Graphic, colorful wide-format print rages on urban and suburban streets and highways, screaming past at 35, 45, 55+ miles per hour. You can pimp your ride and have your rims, but what your customers' commercial passenger vehicles really may need is some vinyl—of the vibrantly printed variety. If...
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$3,000 a Day
Schellerer said his 40-employee Bloomingdale, IL operations have been producing and installing vehicle wraps for 10 years, since adding a 54-inch Océ Arizona 180 solvent inkjet printer for outdoor applications. Situated in a Chicago suburb, his family-run firm (wife Carla and their three sons work there) first became a car-wrap wholesaler to other sign companies; then, they built up the business by doing one-and-dones as well as national fleet branding for 10 to 20 vehicles. Today, producing and installing an average of one wrap per day, vehicle graphics account for some $800,000 in annual sales for the 21-year-old firm. That adds up to some 260 wraps per year, translating to more than $3,000 per job – enough volume to justify a dozen full-time installers on staff.
Back in 2002, when Signs By Tomorrow Bloomingdale invested $80,000 in its large-format Arizona piezo printhead technology, it brought in an experienced installer from within the industry. "It takes practice to get good and efficient," Schellerer explained (see sidebar). "It's not something that's learned overnight." Paul Roba, North American technical manager for Avery Dennison Graphics' reflective solutions, concurred that there definitely is a skill set needed to become a proficient applicator.
Staying one step ahead of what the average sign company has also has been a recipe for competitive success, Schellerer added. "We retired a 60-inch NUR Fresco II in March, after five years," he said. Most of SBT's vehicle graphics are output on 16-foot-wide ExcelJet solvent printers. Solvent-based printers do well with stretching the vinyl, Schellerer said, while output from UV-curable printers (which SBT also has) can break. The firm also houses latex printers, a trio of film laminators, and one liquid laminator. Although the latter is less expensive per square foot for graphic fronts (10 cents vs. about 50 cents), Schellerer cautioned that it is trickier to install because it stretches much easier. "You also have to tape your graphics" output on the liquid laminator, he noted.
Schellerer shared that his fleet business, like most, suffered when the US economy took its nosedive and customers were more concerned about tires, brakes, and vehicle maintenance than graphics and advertising. "Business was pretty stagnant in 2009," he admitted. "We had to discount quite a bit, which affected our P&L." The good news is he has seen the segment coming back again over the past couple of years.
"The trailer market came back strong in 2011," said Tim Boxeth, business manager at 3M Commercial Graphics, adding that the media supplier has seen double-digit growth in each of the past two years for its fleet and commercial passenger vehicle applications. "It's a very cost-effective medium, especially for small- to medium-sized brand owners."
The mobile media market is attractive and large enough that publicly traded advertising/marketing conglomerate Omnicom Group bought Signature Graphics, a wide-format print firm in Porter, IN, near Chicago, nearly five years ago. And the potential of mobile media is on the upswing, as the market recovers and rebounds from the economic downturn.
In mid-2011, Fry Fabrications of Arizona started up a printing division called Fry Media Services that produces signage, A-frames, floor/window graphics, and vehicle wraps. "We've been digitally printing for almost two years," said Jim Fry, owner of the metal fabricator which caters to beverage industry clients such as Monster and Rockstar energy drinks. Having only done about 10 vehicle graphics to date on an HP latex printer, Fry admitted to having a tiny "toe print" in the market as opposed to a large footprint. "We us a local guy for installation," he noted.