Posted: June 22, 2013
The Clear Advantage
A Transparent Way to Grow Your Business With Paint Protection FilmBy Ellen McKoy
Often referred to as PPF or clear bra, paint protection film has been around for decades. Made of a clear thermoplastic urethane, the film is most commonly associated nowadays with protecting the leading edges of painted vehicle surfaces -- the hood, front fascia, rocker panels, door edges, and so forth. These are areas that are prone to damage from stone chips, bug splatter and other minor abrasions. But long before it gained mainstream popularity, it started out as a military application.
According to Laura Kvistad, 3M’s senior marketing communications administrator, the company first introduced paint protection film in the 1960s to help protect helicopter blades from sand abrasion during the Vietnam War. The product proved so effective, it wasn’t long before the company started testing the film on areas of a vehicle that were susceptible to the same kind of damage. “3M found that the film didn’t just protect a vehicle’s paint from sand abrasion, it also helped protect it from stone chips and nasty bug acids,” Kvistad added.
“Paint protection film initially gained a foothold among owners of high-end exotics, such as Lamborghinis, Ferraris and Maseratis, anxious to maintain their vehicle’s pristine paint finish”, says Phil Novac, director of marketing and business development at Avery Dennison.
“Because of EPA requirements, paint finishes have gotten softer over time. And because the paint finish on very high-end cars is hand-buffed, a very expensive process that makes (the paint) look like glass, PPF was put on the front of these cars to stop sand, gravel and salt from chipping the paint, and protect the owners’ (investment) at the time of resale.”
Over the years, paint protection film has gained mass-market appeal, replacing once popular but often unsightly front-end bras and plastic deflectors, and can be found on everything from luxury, entry-level and mid-size cars to SUVs and pickups. According to suppliers, two key factors have played a role in its rising popularity.
Unlike bras or bug shields, PPF is transparent, barely visible, yet equally resilient. And taking a cue from the aftermarket, most automakers now offer paint protection film as optional or standard equipment on many models on view in dealership showrooms nationwide, helping to build consumer awareness.
“It’s really become more mainstream with the OEMs (offering) it as an option on their menu. That’s why it has grown so rapidly,” said Novac.
As more and more vehicle owners recognize the value of protecting their investment, Doug Jacobs, president of Restylers’ Choice, said this also accounts for its ever-growing popularity as a mainstay product for many restylers, retailers and auto dealers. “Paint protection film is huge. It isn’t gaudy or unattractive like a bra or bug shield. It’s invisible, but it’s got all the pluses that people want. And it’s a great profit center for installers.”
Discovering Opportunities With Crystal-Clear Protection
While initially designed to protect the most vulnerable parts of a vehicle’s front end -- the hood, fenders, front bumper and oftentimes rear-view mirrors -- suppliers have developed other applications, including door-edge and door-cup protection as well as film to shield rocker panels and rear bumpers. Though available as roll goods, often used to apply door-edge guards and then trimmed to fit, suppliers provide an array of installer-friendly, pre-cut, model-specific kits to fit virtually any car, truck or SUV.
3M offers thousands of pre-cut kits on-line through its Digital Designs service, as well as an assortment of film widths and thicknesses for a variety of applications. For instance, its Scotchguard™ Paint Protection Film, the officially licensed PPF of NASCAR, helps to deflect road debris on racecars. “Imagine,” said Kvistad, “what it can do for your vehicle.”
She said 3M has also developed several types of paint protection packages specifically targeted to the types of protection customers wanted. For example, the Wear & Tear package protects door cups from scratches caused by car keys or rings. Door edges can also be wrapped to help prevent paint chips, and truck ledges can be protected from scratches when unloading cargo.”
Restylers’ Choice carries a full line of model-specific Body Armor kits available in thousands of applications, including side-view mirrors, windshield pillars, full bumpers, hoods, rocker panels and more, as well as kits for RVs and roll stock in various sizes. Among its best sellers: kits for door edges, rear bumpers and front ends. “We’re seeing a lot of guys doing protection kits, using it for door-edge guards, load areas on the back of SUVs and quite a lot on (front) bumpers and hoods. It’s a good market, and it’s growing,” said Jacobs.
