New Markets for PPF

Dec 3, 2009

Many of you are probably already installing paint protection film.

PPF is used most frequently to protect vulnerable painted areas on autos, trucks and SUVs from rocks, bugs and road debris that causes chipping. Bumpers and leading edges of hoods and fenders, mirror backs, air dams, body kits, door handle grab areas, key holes, door sills and edges, and wings are all common application opportunities for the restyler.

The product wasn’t invented for the automotive market, however. According to Jeff Boettcher, market development manager, 3M Automotive Division, St. Paul, Minn., paint protection film was first produced by 3M to protect helicopter blades during the Vietnam War. While the business expanded into the automotive industry years later, Boettcher said that films continue to see use on aircraft and even in wind farm installations.

For those currently installing PPF, whether using computer-cut kits or creating custom-fit pieces from bulk material, the profit potential and market size is well-known and large.

What aren’t as well known are the developing and relatively untapped non-traditional markets for PPF. They may not surpass your sales of PPF for automotive use, but they may supplement it.

“It’s all about new product introduction, but we can’t lose sight of the big picture, which is automotive,” says Steve McAuley, CEO of Xpel, San Antonio, Texas.

Large surfaces, large profits

Recreational vehicles present a wide variety of restyling opportunities. In particular, motorhomes and towables are a huge market for PPF applications. The purchase price of Class A and diesel pusher motorhomes represents an investment equivalent to the price of some houses, and owners aren’t keen on their often luxurious vehicles looking road abused.

“Rolling stock such as RVs are not as big a market as automotive,” says McAuley. “But I think we can serve that market in a more effective way going forward. There are some real market opportunities there.”

The very nature of these on-the-move road warriors crossing our country (and the continent) via highways and byways exposes them to an extraordinary amount of damaging road debris. In addition to covering and protecting the obvious and very large front ends, PPF installers working on RVs are finding a wealth of applications not exposed to road debris that still experience impact or abrasion.

“I’ve had requests for grab handles, backs of mirrors, and on the back end where owners put their bikes on bike racks and the tires get to swinging around,” says Steve Novarro, owner of TopLine USA, Traverse City, Mich. “On the inside, I had one guy ask me to install PPF on the bottom of his bathroom door because it was always getting kicked and beat up.”

Other suggestions include high-traffic areas like the kick panel at the entry door and areas where utility hookups are located.

Restylers report that unusual installations utilize scrap material left over from the production of custom-sized pieces for RVs. Consider adding an entry door kick panel piece or another high visibility location piece in the presence of the client as a thank-you for their business. This small touch builds valuable good will with the client and demonstrates non-traditional PPF applications.

Fifth wheel RVs and live-in livestock trailers also offer fertile ground for surface protection. These expensive vehicles feature high-profile front ends and lower body panels that receive considerable exposure to road debris and require large amounts of PPF material. Synergy may result from thse projects; RV owners often own trailers, off-road vehicles, ATVs or other PPF candidates. Generally, people travel in a group with their RVs and the word-of-mouth buzz that may occur about your installed products and service can increase your client base.

Getting wet, not scratched

Can you think of a vehicle that gets crawled and walked around on more than a boat? Few, if any, vehicles experience as much surface traffic and accompanying wear.

“In automotive you need something that is a Class A appearance,” says Charles Herrmann, VP of Marketing and R & D with Avery Dennison, Strongsville, Ohio. “In marine that’s not so much the issue; it is a durability issue.”

Boats are unique compared to the automotive segment because they make intentional contact with things like docks, marine hoists, ropes and anchor equipment and trailers, not to mention the road debris that towed boats experience. All of this contact increases the potential for damage to the boat’s surface.

“With boats, PPF usage revolves mostly around storage and trailering,” said Novarro.

Ski and wakeboard gear or fishing tackle is stored in and about the boat, illustrating possible rub points that could benefit from the application of sturdier films-8 mil and thicker.

On the exterior of a boat, outboard motors are particularly exposed to hazards during the boat’s use and towing that can cause paint chipping and dings. Additionally, areas around cleats where ropes and lines are fixed can experience finish wear.

Larger boats with cabins and cubbies have the same abrasion potential on doors, hatches, grab rails and heavy traffic areas as do RVs. Many of the PPF pieces fitted to these areas can be produced from the drop a shop can accumulate during the production of PPF kits, utilizing material that otherwise might be thrown away and not turn a dime of profit for your shop.

Personal watercraft also are exposed to the same hazards as larger boats, making them candidates for PPF applications too.

“Canoe and kayak manufacturers are using PPF to protect bottoms of their products,” says Becky Orth of Sharpline Converting, Witchita, Kan.

Here again you have opportunities to enter into profitable niche markets. Watercraft and boat owners often own pickups, SUVs and/or RVs, offering potential package sales and installation opportunities.

Off-road and on the racetrack

Another profitable restyling market that is ripe for PPF applications is the world of off-road and racing enthusiasts.

Extensively equipped pickups, SUVs and more specialized vehicles like buggies and sand rails are good sources for add-on PPF sales. Installers report that they’ve used PPF on shock absorbers, expensively painted suspension equipment and lower control arms, rocker panels, and behind the front and rear wheel impact areas. Front skid plates and grille guards provide necessary decorative protection for off-road equipment and owners will be interested to know that PPF can keep their protective equipment looking good. Door sills, even more than in the passenger vehicle market, are vulnerable locations. Antennas and buggy whip flags also have a tendency to rub on the painted areas of off-road equipment, illuminating yet another opportunity for PPF to do its work and for your shop to make a sale.

