltz participated in MACtac’s Application Nation, held at his distributor’s headquarters, All Square Computer Technologies, in Greenville, NC. Schiltz took the class before attempting to wrap any customer’s vehicle with MACtac IMAGin Bubble Free vinyl on his own. For two days he learned important wrapping techniques with help from industry professional Rob Ivers. Besides learning tips from Ivers, Schlitz also gained hands- on experience.

Even after classes and educating himself, Schiltz found that contracting installers was more profitable than running around the country to service all of his customers. He set up a dealer program. For example, if a customer in WI calls and is concerned about installing one of Schiltz’ designs, Schiltz contacts his dealer in WI, who comes in and wraps the car and receives an installation fee. This method helps Schiltz avoid staying confined to one region and allows him to spread his services across the country.

Getting the Word Out
When consumers see a wrapped vehicle drive by, the product advertised may not be the only thing that intrigues them. Vehicle wraps function as moving advertisements for the customer and the sign shop.

Originally, GatorWraps’ sales derived from potential clients spotting wrapped vehicles in AZ, CA, and Southern NV. Eventually, offers flowed in thanks to word of mouth and referrals. These successes trickled down into their other services, including trade show graphics, signs, and banners.

2007 could be described as a marketing year for Schiltz. With his customers scattered throughout the country, or as he refers to them, "king pins," offers are pouring in. These "king pins" are predominately located in FL, GA, NC, SC, and TN. Schiltz also attracts customers by attending trade shows. The Performance Racing Industry (PRI) show is where he wrapped his own dirt Late Model car five times, which garnered attention. He also generates exposure by attending local races.

The Pros ...
Schiltz considers racecars one of the more profitable divisions in the wrap market. With thousands of different models—over 10,000 dirt Late Models, 15,000 dirt modified models, and go-carts—options are endless. One benefit of wrapping a few select types of vehicles is less re-design time is needed. And racecar drivers sometimes request new wraps every week or as few as three to six times a year. And generally, that wrap is identical to the previous, so all Schlitz has to do is re-print an old file.

Schiltz points out that quick turnaround time is the nature of the business. "Racecar drivers want to have their graphics yesterday. If you’re not comfortable with that then you can’t be doing racecars." But this fast paced market suits Schiltz. "It’s been amazing for me. I’m an engineer and there is no way as an engineer I would make as much money as I make doing this. Plus I have a lot more time and freedom."

GatorWraps’ Voegele believes vehicle wraps have the potential to be just as profitable as any other project, when done correctly. "You have to focus on exceeding the customer’s expectation from design to install. As with any job, having to redo the work eats up all the profit, and kills your reputation," he explains.

... and the Cons
Time and money is something everyone wants more of, but if not given enough attention, these can be two of the biggest difficulties encountered in vehicle wrapping. "Timing is everything in this business. You have to coordinate the design, print, and install very carefully to minimize the customer’s time away from their own business, and the time away from their vehicle. In many cases, people are making a living with their vehicles and can’t afford to be without them," says Voegele.

Schiltz thinks the lack of standard pricing is a looming issue. Based on his experience, a lot of people in the wrap business sell themselves short by not charging as much as they should for design and installation. "There really isn’t any type of alliance between shops. When people start undercutting each other, nobody wins."

Finding gifted designers is also a challenge. Schiltz understands that anyone can be taught how to run a printer, the problem becomes finding someone who can produce talented design work.

The Nose Knows
Dirt Late Model cars, a popular dirt racing vehicle, are prominent in the Southeast and are Schiltz’ bread and butter, although he occasionally wraps dirt modifieds, another type of dirt racing vehicle, which are popular in the Midwest.

The key to successfully wrapping dirt Late Models is understanding they have similar body styles, with differences in door and window sizes. With this in mind, Schiltz created his own templates that are designed to compensate for the slightest variation in door and window sizes between vehicles. The templates help Schiltz cut down on time. "In this industry, with the price point I am at, and the number of customers, it isn’t like I can go spend a week on someone’s car. I have to be able to do something efficiently and quickly, that is why I am so proud of my templates."

