‘Old School’ Graphics Still Handing Out Lessons

Feb 28, 2010

Welcome to Coast 2 Coast, where Restyling questions restylers from the East to West and from the North to South.

For this issue, we focus on graphics installation, inquiring about the hottest and most common graphics and vehicles, and what the market seems to bear nowadays and into the near future.

We also ask for some insider tips, tricks or techniques that make our pros’ shops better-run, better-equipped, better to handle today’s business climate – and we came away with great suggestions not only for application methods but sales tools, as well.

We begin, though, by coasting into a question about this season and the vehicles to look for:

Vehicles    

Going into spring, what vehicles look to be the best for opportunities for you to sell graphics? Why do such vehicles make the best choice?

For us, it’s mostly the large trucks and SUVs.

– Vaughn Kendle, owner, Auto Trim Design (ATD), Idaho Falls, Idaho

Motorcycles for sure; obviously with springtime coming up, those are going to do well. I also expect a lot of business with the less expensive sporty cars that younger people buy. They are more apt to purchase graphics for those vehicles, such as the Chevy Cobalt. The new Camaro is doing well; a lot of people like pinstriping for those.

– Len Bulat, owner, Car Reflections, Naperville, Ill.

We work with cars and trucks both, and for the most part we work with higher-end vehicles. For example, I [recently] scheduled some work for a Camaro. And, we usually cut those [graphics] ourselves and store the vinyl.

– Gail Bulgin, owner, Private Eyes Window Tinting, Cheyenne, Wyo.

In our business, we do a lot of things with trucks, especially the sport truck market. But, that business has really died in comparison to what it used to be. We also make signage for vehicles, logos for businesses. We often make windows look like etched glass.

– Casey Zaremba, owner, Finish Line-Cleveland, Cleveland

I think it will be the same thing that happened last year, which is some of the Hyundais, Kias and Subarus. Those are all hot. Camaros are still popular, but most of the stuff we’re seeing are the less expensive up-and-coming brands.

– Howie Girovich, owner, Chicago Stripes, Chicago

Vehicles like the Rio V, the Mazda V – sort of the smaller sport utilities and small cars – seem to do a lot of business that time of year (spring). Of course, there is always a market for the full-sized trucks, too.

– Mike Stewart, owner, Stewart Design, Indianapolis

We have been in business 16 years, and we used to do a lot of automotive, but we are now focused on recreational vehicles. They are mostly for recreation, but we do business vans, as well.

– Valerie Parmenter, owner, V.I.P. Enterprises, San Bernardino, Calif.

The biggest increase we have seen are the muscle cars: Mustangs and Camaros.

– Rusty Toler, owner, Custom Converting, Lynchburg, Va.

Graphics

What types of graphics are your clients migrating most toward (e.g., pinstripes, flame kits, full or partial vehicle wraps)?

Pinstripes are No. 1 for us, but I have seen some of the flame kits, as well. We have also seen some other graphics kits with more modern designs, things with barbed wire, which fits us. We are in a rural area.

– Vaughn Kendle, Auto Trim Design

A lot of it has changed over time. We used to do a lot more graphics than we currently do. Now it just seems like pinstriping is most popular for me the last three years. I don’t know if that is due to the economy or dealers being unwilling to take the gamble.

– Len Bulat, Car Reflections

We are doing a lot of racing stripes right now; they are back in. I have been doing this long enough that I have seen the trend for graphics go up and down. Their popularity will go up, and everyone will want them. Then, they will be seen so much that popularity declines because people want something different. Then it starts over again, and we go up and down with it.

– Gail Bulgin, Private Eyes Window Tinting

Car dealerships and older people usually just want a nice little accent stripe. If they do go with some kind of design, say, compared to years ago, it is definitely more subtle now. Stripes on new Mustangs have been very popular for us. They want it to look like a Cobra.

– Casey Zaremba, Finish Line-Cleveland

I sell so many pinstripes, I can hardly believe it. I’ve been in business 29 years, and believe it or not it is the same. Pinstripes sell. I have added trim, and I have added color trim, and those are mainstays. The regular graphics, such as flames, I haven’t been doing much of, though I have them in inventory. Those usually end up on used cars.

– Howie Girovich, Chicago Stripes

There is so much out there right now. It’s really a variety. As soon as the weather gets nice, consumers go with pinstripes over graphics – particularly the more colorful graphics, at that. In the winter, they’re just worried about getting the salt and grime off of their car. When the weather is warm, people look at their cars a little closer. Oftentimes, they replace a graphic they already have, just to freshen up the car’s look.

– Mike Stewart, Stewart Design

All of our graphics are custom. We create them right here in our shop.

