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Vinyl Goes the Distance

Navigating Warranty Options

By Thomas Franklin

Product failures are, if not inevitable, certainly in the back of print service providers’ (PSPs) minds. Preventing and preparing for failures and learning about available warranty options are important for running a successful print business.

Vinyl graphics are often subjected to harsh conditions—dust, mud, sand, urban traffic, UV light, and water. Vinyl vendors support media offerings with performance guarantees to reassure PSPs that if something goes wrong they may qualify for compensation.

Since print performance hinges on many variables, many manufacturers offer variants of total system warranties. These programs offer a guarantee—on a varying scale—provided the PSP uses an approved combination of ingredients including ink sets, printers, and laminates. If a PSP follows the guidelines provided by the vendor’s warranty and the vinyl still fails, they are reimbursed.

Companies, such as Oracal USA, offer certifications to shops working with approved hardware, ink, and media. Shops must document their equipment and processes and submit a print sample, which is evaluated by Oracal. Media warranties of this nature, including certification procedures, are offered free with the purchase of the manufacturers’ media products.

Confidence to Sell
“We hang our certification in our shop’s lobby, and it absolutely reassures all of our customers that we stand behind every one of our products,” shares Joshua Loring, founder, Loring Studios, based in Elsinore, CA.

Warranties serve two confidence-boosting purposes. First, PSPs requesting warranty coverage generally provide a vendor with confidence that the PSP demonstrates best practices—thereby reducing the likelihood that the failure was due to an error in the print shop. Second, PSPs feel reassured that their shop’s warranty claim will process expeditiously. It also provides them with a marketing tool.

Arlon, Inc.’s Total System Warranty covers the print performance of its major media lines. After evaluating the print process, if Arlon determines that the media was at fault, the company will issue a replacement for the material or a credit to the customer, explains Claudia Lazar, technical director, Arlon. The entire process takes 15 days from start to finish. Lazar believes the process gives Arlon customers “the confidence that the company stands behind its products.”

In 2007, MACtac Graphic Products introduced its Open-Image Warranty. “In the past we offered coverage for vehicles and floor graphics, but we wanted to improve on that and give customers a general blanket that states, ‘if you have an issue with a MACtac product, you’ll be covered,’” says Rick Moore, director of marketing, MACtac.

The Open-Image Warranty covers OEM ink, printer, media, and laminate combinations. Customers participating in the warranty constantly pre-file reports on current jobs. MACtac then records the file in the event a claim is registered.

Oracal’s Oralife Component System Warranty (OCS) functions similarly in that it encompasses materials, inks, and printers. “We receive a lot of average to small shops who are excited because it’s a great selling tool,” shares Josh Culverhouse, product support specialist, Oracal.

“Warranties are a critical differentiator for 3M,” says Jennifer Greenquist, ink & warranty business manager, 3M Graphics Market Center. The company’s MCS warranty provides protection on products made with 3M components and in some cases will cover labor costs as well, Greenquist adds.

3M provides several tiers of coverage. A base offering, the 3M Basic Product Warranty protects short-term promotional graphics. An intermediate warranty, the 3M Performance Guarantee covers OEM inks and approved printers. Unlike the first tier, it offers protection from cutting, image defects, and adhesive failure. The company’s flagship MCS Warranty covers a wider range of potential pitfalls and product failures when used with approved hardware and media combinations.

In addition to a basic material warranty, Avery Graphics offers two additional layers of protection, shares Paul Robam, strategic sales technical manager, Avery. An Integrated Component System (ICS) Performance Guarantee warranties media performance with qualified inks and printers. “Our ultimate warranty offering is the ICS Fleet Warranty for certified print providers and their customers,” says Roba. This warranty is a complete solution for fleet marking applications. In the event of a proven material failure, it covers costs of materials, inks, and a “substantial portion of reasonable labor costs for the manufacture and application of graphics,” he adds.

Print providers should read warranties closely, important exceptions are contained within legalistic prose. One recurring bit of fine print is geography. PSPs working in the hot Southwest, for example, should check with suppliers to ensure that the standard coverage applies.

The Price is Right
Designed to withstand significant punishment, vinyl carries the cost of superior engineering. While select vehicle applications require durability, many short-term jobs do not. Making the right match—with competitive yet profitable pricing—is a challenge confronting any PSP.