A typical dirt Late Model has a plastic nose, plastic fenders, and a fiberglass roof. Generally, these components aren’t wrapped; so most dirt Late Models are considered partial wraps. Schiltz decided to wrap a customer’s entire dirt Late Model, just to prove it could be done. "When no one has ever attempted something before, you just don’t know if you can do it," he confesses. "What I did was not practical, and it isn’t something I will do on a regular basis. But the way I look at it, I did it for concept. Just to say I could do it."

He wrapped the nose, fenders, and roof in silver vinyl so people could easily see that the entire vehicle was wrapped—dirt Late Model noses and fenders are not manufactured in silver. Blue numbers were placed on the car with reflective material, sandwiched between the media and laminate.

Schiltz used MACtac IMAGin Bubble Free with Permacolor RAYZor laminate on all of the contour curves and MACtac IMAGin JT5829P with Permacolor overlaminate LF6569 on the rest of the car. According to Schiltz, MACtac products are thick and thickness equals quality in the wrap industry. "Their white is whiter than anyone else and the price point is excellent. I like the Bubble Free and RAYZor combination because it is so easy to work with. As long as you have the right temperature, then the vinyl doesn’t tack up nearly as much and is more forgiving," shares Schiltz.

The car, created for Leroy and Kevin Rumley, competed in the World of Outlaws Late Model Series (WoO LMS) event at Lowe’s Motor Speedway in Concord, NC. WoO LMS premiered in 1988 and is considered the most competitive tour for dirt Late Model racers. The Dirt Track in NC traditionally holds the finals doubleheader at the end of each racing season. Located directly behind the racetrack, Schiltz says the Dirt Track is considered one of the Mecca’s of dirt racing, being a 15 million dollar facility. Out of 75 cars at this particular race, the Rumley’s was the only dirt Late Model completely wrapped.

The wrap prompted a writer representing Circle Track magazine to contact Schiltz and ask him to write a how-to article on wrapping dirt Late Models. Schiltz took the same concept to PRI, where he wrapped his own dirt Late Model entirely in tiger stripe printed vinyl in homage to a sponsor, Tiger Rear Ends. This wrap is tentatively slated to run on the cover of Circle Track.

Connecting Land and Sea
GatorWraps formed many partnerships over the years, one of which is with Monaco, a division of Monaco Coach Corporation, one of the largest recreational vehicle manufacturers. They offer a wrap package in conjunction with the RV manufacturer.

In Fall 2007, a GatorWraps customer wanted both their Monaco RV and Ranger bass boat wrapped. There are a lot of challenges to wrapping a RV and a boat individually, these challenges more than double when it comes to wrapping them simultaneously. GatorWraps uses a Mutoh ValueJet to print their RV and boat wraps.

When wrapping a trailer and boat together, the graphics should flow accordingly. Mike Faulkner, VP, GatorWraps, explains, "You need to make sure you hook the boat up to the back of the RV so you can see if the graphics match up. You have to think about the height of the boat and the height of the RV."

A solid wrap strategy is also needed because boats can’t be wrapped below the waterline. "We design at an angle to create boat graphics," shares Faulkner. "A boat is slightly taller in the back, so when you design, you need the back to be a little bit taller than the front, meaning from front to back the graphic has to gradually get bigger."

One major boat wrap consideration is water damage. The front of the graphic needs to overlay the back. If the opposite occurs, when the boat is running at high speed the water will beat on the edge, causing it to peel back. When the front overlays the back, the water goes right over it, causing no problems. GatorWraps uses Avery’s Easy Apply RS vinyl on their boat wraps. Faulkner claims clients take his boats wrapped in Avery RS out every week with no problems.