– Valerie Parmenter, V.I.P. Enterprises

The Camaros are getting the rally stripes. Some come from the factory with the stripes, now; but at first they weren’t being applied. The dealership had to find someone to install them. Now, they put it on at the factory. Well, the accent stripe that comes on those, we’re putting on the less-expensive vehicles, as well. It looks just as good on the six-cylinder as it does on the V8. There is a lot of opportunity with dealers.

We’re doing the same thing with the Mustang, putting the Shelby stripes on the GTs and six cylinders. It’s the same body.

– Rusty Toler, Custom Converting

Style trends

Regarding auto graphics style trends – modern, edgy, skulls and flames, retro – what will be the popular looks this year?

We mostly see the classic, I guess you could say, “old-school” styles.

– Vaughn Kendle, Auto Trim Design

We really haven’t seen any trends. Occasionally, we’ll come across something wild. Usually, I show [clients] a catalog and let them pick what they think will look good on their car, I make some suggestions, and we go from there.

– Len Bulat, Car Reflections

For the bigger graphics, it has mostly been the rally stripes and what we’ll call “old school.”

– Howie Girovich, Chicago Stripes

The flag and flame trend has been going strong for a few years, and I don’t anticipate much different this year. Color is always a trend, no matter what the design is. A lot of people will look in a catalog for colors: yellows, purples, bright greens. People who drive Toyota Scions or Nissan Cubes, those kinds of buyers tend to be colorful people. It seems like they look for color first and design second. Like tattoos, it’s all personal.

One trend I should mention is racing stripes. Ever since the Mustang came out in ’05, we have seen a huge spike in racing stripes not only on Mustangs but on Camaros and even trucks. We have done Kia Sols and Nissan Cubes with big, wide racing stripes.

– Mike Stewart, Stewart Design

We do a lot of stripes.

– Valerie Parmenter, V.I.P. Enterprises

The bigger graphics are doing very well, such as those for the Camaro and Mustang.

– Rusty Toler, Custom Converting

Areas of application

What body parts will get the most graphics treatments?

Vehicle sides are the popular spots. Most of it goes on the sides, and obviously that’s where all of the pinstripe work is located. We do a fair amount of window work, as well.

– Vaughn Kendle, Auto Trim Design

I have always concentrated on the center part of the car, the “o-line” they call it. That is where I typically concentrate on putting the graphics.

– Len Bulat, Car Reflections

We do window tinting, clear bra and graphics. Generally, and especially on the higher-end cars, we do all three for each car we work on.

– Gail Bulgin, Private Eyes Window Tinting

When it comes to vinyl, it goes down the sides. Very little is being done on the hood, unless it’s racing stripes.

– Casey Zaremba, Finish Line-Cleveland

We are doing a lot of invisible bras, and those obviously are front and rear bumper installations. But, in terms of graphics, they are mostly being put on the sides, maybe rear quarters and front fenders.

– Howie Girovich, Chicago Stripes

They definitely start on the sides, and then if we can add something on the rear, sometimes they will do that. The hood doesn’t see many graphics. I think people know the longevity on the hood is definitely an issue.

– Mike Stewart, Stewart Design

Like cars, most RV graphics go on the sides.

– Valerie Parmenter, V.I.P. Enterprises

Supplier help

How do your graphics kits suppliers work with you to help you sell auto graphics? Do suppliers provide you POPs, consumer brochures, sales or special discounts?

They do quite a bit to help. We will soon have a part of our website that allows our customers to try different graphics on their vehicle.

– Vaughn Kendle, Auto Trim Design

Are the suppliers providing sales tools? Not really. Years ago, suppliers would come in and meet with me to ask how things were going. They would suggest new graphics, that type of thing. I haven’t seen that in five years. However, that does give you more incentive to go out and sell more, though it would be useful to have the supplier let us know of new graphics to push.

– Len Bulat, Car Reflections

[For example], we put a kit on a Ford Fusion. For our skill level, we like to use the kits. They are simple, they save time. I use the kits a lot. I try to keep several catalogs, and I will let customers take one home. It takes time to decide. They come back with the kit they want, and I order it and apply it. Those catalogs have helped me sell a lot of kits.

– Gail Bulgin, Private Eyes Window Tinting

I love the graphic kits. We can’t duplicate what the graphic kits are, so they are definitely a great seller. You can’t beat those kits; they’re fantastic. They do a pretty good job of supplying us with promotional material, as well.

– Casey Zaremba, Finish Line-Cleveland

Everybody seems to be offering a discount. I work with some suppliers directly, and I work with some distributors. But, all of the vendors have offered specials for the last six months or so. If you are selling, they will work with you.

– Howie Girovich, Chicago Stripes

They provide catalogs and brochures, color charts. Universal comes out with some posters. But, the suppliers have definitely become more frugal about those materials. You have to ask for them, sometimes beg for them, but they definitely help.

