The Ins and Outs of Installation Outsourcing

Regardless of the industry, many successful businesses tend to prefer to tackle the jobs they‘re skilled at performing, and outsource the work they’re not.

Of course, it’s no different in wide-format printing, where many providers of building wraps, fleet graphics, and the like choose to farm out the installation to seasoned and expert installers. These PSPs understand they can avoid a ton of installation-related headaches while ensuring higher-quality and more quickly-completed projects if they outsource some or all installation jobs to an expert.

That’s not to say print providers can’t staff highly-trained installation pros in house. Some shops do just that. For others, it may be best to keep these thoughts top of mind when contemplating vehicle and building wrap installations.

Reasons to outsource

Undertaking a fleet graphic or major building wrap installation project can be a complex process, and the actual application of the vinyl is only part of the story. The many tasks entailed by these jobs are daunting enough that many print providers entrust their jobs to expert installers like Graphic Application Systems, a third-of-a-century-old Jacksonville, FL company.

President and CEO Aaron Witt reports Graphic Application Systems handles numerous big box retail jobs, tackling installations of way-finding signage, point-of-purchase displays and wall graphics, as well as hanging banners, hanging signage and wall-mounted pleated signage.

“Our company is an installation business,” Witt says. “We don’t have a background in printing. For us to try that would be foolhardy. Similarly, a print provider may not have staff or expertise to handle installation. It makes sense to outsource to installation companies. Those companies are already insured, whereas a PSP would have to go out and secure the insurance.”

Shad Interligi, CEO of White Plains, NY-based Real Hit Media, which serves clients from Boston down to Washington, DC and particularly New York City, advances a similar argument. “This is what we do all the time,” says Interligi, whose company has transitioned from its early emphasis on vehicle wraps to a more recent focus on more profitable large-format building and window installations. “You’re hiring a company that does this exact task every day. We’re large-format graphics installers. And that’s all we do.

“Think about it like this: If you do something all the time, you should get better, develop efficiencies and build muscle memory. Every time you face a new challenge, you’re taking those experiences from the past with you. Fly into it blindly yourself, and you may not be able to do it as well.”

Interligi reports he preaches to his team of installers to constantly hone their muscle memory and their installation techniques. “I’m always looking to have my guys move through it faster,” he adds. “We could get something done in a morning, and a printer’s in-house guy would be out there three days.”

Interligi has trucks perfectly sized to transport his company’s materials, relationships with lift operators that can hoist his installers 150 feet in the air, and long experience in obtaining certificates of insurance to cover buildings on which his company is working. Many print providers don’t have these advantages, so they have to go out and reinvent the wheel on every installation.

“When you work with us, all you have to do is send us the site contact, and the layout of what the image is supposed to look like,” Interligi reports. “The next time you hear from us is when we send you the photos of the finished job. That entire process is something you don’t have to get bogged down in. I’m a big advocate of tackle your strength and assign your weaknesses.”

When to outsource

Even if your shop does some installations, there are times when it makes more sense to outsource than to go it alone. Logical examples include those occasions when the job is on the other side of the country, Witt says.

“The print company may be in New York, yet their project could be in California,” he notes. “It doesn’t make sense for a New York print provider to fly an installer from its shop to the West Coast for a small installation. Instead, it can reach out to a California installer and let that company handle the job.” Another instance is when a job requires a level of expertise that the print provider doesn’t possess. Companies involved in building wraps must have a high level of training, rigging and adherence to safety techniques. “My guess is the print provider would not have that level of talent,” Witt says. “It would be smarter to go to someone who specializes in this kind of building wrap.”

It’s also wise to outsource when the particular job in question calls for skills possessed by certain installers due to their market niche, Interligi says.

In the large metropolitan area markets his company serves, demand for retail, advertising and wall graphics installations is unabated, meaning his teams have honed their skills over and over again on such projects. “But the guys in Florida are going to be the experts in wrapping boats,” he adds.

One more occasion tailor made for outsourcing installation is when the opportunity cost demands farming out the job, says Justin Pate of Justin Pate, Inc. Pate spent his first 11 years in the installation business serving customers in New York City, and has worked in Amsterdam for the past six years.