RVs also have their wrapping challenges, which can be avoided. Most RVs have caulking around the sides of windows and vinyl does not adhere to caulking. When a wrap is installed over caulking, it creates a big bubble. Then you have to take a razor blade and cut around the whole thing, which is time consuming. If a customer is planning to wrap their RV, RVs without caulking are available. After the wrap is complete, experts come in and re-seal or re-caulk over the wrap.

After offering RV wraps, boat wrapping was the next logical step for GatorWraps. Explains Faulkner, "Everyone wants to customize everything. That’s the reason why this business works. For professional fisherman, they get all these sponsors and are paid to have graphics on their boats. Instead of painting it, the alternative is the wrap, and when you change sponsors you can easily change the wrap."

Not Your Average Auto Shop
West Coast Customs, based in Corona, CA, opened its doors in 1993. This one-stop auto shop offers a wide array of services including paint and body, audio/video, interiors, metal fabrication, exhaust, and lifting and lowering kits. The car remodeling company is well known for its many television appearances. First it was showcased on MTV’s Pimp My Ride and is now currently seen on TLC in the new show Street Customs. Ryan Friedlinghaus started the business with a single concept, to keep auto work under one roof—from full paint jobs to interior fabrication. This vision helped Friedlinghaus and his shop stand out from the crowd.

In 2005 the shop began experimenting with vinyl to once again widen that gap between the average auto shop. According to Brad Adamic, art director, West Coast Customs, it was a logical investment. "Vinyl is a very versatile medium. You can wrap on the walls of people’s homes, their cars, trucks, RVs, and we’ve even wrapped a casket." The shop opened its own vinyl division—West Coast Customs VINYL—with an inaugural 60-foot Renegade car hauler wrap.

His main expertise is art design, but Adamic also oversees wrap printing on a Mutoh ValueJet 1604. He religiously uses FELLERS The Bad Wrap software for all wrap templates. "This software made me faster and more conscious about how much material I was wasting before I started using it."

When it comes to actual installation, Adamic usually has someone else lay down the wraps for him in the shop’s 30,000 square foot space. Although he is capable of installing himself, most of his technique developed from trial and error. Adamic admits he wish he knew all of the tricks before he started wrapping. On most projects one of the 30 employees at West Coast Customs aids him in laminating and trimming the vinyl.

About 30 percent of the company’s business is vinyl wraps and Adamic feels that number is rising. One reason is affordablity. "It has opened the door for many other customers that want to get something done by West Coast Customs but don’t have a ton of money," he explains. "Vehicle wraps bring in the average spending customer and help them avoid spending $40,000 on a customization job."

It also helps West Coast Customs’ business grow, allowing them to create promotional wraps for corporate businesses. Recently Adamic wrapped three RVs for Rockstar Energy Drink. Printing with the 64-inch Mutoh ValueJet 1604 on Oracal vinyl and laminate, the team at West Coast Customs wrapped all three RVs in one week. These tight schedules create challenges. "Deadlines are always the worst," shares Adamic.

Deadlines are even harder if you factor in time differences. The shop has clients worldwide, in countries including, but not limited to, Australia, Dubai, Germany, and Russia. Franchises are located in the Middle East and Russia.

Currently, West Coast Customs is advertising its wrap services through its Web site,, but plans to start flooding the market with other multi-media campaigns soon.

The shop is a good example of an existing business successfully integrating vehicle wraps into its services. West Coast Customs’ experience and solid customer base aided in this achievement; proving that with knowledge of the market, helpful partners, and strong business sense any shop can create a wrap and profit.

Wraps on the Floor
At the upcoming ISA Expo, held at Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, FL, March 27-29, several media manufacturers will showcase products essential to vehicle wrap business.

Arlon, Inc.
At booth 1636, Arlon features its DPF 6000X, a 2-mil gloss white cast film with bubble releasing, tinted, positionable, and permanent pressure-sensitive adhesive. The X-scape system allows installers to achieve speedy installation while maintaining high enough tack to ensure a long-term bond. The adhesive system is designed to provide excellent opacity, as well as easy installation. The film provides superior conformability around rivets, curves, and contours. DPF 6000X is rated for outdoor durability up to seven years—unprinted.