– Mike Stewart, Stewart Design

Today’s economic climate

How will the current economic situation change the graphics business?

Sales have slowed for everyone, but there is still a lot of business out there.

– Vaughn Kendle, Auto Trim Design

I think the economy has changed the industry a lot. The consumer has changed and the dealerships have changed a lot. Dealerships have really tightened the reins on everything – they are still willing to try something new, but not like before. Their sales are slower, so they are less willing to put a graphic on a car that a customer may not like. I think that is where a lot of the problems lie [of late].

– Len Bulat, Car Reflections

It scares me to share my knowledge of Wyoming – I like it that nobody likes us. Because of the fact that there are few companies that do graphics here, we are able to carve out our own niche. If I had to rely on window tinting, I would be out of business. Clear bra has helped us a great deal, and I added that a few years ago.

– Gail Bulgin, Private Eyes Window Tinting

People are definitely more conservative. They are not spending as much money on things like this as they used to, but they still go out for dinner on occasion, things like that. I tell my customers, “For the cost of a couple of dinners, you could put graphics on your vehicle, and they will last years.” That’s how we look at it; and once we point that out, other people see it that way, as well.

– Casey Zaremba, Finish Line-Cleveland

Nobody is raising prices that I see. Everyone is discounting – not greatly – but if you have a leg to stand on and are moving product, they will work with you.

– Howie Girovich, Chicago Stripes

It’s definitely become something people can cut out of their budgets. It’s not essential, and a lot of people are looking at essentials only right now. Yet, there are still people out there that may see that as an essential for their vehicle, and they figure out how to afford it. Some guys can’t conceive of driving around a car that hasn’t been individualized for them.

– Mike Stewart, Stewart Design

Business has definitely dropped off. My husband and I started out in the automotive industry. When aftermarket accessories slowed down for that industry, we went into the RV end of it. We now have three shops. We are renovating a lot of old RVs; people are not buying new.

– Valerie Parmenter, V.I.P. Enterprises

A lot of dealers have been slow. We go to those guys, and instead of doing the bigger graphics for a few hundred dollars on a few vehicles, they’ll do pinstripes on 20 vehicles. To me, the graphics have come back more than where they were a few years ago. You can do the smaller graphics a lot easier now than you could the bigger ones.

– Rusty Toler, Custom Converting

That wraps up this Coast 2 Coast trip. What did we learn? Do not get rid of pinstripes anytime soon. They look good on every vehicle. Though graphics of all sorts seem to be doing well, nothing matches the subtle custom look of stripes.

And although the business world has changed, the graphics business seems to be holding its own. Like Gail Bulgin of Private Eyes Window Tinting says: Graphics’ “popularity will go up, and everyone will want them. Then, they will be seen so much that popularity declines because people want something different. Then it starts over again, and we go up and down with it.”

Insider Tips & Tricks

Every businessperson has learned through his or her own experiences some sales and marketing, and technical tricks that make their operations more cost effective, client friendly, employee helpful, etc. We asked our restylers/installers if they’d share a thought or two.

Anything that helps the customer visualize the end product is a good sales tool.

– Vaughn Kendle, Auto Trim Design

We do a lot of police graphics, and if I’m by myself, tape is my best friend. Tape up the graphic, get it in position, center hinge it and install it. The tape acts as another person’s hands helping you with the install.

– Len Bulat, Car Reflections

We are the ones who need the tips! When we install vinyl, we make sure that the paint feels smooth to the touch. It’s not enough just to wash it. You have to use extra means to make sure absolutely nothing is embedded in the paint. If you run your hand across the paint and feel anything rough, that will show up under the vinyl, and that’s not acceptable.

– Gail Bulgin, Private Eyes Window Tinting

When I’m doing larger graphics, I use Rapid Tac II, which is a great solvent for installation. I am able to use that outside, even in 20-degree weather. And, I always use the best squeegees, Orange, 3″ squeegees. I also use an adhesive promoter before installing; it’s like insurance to me.

– Howie Girovich, Chicago Stripes

There is nothing worse than someone complaining about a poorly installed graphic not adhering. It’s really important to take the time to make sure the vehicle is cleaned all the way down to the clear coat. And, make sure it is plenty warm before you do the install. Oftentimes, customers will leave the shop to drive out into 30-degree weather. Using heat guns is definitely vital at this time of year in the Midwest.

– Mike Stewart, Stewart Design

Instead of just a regular, basic pinstripe, do something to dress it up. When we do pinstripes, we put the cars and the logos in them. If it’s a Chevy, we put the bowtie emblem in that; that’s small, but it makes a difference with the end user, especially if they identify with the brand.

– Rusty Toler, Custom Converting