Wrap Realities: Part 1

Sep 12, 2011

Wraps, for all their commonality today, are a relatively new product in our industry. In that respect, we are still learning quite a bit about them and, as we learned from our sources, have more to learn or maybe re-learn.

We presented questions to our sources, and their answers were both alike and different. They agreed that the materials are getting better and easier to use, yet the market is pricing itself way too low. They also agree that customers all too often focus on price alone and we all need to change that.

Where our sources really shined was in giving to-the-point, no-pulled-punches answers. In the case of one answer, the response was something to the effect of finding another career.

Here, we begin the discussion with how materials and installation have changed. Consider this Part 1. The second installment, which will address techniques (including window treatments), tools, shop space and insider tips from the pros, will be presented in a later issue.

Vehicle wraps have changed

We first asked whether wraps are getting easier to install. Are the materials getting better and does this translate to any price savings for the client and/or profits to the installer?

Justin Pate of Justin Pate Inc., working out of both Boise, Idaho and the Netherlands, says, “I think installs are getting easier as the skills and knowledge of installers have increased over the years. Wrapping vehicles is still a relatively young industry, so as it matures, the skill level of the installers naturally goes up and the time of installs goes down.

“The materials are definitely getting better, mainly in terms of conformability. I think for years the industry stuck to the 4mm rule for print wraps (2mm print layer/2mm lamination layer). This combo is way to too thick for today’s curvy vehicles. Now, several manufacturers are pushing combos that are 3.3mm and more conformable than ever. This makes wrapping complex sections like bumpers and mirrors less stressful and quicker.

“As far as inks, I haven’t had much experience with latex, since I work in Europe and the majority of wraps that I install are paint wraps (single-color films). Yet, with eco solvents and latex, the toxicity of installs has lowered dramatically. I remember back in the day peeling the backing paper off a panel and almost passing out. In the early years I actually wore an organic respirator when I installed to avoid breathing in the fumes from solvent inks.”

Todd LaBrie of Carwraps Inc., in Los Angeles, has this to say regarding better materials and easier installation: “Absolutely. Vehicle wrap materials have come a long way. Manufacturers have made some incredible advancement with the more flexible and stretchable vinyl films (manufactured mainly by 3M and Avery Dennison) along with more of the other manufacturers offering materials with more re-postionable “slideable” qualities. Because of these two reasons alone, the amount of installation errors are far fewer than in years past.

He continues: “The potential for cleaner and more meticulous results have increased and that is a favorable result – especially for the vehicle customization market. In addition, better installation results mean less of a likelihood of having to correct mistakes and cut into profits. The slideable qualities of the films results in reduced installation time and fewer registration issues.”

Charity Jackson of Visual Horizons Custom Signs, in Modesto, Calif., adds that “the newer vinyls with air release and repositionable technologies have definitely made it easier to install vehicle wraps. I think manufacturers are continually making improvements to their materials by introducing products with the technologies that make installation easier and media that prints better.”

Mike Grillo, of Road Rage Designs in Spring Grove, Ill., says, “Depending on the manufacturer, the wrap material is getting easier to install and the materials from some of the manufacturers are getting better. But the steps of proper cleaning and post-heating take up the difference in time. 3M and Avery have had price increases, the inks are going up in price; so instead of having price savings for the client, our profit margins have lowered by trying not to pass the increases to the client.”

Troy Downey, owner of APE Wraps, in Coronado, Calif., notes, “Wraps are becoming easier for all installers as the materials become more forgiving.”

Here’s his hit list on what a consumer, as well as a first-time installers should be looking for:

Cast vinyl: When it comes to wraps it’s all about conformability. The most conformable of pressure-sensitive vinyl is the cast formulation. The term “cast” is a formulation that generates a final substrate that is considered the premium of products from the vinyl manufacturers.

Adhesive: It all starts and stops with the adhesive. When it comes to wrapping a vehicle’s surface it all boils down to the energy of that intended surface. Low-energy surface: “Best adhesion.” In simple terms, the higher the gloss of a surface, the lower the energy; and with that lower energy comes better adhesion. High-energy surface: “Less adhesion.” Conversely, the lower the gloss, the less adhesion will be present.

Adhesive bells and whistles: As of about 10 years ago the installation of decals had become much easier with the advent of air-release technology. But, today, what is defining speed of application is a new technology which provides for a standoff component added to the surface of the adhesive, thereby lowering the initial tack of that adhesive and speeding up the process of installation. This new formulation can be found on the Avery Dennison product called EZ/RS (it’s the RS that is the designation for this new technology).

And Matt Richart of Digital EFX Wraps in Louisville, Ky., says, “Wrap films have made the installation process easier for most wrap and installation companies. The technology of films, inks and laminates has improved dramatically over the past five years. With that being said, prices for film, ink and laminate have gone up. Workers’ Comp, insurance, etc., have also increased.

“Vehicle wraps still need to be designed, printed, laminated, the vehicle detailed, parts removed and then re-installed. When you combine all these elements, the price is difficult to discount. If anything, the price for an entire wrap job needs to be increased. Today’s economy has hurt or put a dent in a fair amount of companies’ profits. We just try to keep our price the same as it was three or four years ago. Companies that just install have taken advantage of the wrap films that can speed certain aspects of the install which in turn can decrease time saving customers some money.”

