Seen along a much-traveled interstate highway, the wrap features nothing more than the team’s very recognizable symbol, a shamrock, bearing the word “Celtics.” “It’s become an icon of the city,” Rowell said. “Five years later, it’s still up. That shows the longevity of those inks now. It’s no longer a matter of three months up and it’s gone.”
The Challenges of Wraps
As the comments of Wilhelm and Rowell attest, the building wrap market is one to be tackled only after careful planning and a firm understanding of its pitfalls. One of the big hurdles to surmount in building wraps is that they involve a lot more than just printing, Rowell said. “These pieces are structural pieces, with welding, reinforced webbing, D-rings, and grommet placement,” he reported. “And structural engineers need to be involved. You can’t just put up a 100-by-100 wrap and think it will stay there.”
And because building wraps are by their very definition enormous pieces, they can also involve huge costs. Those new to the market, Wilhelm said, “need to understand the specifications of the posting companies. Some people want two-inch, reinforced web hems with No. 4 grommets every 18 inches on all four sides. Some want extra bleeds they can wrap around the back. You have to be very careful. Because if you make a mistake, the install cost can run tens of thousands of dollars. If it’s not right, you are on the hook for the mistaken install and the re-install. It can get ugly real fast.”
For a revealing case in point, consider a recent experience GP Color Imaging Group endured in Las Vegas. The owners of a building under construction and still sheeted in plywood wanted a wrap to help make the structure more attractive to prospective occupants. “The company wanted to put up self-adhesive vinyl, and I said, ‘This is not going to stick to raw plywood,’” Wilhelm said, adding that this disagreement was only the beginning of a long series of issues. “The list of questions was longer than the time you had to do the job. They didn’t have art, didn’t have permits, nobody had measured the building and no one had any sizes. By the time it was done, it might have been cheaper to just finish the construction on the building than to put up the wrap.”
Transportation costs also are a significant factor for those producing building wraps for clients beyond their immediate area. Because they can weigh hundreds and thousands of pounds, wraps can’t be air freighted, Wilhelm reported.
“They need to be trucked across the country, when you get into the really big walls,” he said. “And it can take days to get a graphic across the country. If you air freight them, it’s more expensive than the graphics. But if you start in your own market, you will be able to control the shipping problems more readily.”
Another issue to which building wraps producers must acclimate themselves is the timetable involved in creating and getting wraps installed. A provider must first obtain specifications from the posting company, which help the provider understand how the piece will be finished, the substrate on which it will be printed and when it will be needed by the posting company, Wilhelm said. A good rule of thumb is that approved art must be in hand 60 days before the posting date of the building wrap.
The right equipment and technical expertise are also essential to achieving success in the field. Companies creating building wraps must have high-quality, very fast 16-foot digital inkjet printers, radio-frequency welding equipment to put the panels together, and appropriate grommets and cables for finishing, Wilhelm reported. “The technical expertise to finish these correctly takes some time,” he added. “You’re better off finding someone you can hire from another company who knows what they’re doing. The learning curve took us about three years—and we’re still learning.”
Wraps Can Be Rewarding
Despite all the cautionary wisdom offered up by Wilhelm and Rowell, both men report serving the building wrap market niche can deliver substantial gratification.
“It’s one of the only areas of the business where you can drive by something you created every day,” Rowell said. “Your wife gets sick of you saying, ‘I did that, I did that.’ I remember the first Times Square building wrap we did, just a straight American flag on white for Dunkin’ Donuts, right after 9-11. When you’ve done Times Square, you’ve made it in the world of building wraps.”