Outdoor: They Do Windows

Print service providers are always looking for ways to diversify their services and expand their customer base. For many, a great place to seek additional customers is as close as the nearest retail and commercial streets of their hometowns.

In today’s economy, it’s likely at least a few storefronts lining those streets will be vacant, and as such will offer a kind of street-level billboard space ideal for a window graphic. Other stores may be open, but hurting. The owners of those stores could be interested in window graphics that can turn heads and get patrons in through the doors.

It’s only been recently that window graphics have become a viable market for printers. But now that they are, they have begun to offer a great opportunity for boosting sales and profits.

Reinvigorating Downtown

Many companies specializing in window graphics have seen the nature of their work evolve considerably over the years. Such is the case with Inwindow Outdoor, a seven-year-old New York City-based business that started out hanging bus shelter posters inside the windows of vacant retailers in Manhattan, then expanded to other cities, says CEO Steve Birnhak. “We began just using part of the window, and then decided on using the entire window real estate,” he said. “We took this vinyl and filled an entire window, and from there we realized there were other parts of the building façade we could use. So we started creating basically billboards at ground level.”

Today, Inwindow Outdoor serves 17 markets across the country, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Denver, Houston, Chicago, and Miami. It has also branched out into digital campaigns that feature a cutout in the vinyl allowing large-scale images to be projected on the window glass from inside the retail space.

Inwindow Outdoor’s work appeals to customers for a number of reasons. First, the graphics are unexpected. Motorists and pedestrians are prepared to see a retail storefront, and instead view a large advertisement. Second, those advertisements are at ground level, making them more noticeable than a billboard. Third, they’re unique. By their nature, they conform to the buildings, and no two are alike, Birnhak said.

Inwindow Outdoor doesn’t design the graphics. Design teams and ad agencies handle the design work. Instead, Inwindow Outdoor works closely with its printers. “They’re pretty complicated to do, because if you’re off on just one area [of the building], you pretty much have to go back and do it all over,” Birnhak said.

The majority of business is conducted through media buyers working on their own or with agencies, who tout the advantages of using Inwindow Outdoor. “When we first started, people weren’t sure what this was,” Birnhak said. “And landlords weren’t sure this would be a profitable way to leverage their vacant real estate. But as we’ve become more established, this has turned out to be a win-win for real estate and advertising. And lastly, it’s also a win for the community, because it takes these vacant spaces that are depressing, and gives them some energy and vibrancy.”

For the most part, Inwindow Outdoor’s clients are very well known international companies. Recently, the company undertook a technology-heavy campaign for Intel, in which passersby were able to text in their thoughts about the future and have those observations instantly woven into ad messages on the building.

Another memorable project involved Pepsi’s rebranding campaign, whose large and colorful graphics “looked great on our storefronts,” Birnhak said.


Wrap It Up

Chesapeake, VA-based Action Graphics & Signs, Inc. is another company that transitioned into window graphics from a somewhat different type of business.

Owner John Hall bought the business from a member of his family, who had been marketing signs created from cut vinyl. Today, its AG Wraps division handles window graphics for clients’ storefronts, as well as wall murals and vehicle wraps.

“All our wraps have small identifying logos showing that they’re the work of www.agwraps.com,” said Autumn Hall, sales and marketing director and John’s sister.

But that’s only one of the ways AG Wraps promotes its products. “A lot of our business comes from word of mouth, and from people seeing our vehicles,” Hall said.

“We have a lot of walk-ins, we hand out flyers, and we go to car shows. We’re looking to offer some lower costs by offering about 15 different templates customers can plug their names into, and in that way gain a window graphic for lower cost. That would run about $130, whereas a custom graphic would be about twice that.”

Customers are drawn to window graphics by their low cost-per-impression rates, and by the colorful variety offered. “It’s all digitally printed, so you can put anything up there, from a face to a plate of food that you serve at your restaurant,” she said. “For an ad in color in a newspaper or telephone book, it costs you double what it would be in black and white. But as for window graphics, they’re always done in full color.”

