Smart idea

Jul 29, 2010

A press release that came via the newswire services in early July caught my attention: Micro-carmaker smartfortwo was offering a variety of pre-designed full-car wraps to its customers, starting at $1,350; partial wraps, too, were to be available. As well, smartfortwo owners soon would be able to go online and design their own car wrap.

Ford, too, with its subcompact Fiesta, which has been a solid-selling car in Europe (it was No. 1 in March) and now moves again in North America, also offers vinyl wrap graphics for the little car; its website notes the graphics cost $100-$500 (not full body wraps).

Ford partners with Lakewood, Colo.-based Original Wraps Inc., which supplies “on-demand customization services for dealers at point of sale. Original Wraps handles all manufacturing, warranties and shipping,” notes a company press release. Original Wraps also works with Mini USA and other automakers for their dealer-available vehicle graphics. The wrap company’s founders certainly knew how to get their products and services into a “big boys” market.

Original Wraps, a 2006 start-up, is smart, for sure, and exceptionally entrepreneurial. The company’s on-demand wraps can be applied by dealerships equipped with their own personnel or by trained wrap installers – hopefully, some of you.

With the availability nowadays of online designs – mixed or matched with pre-designed patterns and images, or created outright by a car owner – vehicle wrap customers can get a virtual picture, perhaps in 3D mode, of what a wrap, full or partial, can look like. Both smartfortwo and Fiesta show their “tattooed” cars. Customization and personalization, after all, are what the restyling business world is all about.

Yessiree, this is one smart and big-picture-thinking venture. Who could fault Original Wraps for thinking outside the shop?

It did get me thinking, though.

Back in May I deliberated in this space about whether Internet car buying, which has been growing, could some day lead to more Internet aftermarket options offered directly by automakers that, in turn, might lead to set prices and fees for aftermarket products and installations that are dictated by automakers and/or their dealers – such as the now-offered wraps.

What if? I mused.

What if, in order to compete, restylers had to follow set fee schedules?

Automakers, through their dealers, already offer such aftermarket items as manufacturer-branded tonneaus (hard, fold-up and roll-up), moon/sunroofs, steps, remote starts, bed mats and liners, body kits, cargo organizers, etc. Sometimes the items cost less, sometimes more, than what a restyler installer charges. Such accessories are dealer profit centers but, in the grand plan of our business world, don’t take too much away from most restylers; there are just too many SKUs out there. And some of these vehicle-branded products give restylers dealer installation opportunities – including, perhaps, being a trained wrap installer who might be able to do a dealer job using Original Wraps’ on-demand product.

That at least makes the glass half full, doesn’t it?

I don’t say that such smart players as Original Wraps or other big-picture-thinking restyling entrepreneurs shouldn’t go for the gold; when you see an opportunity, take it. But I wonder if such restyling trends grow and prosper in a differently competitive business world will the impact hit hard on the shop owner who is caught unaware?

I guess the answer is to be aware – beyond your neighborhood – and be smart.