Avery Graphics
Easy Apply RS technology vehicle wrap and digital overlaminate products are featured at booth 1214. The EZ RS product line includes two cast films with satin or gloss finish and a calendered film with matte finish—all optimized for digital printing—in addition to an opaque wrapping film in six colors.

Avery Graphics digital overlaminates come in a wide range of finishes and sizes to meet a variety of application needs. DOL 1030, the newest, a 1.3 mil, ultra-conformable, cast overlaminate with gloss finish and four-year durability is perfect for vehicle and truck wraps. DOL 1000—gloss finish and 1100—matte finish are 2.1 mil, conformable, cast overlaminates with a five-year durability.

Highlighted at booth 2580 is FELLERS, Inc.’s The Bad Wrap software, which allows designers to save hours of preparation on vehicle wraps by using real photographic templates of the most commonly wrapped vehicles.

The Bad Wrap system has over 300 templates using actual vehicle photographs, not line drawings. Each vehicle is hand measured and accurately scaled by vehicle wrap designers to be accurate within 1/4-inch. All templates include actual measurements in PDF documents for quick reference.

The Bad Wrap design software allows a typical sign shop to pay for its cost in about three wraps with the amount of time saved. The easy-to-use program is the only design system that allows you to drag and drop graphic elements right onto the template for design in Adobe PhotoShop. In fact, an entry-level graphic designer with basic PhotoShop skills can design a full wrap in about an hour.

Excess materials are saved with the ability to preview the layout before printing. Bad Wrap templates are three-dimensional, allowing designers to give their customers a realistic proof and make necessary changes on the spot. The Bad Wrap software system is distributed exclusively through FELLERS.

KAPCO Graphic Products
Out of the many products KAPCO shows at booth 141 is its new PSA 6-mil matte and gloss white vinyls. This solvent media is easier to apply than thinner vinyls and coated with permanent, removable, or ultra removable adhesives. The vinyl offers the same qualities as the company’s 3.2 and 3.5-mil vinyls, such as no glare matte white and vibrant gloss white finishes. The ultra removable adhered vinyls can be applied to most surfaces including walls and windows. They are great for flat and slightly curved surfaces and are available in 54-inch by 100-feet.

LG Chem
LG Chem’s VIZUON AiRFREE products are easier than ever to reposition and apply, while still providing the superior printability that the films have become famous for. AiRFREE products are available in cast and calendered films to meet your long-term and shorter-term needs. See them at booth 972.

MACtac Graphic Products
At booth 2162, MACtac Graphic Products showcases the latest addition to its IMAGin series—IMAGin B-Free Pro digital vinyl. The 2.1-mil IMAGin B-Free Pro vinyl features a robust, high tack adhesive with an immediate high bond, making it ideal for experienced installers who demand fast turnaround time and are used to working with a more aggressive adhesive in vehicle, fleet, and marine applications.

With an outdoor durability of ten years, IMAGin B-Free Pro sports a 2.1-mil high gloss, ultra white facestock for excellent color reproduction paired with a permanent opaque acrylic adhesive to prevent vehicle paint from causing graphic color sift. When paired with MACtac Permacolor RAYZor laminates, IMAGin B-Free Pro is included in MACtac’s Open-Image Warranty Program.

Also shown is the new Permacolor Matte RAYZor Overlaminating Film (LF3630). It is a 1.5-mil matte cast laminate designed for application on complex curves and corrugations. The thin, 1.5-mil laminate also simplifies installation on flat, curved, corrugated, or riveted surfaces. For ease-of-use and durability—five years outdoors, Permacolor Matte RAYZor features an smooth polyester release liner that supports a permanent, clear acrylic adhesive with built-in UV protection, helping graphics resist wear and color fade.