Hall said some of AG Wraps’ best work is on behalf of itself. Its store window is comprised of six different window sections, all of which are wrapped in “view-through” window film, as is the door of the business, allowing transparent views from inside. The one-story building is a former auto body shop, and is located just off a main thoroughfare in Chesapeake, and highly visible to motorists on the highway.

What would Hall tell those interested in getting started in window graphics? “It’s a great market to get into,” she said. “It’s very easy to install, and there are great profits to be made. And it’s pretty cool to see your products around the streets.”

Versatile Window Displays

Chicago is a great printing city, and there a leading window graphics provider is Andre’s Imaging & Graphics, which began in the 1970s as a photo lab. The company later moved into digital photography, wide-format and finally grand-format printing.

One of its first major forays into window graphics was for The Levi’s Store, which led to it handling windows for Old Navy, says purchasing manager Matt Simpkins.

“We’ve done every flagship Old Navy window rollout for the last four or five years, including dimensional graphics and vinyl applications,” he said.

Simpkins feels the greatest appeal offered by window graphics is their versatility. His company can produce a wide range of window graphics products because the materials at its disposal are so numerous. “There are clears, there are frosteds, there are transparent colored vinyls, there are opaque vinyls,” he said. “Then you get into the printable films like PETs, which are more optically clear than a vinyl. These can be printed with white and with layers, giving you more control.”

The company relies on its website to spread the word about its services. Then its company reps go out to meet directly with designers to let them know whatever they can dream up, Andre’s can produce.

Simpkins’s advice to companies contemplating a move into window graphics is to talk to their distributors and vendors about materials they may offer that can help them enter the field, and to also check out window graphics they see around their area—not only examining but photographing them.

“That’s what we do,” he said. “It gives us an idea of some of the things people are doing out there. Don’t be afraid to try something new. Two years ago, no one was printing on PET films. We tried it, and found it worked. That’s where Andre’s has its niche. Illustrators come to us and say, ‘This is what we want to do.’”

Start Local, Expand Global

Seattle, WA-based Autotize was launched in 2001, with the business plan of offering advertising on vehicles for third parties, such as major tech companies in the Pacific Northwest. “That worked well for a couple years during the dot-com boom, and then went bust,” said Chris Cunningham, owner of Autotize.

The next step was working directly with corporate clients, business owners, mortgage companies, real estate firms and energy drink makers to wrap vehicles.

“The company evolved into that area, and then 3M came out with a campaign promoting window graphics for auto dealerships," Cunningham recalled. “That opened my eyes. Using the new perforated vinyls with digital images of the new vehicles the dealerships were offering supplanted the old painted windows they had been doing. That really got us going with the auto dealers. We would do the front windows, and then go into maintenance and wrap their courtesy shuttles and delivery vehicles.”

Autotize later began serving large national property management firms to produce graphics for windows of the companies’ apartment communities, to promote the availability of apartments to potential renters driving by. “We also did work for property management companies to promote available retail space,” Cunningham said.

Arresting images and the medium’s versatility are two factors that help sell would-be clients on window graphics. Street-level billboards featuring colorful graphics and compelling messages on empty storefronts are very eye catching for both pedestrian and vehicular traffic. And the availability of both opaque and perforated vinyls adds to the attraction. The former can be used with empty retail spaces, while the latter let occupants inside see through windows that look opaque outside. Autotize uses perforated vinyl materials about 80 percent of the time, he says.

Landlords who are not able to rent out store space appreciate the chance to gain some additional revenue by using their store windows as billboards. And, Cunningham added, in this economy, “the inventory of vacant storefronts is definitely there.” Finally, there’s the ease factor. The flat glass surfaces make for easy installations, he says.

Unlike some other providers, Autotize focuses its marketing efforts on key clients that have retail space and are looking to promote a new brand or an image. “That’s how we started out on a national basis with US Cellular,” Cunningham said, noting his company handled a national rollout for the cell phone service provider. It gains other large national clients through its website.

However, Cunningham believes shops just starting in window graphics should start by servicing clients in their own backyards before adding out-of-state clients.

“We’ll do any type of storefront window, with lifestyle photos of families for windows,” he added. “We don’t serve mom-and-pops, but good-sized local, regional and national companies. It all comes down to the size of window graphics requested.”