“If the install is going to be difficult, or take up a lot of hands and hours, it’s better to bring on an installer or installers to do the job efficiently,” he says.

“It might seem like you are losing a portion of the profit of the job, but if the workers in the shop can put more focus and energy on other projects, it will most likely prove financially sound. That’s especially true when a multiple vehicle job comes in. A good tip is to find an install crew that does good work and make a deal with them. Offer the installation company an exclusive on, let’s say, any vehicles that come in, if it gives a discounted price. This offers several benefits. A good working relationship generally comes from this, a lower price for the installs can be arranged, and the install crew gets consistent work.”

How to choose

A big reason to outsource is to seek certified installers, Witt says, noting there are two certifying bodies. One is the Professional Decal Applicator Alliance, PDAA, the other the United Application Standards Group, UASG.

“Both of these organizations, to which we belong, have regionally located installers,” he says. ‘Basically, each organization has a network of certified installers throughout the country, with the possible exception of places like the Dakotas. This gives the print provider access to qualified installation companies that can meet their needs. They can go to the websites of these organizations, such as www.pdaa.com, and do a search for certified installers . . . They could also search by state or access master certified installers, a higher certification.”

Entrusting jobs to certified installers is a key reason to outsource, says Andy Gutentag of Graphic Systems Installers in Lakeland, FL. The company both prints and installs graphics, and provides installation for other printers.

“We were an installation company before we ever got into manufacturing,” he says. “We started out doing installs on trucks and trailers for four or five years, then got into cutting vinyl, and in 1998 we started printing digital, turning out wraps, vehicle graphics, banners, trade show signage and other work.”

Gutentag feels the benefit to outsourcing is in finding and using installers with 3M Certified or 3M Preferred designations, or PDAA Master Certified installers. “Lots of times, if you’re using 3M products, or Avery products, there’s less likelihood of a warranty issue involving the product if you are using these certified installers,” Gutentag says. The certifications indicate the installers are using the right techniques to ensure a quality job, he adds.

Of course, sign shops and others don’t have to outsource in order to gain certified installers, he adds. If they want to employ their own installers, there’s no reason they couldn’t put them through the training and certification process.

Even if they aren’t certified, that doesn’t mean they aren’t good. There are many non-certified installers who are good, “and tons who aren‘t,” he says.

“But again, experience is gained through repetition. The more vehicles you’ve done, the more years you’ve done it, the more experience you have. You are more likely to be able to know how to deal with a challenging situation, because you’ve dealt with it for years. I’ve been installing vinyl for 36 years, and still come up against difficult situations. The key is to have the experience to know you’re in a challenging situation before it’s too late, to see and correct any potential problems before they become a real problem.”

In addition to seeking certification, it is also wise to look for good word-of-mouth, Pate says. Make phone calls to sign shops in the area of the install, and simply ask about the installer being considered. Does that installer show up on time, maintain a positive attitude, do clean installs and stand by his work? “This is, in many ways, the best way to get a read on an installer,” he says.

Final considerations

If you do decide to outsource, keep these considerations in mind before you make the final determination. Professional installers are frequently busy servicing multiple graphic producers, says Rob Ivers, who heads Rob Ivers Inc. in the Kansas City suburb of Raymore, MO. Giving a professional installer ample notice ensures your job can be finished on schedule. Early involvement also gives the installer the sense he is part of the team, not a last-minute add on. Finally, prompt on-boarding allows that installer to provide valuable input as to how the job should proceed to maximize the success of the project, Ivers says.

While you may decide on an installer based on his availability, the primary reasons should be his reputation and specialty skills, not low price.

“You get what you pay for in many cases,” Ivers says.

“Get references and contact previous customers of the installers. Look not only for installation skills and experience, but reliability and professionalism. Communication and responsiveness are also important.”

Don’t rule out doing the installation yourself if it’s something within your ability, and sometimes even if it isn’t, Pate says.

“If there is a window of time around the install, perhaps it would be good for the workers in the shop to take a go at the install that may be above their skill level,” he notes. “The luxury of doing it in house is that if any mistakes are made, they can be corrected quickly. Plus, it can provide an invaluable learning experience for everyone in the shop . . . Simply put, doing a job in house lets everyone see the process and ask questions in real time.”

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