David King of MarketKing, in Lancaster, Mass., tells us, “Yes and no. The air release [property] has been there for years now, and the time to install is about the same.” However, he offers this cautionary tale: “The profit in this business is almost gone, there are too many people offering wraps for so little money, it is not worth doing anymore. Too much risk for so little money!”

Give value and assurance to the customer

We next wondered about customers, their primary concerns, fleet work and such, and how they might be getting more bang for their buck.

Pate from Justin Pate Inc. tells us this: “One of the main concerns from customers is if their car will be damaged both during the install and during the removal. As far as removals, the big thing to calm them down is to say that if it’s the original paint, it’s guaranteed by the manufacturers of the film -” that is, if the OEM paint is in good condition and the installer makes a pre-inspection sheet. -¦ Multiple vehicles are always nice because all the vehicles that come after the first one will go much, much quicker. The reason for this is that the first vehicle acts as a template and a way to work out any problems. -¦ Repetition is a big key for ensuring profits.”

LaBrie of Carwraps says, “The primary concerns are, most often, fit and finish, the longevity of wrap and fair market pricing. All of these concerns can be addressed – and the client’s mind can be easily put to rest – by providing honest testimonials and offering a written warranty. It’s important for the wrap provider to have a clear understanding of the manufacturer’s warranty and its limitations as well as a good relationship with the area rep for whichever vinyl and lamination manufacturer you use. I can’t stress that enough.

“While offering assurances on the quality of the material used is paramount, it’s important for a wrapper to offer their own ‘company’ warranty and not simply to expect to pass the buck to the manufacturer of the vinyl materials. It’s important for the customer to know that he or she needs to report any failures or lifting issues to the wrap company as soon as anything problematic is noticed.

“As far as pricing is concerned, this an individual decision, but it’s important to find the sweet spot in a given market [that is] based on a wrap company’s particular capabilities. Someone can always appear who is a better salesman or is a cheaper shop. Trying to get more than the job is worth – or charging anything, no matter how low, just to get the job – eventually will have negative effects on your company. Simple design concepts that can be retrofitted and customized for anything from a small car to a large van are always efficient and easier to print in volume. Complex designs require more thoughtful and careful installation and take longer.”

Jackson of Visual Horizons says, “I think the customer’s first concern is price, then how the wrap will affect their vehicle and how to translate their ideas into the wrap. To address these concerns:

Regarding price: We explain our pricing based on the total square footage of the graphics, installation and design time. We take their budget into consideration as we work to create an effective ad within a price range they can afford.

Regarding translating their ideas: One of the easiest ways to help the customer visualize a wrap, before the design process and while you’re still initially trying to get the job, is to take a template of their vehicle and sketch out some quick designs while you’re talking to them. This helps them visualize the job and also helps you both get on the same page. When a customer has a fleet of vehicles and is on a budget, we find out if they want to spread the advertising evenly across the fleet, or if one or more of the vehicles will have a larger graphic while the others will go smaller. We also determine their budget so that we can work backward from that number, taking design and installation into consideration, and then determining how much total square footage of graphics they can afford.”

Richart of Digital EFX Wraps says, “Most of our customer’s concerns are price, design and when can they have it back. Most wrap companies that are full service will tell you the same. We always get the customer’s budget/pricing out of the way before we even begin the design process. Once coverage area is determined, we can then decide, and price what areas are difficult and what areas are easy for our installation crew.”

He continues: “Having control of the design and installation eliminates most mistakes…I suggest doing a half or partial wrap. When you can combine wrap media, cut vinyl or die-cut graphics together in a nice effective design, it will give the appearance of a full wrap without the price. We can make more profit on partial wraps than full wraps depending on vehicle and design. Also, our customers appreciate the fact that we may be offering a $2,000 per vehicle rather than a $4,000 per vehicle price tag. We don’t just want customers, we want customers for life.”

Grillo of Road Rage Designs tells us, “There are two different clients out there, and it’s pretty cut and dried. One is looking at price only the other is looking for an effective wrap that offers value and a return on their investment. The shops offering quality, warranties and a friendly staff are doing good without having to lower their price to the basement bargain shops that offer ridiculously low prices. -¦ I see a lot of wraps where it seemed the imagination of the shop was stretched just to make more money by offering a full wrap that the client didn’t need.”

Downey from Ape Wraps says, “It’s not the installer that makes this call; the installer is going to do as the designer built the wrap. It’s the sign shop owner/interviewer/designer that addresses these concerns. Furthermore, that initial interview will help determine what’s to be wrapped and what’s not. The consumer in most cases doesn’t understand the pitfalls and ‘participation’ in the wrapping of a vehicle. It’s up to the shop owner to review and reveal these issues, both good and bad, to help direct them to the wrap and coverage that’s right for them…

“Most consumers understand the concept of volume, and in the case of wraps this is true. The more you buy, the less expensive it is. But that doesn’t mean that because of volume it will reduce the cost of every aspect of a completed project…Remember, you have to ensure these wraps for their warranted life, so don’t cut yourself short.”

King from MarketKing adds this,”[Customers] do not expect [a wrap] to last, as there are so many failing wraps today. Are you kidding? They are paying way too little for the wraps and they are getting more than their value”

So, the business world of vehicle wraps requires smart business planning and consideration. And it certainly involves not pricing yourself below what you’re worth just to get the job – leave that to the fly-by-nighters.

In our ensuing discussion of the business of wraps, Part 2 of this Coast 2 Coast real-world discussion will address the more technical applications, including perforated wraps on windows, the tools, your shop setup and even some tips we can all use for better results.