This Material is Graphic in Nature

Dec 3, 2009

Business these days flat out needs to be tended to on a regular basis. From owners to manufacturers, paying attention to the details is a must. One of those details is knowing what the market is doing. So, in our look at today’s vinyl graphics market, we talked to both manufacturers and retailers to accurately see their respective views.

Our questions to the manufacturers centered more on what products they were moving, while the questions for retailers were of a per-shop nature. The two angles combine for a very revealing look into the market as it stands today.

What Suppliers Are Saying

Styles in vogue

We first asked our manufacturers to describe the freshest, most contemporary graphic looks. Joan Omo of Universal Products, Goddard, Kan., tells us, “We have been seeing a trend toward sleek, sharp-angled designs.Also, designs that are produced on clear, allowing the vehicle paint to blend with the graphic, design are alsopopular.”

Greg Duchinsky of Wichita, Kan.- based Sharpline Converting says that, “the most contemporary graphic looks today are usually found as large-format, digitally printed images in vehicle wraps.”

“For most graphic applications, however, a more conservative approach is popular with best-selling designs that complement a vehicle’s shape and color. Retro-inspired graphic designs remain very popular, especially with the recent re-introduction of vehicles like the Dodge Challenger, Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro.” Michael Dickman of Speed Graphics says, he’s biased, “since that is what we try to produce here at SpeedGraphics.So we try to look as much like a custom paint job as possible.Our new Liquid Touch graphics really do a fantastic job delivering on that promise.”

Color trends: what’s in, out

The next question was about colors – which ones are moving and which ones are trending down. Duchinsky of Sharpline tells us this: “Classic mainstream colors in neutral tones are the big movers because a narrow range of these colors work well with a majority of today’s vehicle colors.Vehicle interior colors are very basic now (black or tan), so there isn’t a wide range of colors needed to compliment vehicle interiors and exteriors.

“The demand for a wide selection of specialty colors in cast vinyl film,” he continues, “has diminished with the growth in digital printing that can produce color effects across the entire spectrum.”

Dickman of Speed Graphics says, “Realistic flame and patriotic graphics continue to do well, but graphics have generally trended down in step with the economy.” Omo of Universal notes that, “as always, neutrals (silver/black/charcoal) are the most popular.Greens and purples are trending down.”

What vehicles are sporting

We wanted to know, too, about the vehicles that restylers are requesting or buying graphics for.

“Trucks continue to be the best vehicles for graphics,” Duchinsky says. Still, he adds, “While pickups and SUVs have traditionally been the vehicles of choice for getting graphics, the dropping popularity of these vehicles has allowed graphics to appear on smaller, sportier cars.Graphics have become smaller and more conservative in design to better complement the growing demand of sport coupes and sedans along with smaller crossover vehicles.”

And what type of vehicles are getting graphics at dealerships, new or pre-owned? Dickman answers succinctly: “Trucks.” Duchinsky says that “it’s impossible to estimate graphics sales on new vs. pre-owned, but economic conditions seem to be driving the use of more graphics on pre-owned vehicles, as they are becoming a more affordable alternative to new ones.”

“A nice graphics package on a 3- to 4-year-old car, pickup or SUV can make it more appealing than a similar package on a new vehicle,” he adds.”The new-vehicle market is seeing a good deal of growth, however, with the application of paint protection film instead of graphics.”

Promoting, driving the designs

We asked how our retailers reach their markets with new designs. Omo tells us, “We promote our new graphics through ads in Restyling magazine and byproviding our distributors with full-color fliers for theirpromotional efforts.”

Dickman says his firm works “through our distributor catalogs and sales teams. We also present new designs at each year’s SEMA event in November and through electronic channels like our website.”

Duchinsky says that, “Sharpline introduces new graphic designs to professional restylers on both a direct basis and through select distributors.Sharpline’s Prostripe and Trimbrite brands are promoted through various distribution channels that reach other markets that have a need for our striping and graphic products.”

And that brought up the question of what drives new designs. Duchinsky says, “Trends in vehicle design, fashion and pop culture contribute to new designs in vehicle graphics. When chrome recently started reappearing on new vehicles, Sharpline looked for ways to integrate the look into graphic products such as our Diamond Plate film and ChromeWeaver graphic lines.When barbed wire patterns started showing up on apparel and tattoos, we introduced two kinds of continuous-roll barbed wire graphic designs for vehicles. Once a trend has been selected, our artists begin integrating these elements into conceptual designs. Graphic concepts are reviewed and updated until they meet our criteria for design innovation, durability, price and installation.”