When choosing the right vinyl, it’s important to understand the nature of the display, the longevity, and the industry the customer is in, says Loring. An Oracal customer, he was fortunate enough to set up a 5,300 square foot studio and graphics shop adjacent to a trailer company.

“The trailer company walks customers through their showroom and into our offices to illustrate vehicle wraps,” shares Loring. Most trailer owners want long-term wraps. “They don’t want to carry the expense of constantly changing the designs monthly.”

“Multi-level marketing firms switch out graphics frequently,” he comments. “Many of my clients change graphics only once a year.”

Loring’s customers receive durable media to hedge against the unknown. “We provide the incentive to buy because the media won’t fade,” says Loring. It also acts as an insurance policy in the event a customer hangs onto the application for longer than originally intended.

With some jobs, necessity is the mother of invention. When Unionville, MO-based Dun-Lap was assigned to create a traveling promotion for the Blackberry Bold, the company found itself wrapping a pair of photo booths and karaoke kiosks that traveled with Madonna during the North American swing of her Sticky & Sweet tour. “The timing was really tight,” recalls Kara Jones, company representative, Dun-Lap. In less than 30 days the company turned around a project that included not just the wraps, but banners and lenticular art as well.

The kiosk graphics were printed on an EFI VUTEk 150 six-color printer on 3M vinyl and laminate—products typically reserved for vehicle wraps.

“It was in stock and we knew it worked well,” says Phil Burns, plant manager, Dun-Lap. The vinyl used also carries a five year component warranty. Durability is a plus. Although the tour was short, the pieces were carted on and off trucks and hand carts at each stop.

ABC Sign Systems of Pennsauken, NJ is a wholesale manufacturer for the sign industry. They adopted digital printing ten years ago and offer printed vinyl integrated into larger signs. “Most of our customers are very educated, they’re other sign industry members so they tend to know what to expect from printed graphics,” explains Stephen Trifiletti, president, ABC Sign Systems. The company offers a one year warranty on its products.

Rod Voegele turned a passion for cars and a career in marketing into a thriving vehicle wrap business. Gatorwraps grew from its first two locations in Las Vegas, NV and ON, Canada. When offering solutions to customers, the company does not tie itself to any one vendor, Voegele explains. They use media from both 3M and Avery.

“We do a lot of commercial vehicles and off-road racing,” Voegele says. Having just entered the business a little over two years ago, Voegele staked his value proposition on quality control. “Most customers want their wraps to last about four to five years,” even though they may not keep the vehicle for long. We tell them to expect about five to seven years under normal wear and tear.”

Gatorwraps uses manufacturer warranties for the company’s products. “We definitely feel the vinyl outlasts the warranties,” he shares. However, Voegele finds that most businesses want to freshen up their designs long before the expiration date on the media. The company’s own showcase car endured two years in Southern CA and Las Vegas, NV and looks as good as new. Voegele notes that the durability of Gatorwraps’ personal vehicle wraps is a good selling tool.

Best Practices
Even cashing in on a generous warranty program isn’t as simple as picking up the phone and logging a request with a customer service representative. In order to qualify for warranty coverage PSPs must offer proof that the vinyl component failed.

There are multiple, hidden variables that impact print performance. Something as simple as how materials are stored can cause a problem, notes David Grant, VP of marketing, Oracal. To qualify for a warranty in the event of product failure, it’s important to ensure your printing process is aligned with the requirements of the supplier.

Be sure to use the approved printer, ink, profile, and laminate combination. Second, adhere to the installation instructions provided with the material. Vinyl vendors’ umbrella warranties cover a combination of specific products tested by suppliers. A list of approved hardware and media, as well as approved installation techniques, are typically available online or through a dealer. If PSPs stray from this list, compensation can’t be claimed if the vinyl fails.

If a combination isn’t on the list of covered products, it pays to inquire with the manufacturer or dealer about adding it. “When using an unapproved MACtac combination, call us and send a print sample,” says MACtac’s Moore. As long as the company tests the finished output, it will offer—or decline to offer—warranty protection for the finished product.

“We update our approved materials and hardware frequently,” adds Lazar.