Race tracks are loaded with PPF application potential. Depending on the genre of racing and vehicles, consider the amount of abrasion that occurs in the motor sports environment: NASCAR race teams have the financial ability to replace body panels on demand, but your weekend or lightly sponsored racer has to preserve what he or she is racing for the long haul.

Think of drivers’ fire suits and gear rubbing the car’s surface each time they enter or exit. Restylers can predict other areas a car will get exposure to rub points and impact areas. If a sponsor’s logo is mounted in one of these vulnerable locations, particularly behind a front or rear wheel, PPF installation can keep things looking good and easy to read. Some restylers report that in extreme cases, race teams have actually used PPF to hold body pieces together. Some teams keep PPF on hand for duct tape-like uses in order to finish an event! Although not intended for that purpose, it is a good example of a creative outlet for PPF material sales.

“With racing, I would look for the smaller venues,” says Boettcher. “Larger ones are corporate-driven. Smaller tracks may provide a better opportunity for installers to protect race teams graphics on cars.”

Classic and restored vehicles can also be targeted for PPF applications.

“I had a client with a restored Cobra and we put material all over the bottom of the rockers, behind his front tires, all over the back end because he likes to do burn outs all the time and was tired of picking rubber off his car,” says Novarro. “On top of his door where his arm hung out while he drove around, we put a strip there for him.”

To reach these markets, Boettcher suggests working with car clubs in your area to develop contacts and build a presence at events.

Alternative automotive applications

Even considering the typical application for PPF, there are markets that may be underserved in your area. Commercial and fleet accounts offer opportunities that differ from retail customers, but can be quite lucrative.

“I believe that commercial segment is really important,” says McAuley. “The product is predominantly marketed as a new-car product, but I think the commercial side-leet and rental-can really benefit. We all intuitively know that if you put PPF on the front of a car, you can drive it for two or three years and have a better resale value-you won’t have damage you have to repaint. When you get away from the consumer side into commercial, it’s much more a financial decision, and less about pride of ownership. It’s a question of how much will the fleet’s resale value be impacted in the future.”

There are even more unique opportunities within that commercial market, says McAuley, including emergency vehicles.

“Surprisingly, there is a great deal of pride of ownership for the decision makers in these emergency fields,” he says. “Fire chiefs are very proud of their vehicles, and are always spending money on touchups. Police are the same way. Protect and serve to them also means they want to represent their community with good equipment.”

With more typical customers, consider small up-sells or free add-ons like A-posts or the tops of rear bumpers where cargo is loaded and unloaded from trunks, beds, or cargo areas. Larger pieces have been used between roof equipment and a vehicle’s surface.

“In addition to passenger vehicles’ leading edge, there are other unique applications for PPF,” says Boettcher. “One is on the door cup where it can be scratched by jewelry and keys. Another common area is the top of the back bumper in minivans where people load things like strollers and golf clubs. Anywhere there’s friction or movement.”

Rethinking

It may not be normal for restylers to think of their products as something meant to be used, destroyed and thrown away, but with a little rethinking, PPF uses can be invented to increase sales and usage of scrap, waste and bulk material.

“We have people buying film for their computer screens and iPod-”there are millions of gadgets,” says McAuley.

In many cases, non-traditional PPF applications are considered sacrificial in their role as protection against abrasion resulting from storage, transportation or just typical use. This sacrificial use provides repeat business for the restyler and visibly demonstrates the effectiveness of PPF materials to clients. Unique, smaller uses exist in the PPF market.

“We’ve had people dabble in surface protection in general, whether its furniture or PDA screens and cell phones and protecting the screens on certain electronic devices,” says Brett Webster, product manager for Venture Tape. “Really, anything that is scratched can have the material put on it.”

Installers can use material to cover high-traffic areas like stair rails and table tops. Children’s stools, tables and other furniture take all sorts of abuse. If removal isn’t a concern, just protection against spills and water rings and keeping splinters out of little people (and big too), there are uses for PPF all over the house and workplace.

Other noted uses include exercise equipment at gyms and hotel room doors. Installers report using patches of PPF to cover autographs on boat hulls and musicians’ signatures on drum heads and guitars. These creative approaches to PPF clearly illustrate an abundance of opportunities for expansion into niche or under-exposed markets.

Sales advice

In order to be effective and profitable, there are important considerations for the restyler who is entering into or expanding PPF applications. Industry experts agree that working with and not just buying from your distributor is beneficial.

“You need to have a good relationship as an end user with your distributor,” says Novarro. “Use your distributor as a go-to for picking their brains. Call and ask questions. Utilize distributors’ training seminars.”

Communication can ease the learning curve in new and unique applications, while inviting a distributor’s advice may connect you with a valuable knowledge base.

“Bring these opportunities to a distributors’ attention, because at Avery we are open to developing specific solutions for markets that look like they have potential,” says Herrmann. “We look to our customers that are actually talking to the end use customer to give us new ideas. We don’t assume what we have today is the end-all, be-all product for all applications. In terms of the current PPF business there is opportunity to expand that market significantly by developing materials that have improved durability and conformability.”

Identifying what at first seems like a weird application and sharing this with your industry may result in your being introduced to a new material that specifically suits your niche PPF use.

Selling unique PPF applications also requires special attention.

“The common denominator in successful PPF installation shops is having a dedicated sales staff; professional sales people who upon walking into a dealership or shop are going to get face time with an F and I guy or an owner or decision maker,” says Webster.

Non leading-edge PPF applications present a valuable opportunity to upsell protection packages to dealerships, Boettcher notes.

As is often the case in restyling, being able to install the product does not necessarily mean you can sell the product. Employ a commissioned sales force that delivers a professional presentation to the client. Keep your sales staff informed about the unusual and interesting applications your installers are completing. Specializing and breaking new ground can be an excellent path to profit.