Omo notes that “requests for designs are submitted to our team of artists. A wideselection of designsare then created forselection by a group of personnelthat work closely with ourcustomers.”

Dickman adds: “We look at our best sellers and expand the themes in those areas, and listen to our customers.We also makesure we ‘raise the bar’ each year to deliver better and better designs and products.”

What Installers Are Saying

Street cred

For what is actually happening on the streets, we asked retailers, and our first question to them was: What graphic trends are you seeing at your shop right now? Are we looking at linear, large or small, vehicle trend change, vehicle popularity and any particular models that may be more popular that others?

Bob O’Leary of Auto Trim of NW Ohio says, “We are seeing more larger kits, specialty hood graphics.” Shawn Lawrence of EgraF-X, Wichita, Kan., tells us, “It has been a good mix of all types. With the retro style vehicles coming out, we have done a lot of retro style linear graphics with a blend of larger, more contemporary style designs.”Gary Miller, of Radical Design Auto Accessories, Apple Creek, Ohio, says, “We are seeing more of the rally [racing stripes] coming back since the new models are resembling the muscle car era.”

What vehicles were getting treatments? Miller of Radical Design says that the “most popular car we were striping was the Mustang. Now it’s the Challenger and Camaro.” O’Leary of Auto Trim agrees, noting some differences: “The Camaro and the Charger are most popular. The Challenger never took off for us.” Lawrence from EgraF-X sees a different leader: “By far, the Mustang.I thinkthe Camaro and Challenger will not be far behind after they have been out for a few years.”

Hot colors, designs

When we asked what color palettes are hot right now, O’Leary says, that he’s “progressed all the way to flat black, even on black cars.” Miller notes that in his operation “we see a lot of blue combos and silver/black combos.” As for what color cars are coming in, Miller says, “We do a lot of silver cars and some black and white cars, also, but mainly silver.” Lawrence gives a “Hmmm, good question. I see a lot of traditional-style palettes-”silvers and blacks,blue and white, black and red, etc. -¦ I’ve seen a lot of carbon fiber and camo.I think this will burn out soon. Well, maybe not the camo. I think that will always be around with the outdoorsmen.”

We asked what retail customers seek in a vinyl graphic look, and Lawrence says, “We see a good mixture of all.Some want to add a little something to differentiate their vehicle from others. Some bring in magazine articleswith graphics to replicate the theme. While others want a whole new look that nobody has seen on their type of vehicle.” O’Leary says that “most customers are looking for that ‘tough’ look or always an OEM look. We add a special name badge or logo to the package, which adds value to the overall graphics.  Miller adds that his clientele “come to us mainly because they want their own look. We spend an average of one hour with the customer. After that, I will draw out what it will look like and I will not duplicate that again unless it is for them.”

We asked, too, about marketing vinyl graphics and O’Leary offers this: “We work primarily for dealerships and market in person.” On marketing his own in-house products, O’Leary tells us, “We market them in person, and we are starting to collect digital pictures and fliers to e-mail, which has worked very well.”

Miller adds, “I’ve been striping for 23 years and it has been word of mouth. People see the striping that I do and they ask where it was done.” He also says he, “offers one-of-a-kind designs” to market his in-house products.

Lawrence notes that his company has a presence on the Web “in several places. But most of the work we do in the shop is from word of mouth.”

So why might a client choose a shop-made graphic versus a pre-made graphic?Says Lawrence: “That one’s easy. They choose a shop-made graphic for the custom look. We cancustom design a graphic to accent the lines or look of a vehicle.”O’Leary notes that his installers “choose the best graphics for the application.” Adds Miller: “Custom made by me. They are guaranteed it’s the only one out there.”

Bulk buys?

What about purchasing graphics?In bulk or as needed? When buying quantity graphics how do you choose the individual graphics?

“I purchase when I sell them,” Miller says. “My distributor (Restylers’ Choice) has the ultimate sales book that I use as my sales tool.”

Lawrence says that he’s “pretty lucky in that area. Most of thekits we get are produced locally, so we get them as needed.”

O’Leary notes that “we shop our vendors that have a proven reputation over the past few years for quality and design.”

And finally we asked: What kind of digital effects seem fresh and contemporary to our retailers?

“I like more of the new airbrush look with the authentic tears in the paint and also the true flame look,” Miller says. Lawrence notes that he “would like to see a little more of the true flame effects.”

There’s your market update. Now get busy collecting those details so you know what’s going on out there.