Some warranties, such as Oracal’s OCS Warranty and Avery’s ICS Fleet Warranty, require a PSP to become certified before any warranty claims are made. Users must submit print samples and document workflow to qualify.

For 3M customers no pre-certification is needed. Warranty claims must be processed through a distributor or directly with the company. Having information on hand—including photos—will expedite the process, shares Greenquist. “The most important thing is that a PSP files the claim where the media was purchased,” she continues.

It is also important to use the proper vendor-supplied profiles. “Profiling is where a lot of people get tripped up in the printing process,” says Loring.

Quality control, essential to any successful print business, is the key to staying within the boundaries of warranty coverage. “That’s one of the things we based our business on and implemented at the beginning,” observes Gatorwraps’ Voegele. “We always inspect everything several times and don’t rush the process. A few extra minutes can save a lot in terms of customer satisfaction,” he adds.

PSPs who adhere to an approved workflow don’t experience problems. “I like printing on vinyl, I’ve never experienced a failure,” says ABC Sign Systems’ Trifiletti.

It’s important to keep written entries of the entire job process. This detail—such as media lot numbers and installation notes—is required in the event of failure. In some programs, a job file must be submitted to the media supplier before work begins—detailing the media, ink set, and printer used. In others, documentation is required after the fact. Loring notes that he stores a hardcopy print sample with every job file. “It’s good to show the customer up front and essential to have on file in the event of a problem with the graphic,” he says.

Throughout the process be aware of your rights. Read the fine print. Becoming familiar with warranty protections, guidelines, and caveats before the job begins is the best way to ensure a satisfactory print journey.

Calling It In
In the case of vinyl, even meticulous adherence to the proper printing, handling, and installation guidelines may not prevent product failure.

The most important element that ensures compensation from a warranty occurs before a product failure is called in.

“The best thing PSPs can do is keep a print log,” repeats Oracal’s Culverhouse. Meticulously documenting everything about the job—the date it occurred; media, ink, and printer used—is critical to quickly becoming eligible for retribution.

Culverhouse, who works with customers on warranties, says “It is crucial to report the lot numbers of the media used—all Oracal media has lot numbers imprinted every 12 inches of a roll.” When a customer calls about a certain vinyl, Oracal cross references it with an archive print sample of the same product. “We reverse engineer what happened in the shop. It helps us find patterns in our own product, which speeds up the process for everyone involved,” adds Culverhouse.

It’s important to keep records on file, as Loring noted previously. Many vinyls geared toward commercial fleet vehicles come with a seven year warranty. Six years into a warranty a customer may return to the PSP with a problem and the job file is essential to assessing the situation and making a claim with the media manufacturer.

In the records include an installation log to note what happened during installation and anything unusual or issues that occurred during the application. The more detailed, the better.

End users calling in to report a product failure are typically routed to a dedicated support department. This company contact requires a comprehensive run down of everything related to the job before the manufacturer can issue compensation.

“This isn’t done to prevent a customer from qualifying for protection, but to ensure we don’t have a problem with our product that we don’t know about,” says Arlon’s Lazar.

When calls come into MACtac a dedicated team complete with chemists examine printed samples and review the printing process with customers to determine what went wrong, notes Moore.

Customer expectations must be separated from official warranty safeguards. When PSPs work with customers, they should familiarize them with the conditions placed on the warranty. A customer shouldn’t expect, for instance, that vinyl over glass prevents any type of window from shattering.

Getting to know customer intentions also helps alert the PSP if the customer plans to use the product in a manner that voids the warranty. “We’ve never had a vinyl fail on us, but we have had issues with customer expectations,” admits Trifiletti.

When an issue arises, the best thing to do is act quickly after all of the appropriate information is gathered. Some warranty claims come with a limited shelf life after the incident is reported.

Most vendors try to appraise and approve a warranty claim within 15 days. “Our goal is to always review the documentation as quickly as possible. However, many times insufficient background information protracts the turnaround time on a concrete resolution,” concludes Avery’s Robam.

Selling Longevity
A warranty is a promise on performance. For PSPs it provides a valuable marketing tool, demonstrating that a shop’s printing process is top notch and customers can confidently expect quality products. Warranties also provide PSPs with peace of mind, knowing that in the event of the unexpected, manufacturers are looking out for PSPs’ best interests.

Mar2009, Digital Output

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