Media One
Media One recently launched its first aqueous-based vehicle graphics vinyl with air release, which will be on display at ISA. Until now, the rapidly growing vehicle graphics market was only possible for solvent-based graphic manufacturers. Media One’s Fast wrap is a 2-mil cast vinyl with air release adhesive coated for aqueous-based inkjet printers, when used with Media One’s Fast wrap 2-mil cast over laminating film you get a three year warranty.

Oracal USA 1547
Showcased at booth 1547 is Oracal USA’s ORAGUARD Series 293 Ultraflexible Cast PVC Laminating Film. The thinness and extra flexibility of ORAGUARD Series 293 makes it an ideal choice for vehicle wrapping and other demanding applications. Although the film is compatible with all ORAJET wrapping films, it is best suited for enhancing conformability when used with ORAJET Series 3551 and ORAJET Series 3551RA, as well as ORALITE Series 5600 Printable, Conformable Reflective Film. ORAJET Series 293 is offered in 164-foot rolls and in 30-inch, 36-inch, 40-inch, 54-inch, and 60-inch widths. It is available in both gloss and matte finishes, and provides eight years of outdoor durability and four years of added UV protection for printed images.

Additionally, on display is ORAJET Series 3628 Movable Wall & Window Graphics Inkjet Media. It is a white matte 3-mil PVC face film and a special low-tack adhesive that enables the printed graphic to be moved and reapplied many times after initial application. ORAJET Series 3628 provides three-years of indoor durability and is compatible with today’s popular eco-solvent, solvent, UV-curable, and grand format inkjet printers. It is recommended for use on interior walls and windows and is compatible with ORAGUARD Series 200 and Series 210 laminating films. ORAJET Series 3628 is available in 164-foot rolls and in 30-inch, 54-inch, and 60-inch widths.

Templates to Success
Using templates for vehicle wrapping saves time and money for you and your customer. Without templates, sign shops owners are forced to take pictures of a vehicle, import them into a computer, and calculate the correct measurements to ensure that the template is correct. This leaves a high margin for error.

With pre-made car templates you don’t have to leave your shop, most of the hard work is done for you. Experienced professionals already measured a car, digitized the images, and created perfect templates for you to work from.

Most template packages include a wide array of cars and are updated yearly to ensure accuracy. Template manufacturers include Digital Designware, a relatively new company, created from Digital Auto Library and MR Clipart. The two companies separate solutions, Pro Vehicle Outlines and the Cars ‘n Truck Collection, combined equal over 18,000 templates available worldwide. FELLERS, Inc., manufacturers The Bad Wrap software. This software allows designers to save time with over 300 templates of the most commonly wrapped vehicles. Taylor Digital Imaging offers software libraries for sign shop owners. Both their Xtreme Wrap Master and Xtreme Graphic Kits are complete solutions for creating vehicle graphics.

Fully Committed
The vehicle wrap business is not for the feint of heart. It can’t merely be an on-the-side service. Both Voegele and Schiltz can attest that full commitment is the key to success.

"I am the biggest advocate for people getting into the wrap business. However, you must be willing to invest the time and money to get the right equipment and the right shop," explains Voegele. He continues, "Your reputation will determine your future. If you try to wrap using small printers or plan to wrap in the alley behind your shop, you won’t be able to produce the quality your customers expect and you will lose business before you even get started."

Schiltz concurs, "When you’re half committed, everyone knows you’re half committed. If I were to half commit to my business, and go get an engineering job, but do cars on the side, I would lose all my customers. If you decide to get into vehicle wraps, you need to know you can’t do it on the side."

If you listen to the above experts, you will be sure to succeed. Look at Schiltz, after one year he is already looking to expand his space and hire more employees. He is even considering trading in his Roland VersaCAMM SP-540V for both a Roland SOLJET PRO III XC-540 and a Roland SOLJET PRO III XJ-540. These are big—and attainable—dreams for an already successful entrepreneur.

Mar2008, Digital Output

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