Avery Dennison also offers a range of PPF kits, more than 8,000 in all, mostly for new vehicles as well as older models. All kits are model-specific, and installers can go online and check off which parts they need to complete an installation, said Novac. A standard front-end kit, for example, includes film for the front fascia, left and right fenders, and the hood.
Nowadays, because most rear bumpers are painted and prone to scratches and scrapes, Novac said they’re ideal candidates for PPF. “One of the most popular applications now is the top of the upper rear bumper. So when you pull out a suitcase, you won’t scratch or scuff the paint. So it’s basically protecting any area that gets a lot of wear.”
The market for paint protection film “is bigger than huge,” added Greg Duchinsky, marketing director at Sharpline Converting. The company offers an exclusive line of films made to its own specifications. Marketed under the brand name DuraShield+™ Premium Paint Protection Film, it’s sold in the U.S. and internationally. “We sell a lot of it in the U.S., but we sell more overseas,” said Duchinsky. “It’s really popular in Canada because of the climate and roads, where it provides protection from debris and snow. Paint protection film is also getting big in the RV business, and there are some good marine applications as well. Overall, we see tremendous opportunity for growth.”
Conquering The Learning Curve
Installing paint protection film isn’t a slam dunk. It takes know-how and skill to master the application process. But whether an installer is familiar with installing window tint and simply wants to perfect PPF skills, or is a complete novice, there are a bevy of training options.
For starters, a quick online search reveals a multitude of training videos, many produced by PPF suppliers or professional installers, which can serve as handy starting points. Restylers’ Jacobs also suggested using shop- or employee-owned vehicles as a training canvas. Though admittedly not an inexpensive approach, since trial and error may result in using quite a bit of film to master the technique, he said “practice makes perfect.”
But there’s no substitute for hands-on instruction. And for those interested in more formalized training, both Avery and 3M offer full-fledged education programs. Avery, for instance, presents free hands-on training clinics. “We give free training classes throughout the country,” said Novac. “Basically, we (focus) primarily on bumpers and so on where you have concave and convex curves, how to get the material to lie in place without getting wrinkles or bubbles. It’s essential to learn some basic techniques.”
Kvistad noted that “3M has training facilities throughout the United States that focus on teaching new installers the finer points of installing on the wide variety of compound curves found on today’s vehicles.
These facilities provide hands-on training using pre-cut kits designed by our Digital Design team, specifically for the characteristics of 3M film. New installers must pass installation tests before they can become certified. If you’ve installed window film or car wraps, it will be an easy transition to install paint protection film.”
Marketing Value Versus Visibility
As retailers and restylers know, a product’s eye-catching visual appeal is often all it takes to spark a sale. But since paint protection film is virtually invisible, it begs the question, how do you market a product people can’t really see?
“If somebody had told me 10 years ago that we would be doing a tremendous amount of business selling a product people aren’t supposed to see, I would have just laughed,” said Sharpline’s Duchinsky. “But once people see it installed on a vehicle, realize there aren’t any stone chips and don’t even see the film that instantly helps to sell it.”
It’s all about show and sell, said a bemused Jacobs. “Because it’s invisible, it’s the hardest thing to market. It doesn’t have that panache that just grabs you, but once you start talking about it, it’s an easy sell.” To help restylers and retailers promote the product, suppliers provide an assortment of collateral material. Restylers’ Choice, for instance, offers banners and window decals. Kvistad said 3M has “a wide range of marketing materials to help our certified installers grow their business.” Items include branded apparel, customer giveaways, banners and a Where to Buy section of its website to help drive leads to 3M-certified installers, as well as car dealership point-of-purchase displays.
Noting that vehicle dealerships account for a substantial volume of aftermarket business, Novac said it’s up to installers to educate dealers by providing tools to help sell the product and generate revenue. Avery’s support materials include brochures with a product sample and cling-on decals that draw customers’ attention to hood-mounted film with catchphrases such as Ask Us About Paint Protection Film and Help Protect Your Investment.
“The most important thing for dealers is here’s a way for them to make money. The cling-ons get them into a discussion with a customer about how this helps retain the value of their vehicle,” says Novac. “But regardless of whether a shop is targeting auto dealers, retail customers, paint protection films add to their portfolio to help grow their business.”