Playing Vehicle Dress-Up

Dec 3, 2009

Nothing screams “Look at me!” more than an eye-catching graphic or tasteful pinstripe on a vehicle. And with today’s vinyl technology, it’s easier than ever to offer graphic restyling services to your customers.

“The business [of adding graphics to vehicles] is wide-open right now,” says Lane Carter of Restylers’ Choice, Cincinnati, which distributes a wide variety of graphics products. “Dealerships are looking for this type of service to add for their customers, and it’s not just for cars, but motorcycles, motor homes and boats. It’s a low-investment service you can start offering to your customers right away.”

The low investment begins at the shop tool level for installing vinyl stripes and graphics. That’s because, basically, you don’t need any.

Vinyl striping and graphics installation requires very few tools: isopropyl alcohol for surface preparation, a sharp knife with breakaway blades [there are several varieties available] and a stiff, plastic squeegee.

Other tools that help make installation easier are masking tape and a grease pencil for proper placement of graphics on the vehicle, and a plastic scraping tool and/or handheld steamer for removing old vinyl striping during repair or replacement.

Greg Duchinsky of graphics manufacturer Sharpline Converting, Wichita, Kan., emphasizes that it isn’t difficult to lay down the graphics on the vehicle, either.

“Larger, more complex graphics require experience to properly install, but there are many attractive, smaller graphic kits and striping that can be installed by one person with little experience,” Duchinsky says.

Add the Stripe

Besides the lack of investment needed for tools, most vinyl graphics are not vehicle-specific. The graphics themselves are light, and can be easily rolled into a shipping tube, making it unnecessary for small shops or mobile technicians to carry a large inventory.

While not all customers are looking for a large side graphic, pinstriping is something that looks good on nearly all vehicles, Carter notes. A single roll of vinyl striping typically costs around $7, he says, and is long enough to go around five cars.

As an example of the return on investment of vinyl striping, Carter hears his customers typically charging $20 to $25 a car for striping on the lot, meaning a $100 return on a $7 product investment, with no tools other than an X-ACTO knife for cutting.

“Some of our guys doing striping take it a step further by adding a simple vehicle-specific graphic into the stripe say a domed Chevy logo at the end of the stripe at the bed of a pickup,” he says. “They are inexpensive to add, and look really great. It’s just one way they are adding value for lot managers and dealers they are doing work for.”

Graphics manufacturer Universal Products, Goddard, Kan., has found these logos are quite popular with lot managers today, says Joan Omo.

“Our new Chromax line of three-dimensional chrome badging has been very popular with restylers,” she says. “These inexpensive badges give any vehicle a custom identity similar to what OEM manufacturers have used for years.”

Sharpline’s Duchinsky backs up the R.O.I. potential of pinstriping.

“The margins for pinstriping are even better [than large vehicle graphics]. A basic vinyl pinstripe installation can take 10 to 15 minutes, including surface preparation,” he explains. “The cost of material used is about $2-$3. Wholesale pinstripe installation charges range from $18 to $25 a vehicle and retail installations should run more. That’s at least a 600 percent R.O.I.”

A Painted Stripe Option

For those wanting to take it a step further, think paint. Nothing screams originality more than a hand-striped vehicle.

There are kits available to make things easier, such as stencil tapes that allow a freehand look with the ease of painting over set lines.

Pepe Rincon of Finesse Pinstriping, Flushing, N.Y., offers one such kit that includes paint, brushes and stencils that allows someone who doesn’t know if a sword is for swallowing or striping to pretend they are a veritable Von Dutch. [OK, so maybe you won’t be hiding faces in a network of multi-colored designs, but you can match a simple single or double pinstripe fairly easily.]

The stencil system uses a roll of automotive masking tape to lay a frame for painting. Once the tape grid is in place, a painter needs only paint between the lines to get a sharp, straight pinstripe.

“People think paint pinstriping is too hard to do, but once you do one or two cars with our system, it goes nearly as fast as vinyl,” Rincon says. “The advantage of using an enamel-based paint is durability over vinyl.”

Another advantage is for those who like to keep their rides in show condition. Waxing over a vinyl stripe can leave a white wax line at the bottom edge of the tape that you don’t see with paint. Using paint also lends a certain old-school feel to the service your reconditioning business offers.

“There are people who love paint, and being able to tell a lot manager you can do it is a bonus,” Rincon explains.

Repairing, refreshing or re-coloring a painted pinstripe is really no harder than laying down a vinyl stripe, Rincon adds.

Regardless of whether your stripes are paint or vinyl, however, the good news is that technicians are no longer limited to four or five traditional colors. For instance, Omo notes that vinyl pinstriping is now offered in roll choices including new designs with metallic, reflective and shimmer qualities manufactured into the tape. Paint supply companies offer a similarly wide palette of colors and specialty finishes.

Sales Tools

If a dealer or lot manger has doubts about how vinyl graphics will look on a vehicle, there are tools out there to make your sales job easier.

Restylers’ Choice offers its Vigor software package that allows technicians to display the graphic of their choice on the vehicle and color of their choice. The graphics can be rotated in either direction, flipped vertically or horizontally and positioned anywhere on the vehicle.

Sharpline offers a pinstriping sales demonstration CD that drives home an essential point:

“The key in selling this service to lot managers and dealerships is to demonstrate the profitability that can be achieved,” Duchinsky says. “A typical pinstripe installation that costs a dealership $20 is often stickered to sell at $100 or more.”

Auto enthusiasts know one truth besides death and taxes: accidents do happen. When they do, Duchinsky has a good tip to keep customers coming back to your business.

“Your sales tickets should include the manufacturer and part number of the graphic/striping used for future reference in case repair or replacement materials are needed in the future,” he says. “A reconditioner may want to invest in some self-adhesive labels that also contain his business name and phone number. Write the product information on the label and install it inside a doorjamb or in the glove box for future reference.”

Similarly, Universal Products includes its Pro ID system with each graphic kit that allows an installer to write his name and phone number on a small sticker that can be affixed to a doorjamb.

So, if your reconditioning business could benefit from a little creative flair, look to add vinyl graphics and stripes-they can dress up your bottom line as well.