“There’s also been an improvement in the tools out to address various aspects of the installation, whether they are magnets, squeegees or rivet tools. Then there’s the RollePro, which allows installation over rivets to be substantially faster, with a much better-looking finished product,” Denison said.
Added Salaverry: “The technology is moving forward at a blistering pace.” But despite the improvements in materials and tools, he says, the production and installation of beautiful vehicle wraps is still a craft. “The learning curve may be less challenging, but your craft really has to be honed,” he said. “The economy has knocked out some of the hangers-on. The guys who are still in business are doing something right in terms of offering a quality product. You may be able to pull it off once [if unskilled], but you‘re not going to pull it off 100 times.”
Avoiding Typical Mistakes
Because of this need for skill and experience, beginners to the world of vehicle wraps can make lots of mistakes, Denison said. When they wander into land mines, it’s typically in the areas of design, material selection or installation.
First, he said, “They don’t understand how to think about effective design and what that means. The designs wind up substantially busy, or substantially simplistic. It’s about a lot more than taking someone’s remanufactured background graphic and simply slapping a logo on it.”
Moreover, many shops aren’t hiring the right kinds of artists to handle the designs, Salaverry said. “When we look for artists, we’re finding a lot of them are really good on computers, but they can’t do the hand drawings,” he said.
Many shops go wrong with material selection. For instance, some will attempt to become more profitable by investing in cheap materials or inexpensive combinations of materials and laminates, Denison said.
In the short term, the graphics look good and profits are maintained. But the strategy runs out of steam later, when the client finds his or her vehicle wrap giving out before the four or five years it should last. “What that does in my view is undermine the industry’s reputation for quality, calling into question the viability of vehicle wraps to provide an image that represents [clients] well,” he said.
Tomlin is another observer who sees too many in the industry going cheap. “The problem with the cheap material is it won’t last,” he said.
“I really see these wraps as investments, and if [clients] are paying two to four thousand you want them to last a good while, three or four years at least, so they get a good return on the investment.”
As for Salaverry, he advises those inclined to use generic materials to wade into those waters very carefully. “Take your time and go through the process, and eventually you’ll find what does and doesn’t work for you,” he said.
The third very common mistake is in failure to install the materials correctly. Installation inexperience can be seen in everything from “paneling” to failures that occur later in the product’s lifespans, Denison said. The materials have to be laid out correctly, and if they aren’t, the graphics aren’t going to be readable at 60 miles per hour. Moreover, failure to lay out materials in the right way may translate to words appearing over a door handle or other vehicle feature where vinyl will have to be cut and removed. These kinds of mistakes can be corrected, but substantially erode profit performance, he adds.
Yet another error made by many beginners to the field, according to Harris, is deliberately pricing themselves too low to be fully profitable.
“Everyone new to the business wants to give a wrap away for nothing,” she said. “Vehicle wraps have value as an advertising medium. And if you have to do warranty work—or even if a panel gets messed up—you’re eating that job. You’re essentially paying them to do the work.”
Words of Wisdom
Surviving years as a provider of vehicle wraps can be an educational experience, and Denison and Salaverry were happy to impart a few closing words of wisdom. “Don’t harm the industry,” Denison urged. “There are a lot of people who want to pay a bottom line game, and be bottom feeders. I’ve seen a lot of them go out of business in the last two or three years.”