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Posted: May 31, 2013

The Vinyl Frontier

Exploring New Territory With Graphics and Wraps

By Ellen McKoy

Graphics and wraps are market-hot. Whether they are purely cosmetic or commercial designs to promote a company or product, they are highly visual and instantly transform the look of virtually any vehicle.

As consumers seek creative ways to differentiate their ride, suppliers see ample opportunity for restylers and retailers to expand their product lineup and business horizons.

“There has been a growing trend toward personalizing everything from cell phones, to laptops, and especially vehicles,” said David Blackwell, 3M’s commercial graphics business development manager. “New colors and textures give individuals more opportunity for customizing their vehicle. The graphics market is continuing to grow as people recognize the value of wrapping their personal or work vehicles as an extra way to catch attention.”

Going Retro
Dressing vehicles with decorative flourishes isn’t a new phenomenon. During the Roman Empire, chariots were adorned with gold-leaf scrolls. Through the ages, carriages and wagons often sported hand-painted scrollwork.
During the 1940s and ’50s, an explosion of fanciful designs gave prominence to hot-rod artists like Ed “Big  Daddy” Roth and Kenny “Von Dutch” Howard. More mainstream stripers meanwhile plied their craft with painted pinstripes for decades at car dealerships nationwide. That changed dramatically with the 1970s’ invention of vinyl pinstripes.

Single-line stripes and colored roll goods enjoyed years of popularity as stripers hand-cut the vinyl to create their own designs. But as materials and manufacturing processes evolved, suppliers began producing ready-made graphics kits. “That opened the floodgates of how vehicles could be restyled with graphics in greater detail and with better imaging,” recalled Greg Duchinsky, marketing director for Sharpline Converting. “As things progressed, they became almost a must-have product for a lot of car dealers.”

Flash forward to the new millennium. Unlike earlier, decorative kits, graphics nowadays are more conservative, tailored to flow with a vehicle’s contours. While pinstriping remains a staple, suppliers have seen a resurgence in OEM-style and vehicle-specific graphics for muscle cars and pickups.

“Our niche is OEM-style graphics, like Mustang and Camaro kits, that mirror the factory graphics,” said Wayne Casimir, Eagle Enterprises’ automotive division sales manager. “Because it’s cheaper for a dealer to have an installer put on an aftermarket kit than it would be to buy factory graphics, it’s easy to go into a dealership and sell it. That’s where our customers make the most money.”
According to Duchinsky, “the buying public’s more conservative taste,” is driving the trend. “Nobody wants wild, funky graphics that kids clamored for on their converted Hondas. Retro-style graphics are what’s popular now. Dual rally stripes are incredibly popular. Our aftermarket version of the factory Camaro kit is one of our best sellers. Retro-style graphics for any of the variations of the old muscle cars -- the Mustang, Challenger and Charger, even pickups like the Dodge Ram -- have gotten a new life.”

Wrapping It Up
One of the hottest automotive trends is non-glossy matte paint. Yet matte paint is costly and high maintenance. Thanks to aftermarket ingenuity, non-glossy matte film is now available in colors that mirror matte paint. Though used in retro-style graphics to create a more subtle appearance, matte wraps are all the rage.
“Matte colors are definitely popular, particularly matte black,” said Duchinsky. “One reason is the appearance the film provides, plus matte paint is hard to apply and durability is limited. Matte films give people the ability to have the look of a fancy matte paint job at a fraction of the cost and that will have longer durability.”

According to Blackwell, 3M jumped on the bandwagon with Scotchprint® Wrap Film Series 1080, available in 46 finishes, including matte, glossy and carbon fiber. 3M also introduced a high-performance, non-polyvinyl chloride graphic film, known as Envision™.

“Envision Wrap Film offers leading-edge technology and best-in-class performance with a sustainability edge,” he said. “3M’s wide range of wrap solutions allows you to detail, decorate, fully wrap or accent anything from cars and trucks to boats…and gives you the opportunity to create a customized and desirable look.”
“There’s a lot of opportunity for the matte look,” added Restylers’ Choice President Doug Jacobs. “From a personalization standpoint, it’s a huge trend.”
Among his best sellers:  Partial wraps for a two-tone effect, plus Woody-style and roof-mounted British flag wraps for the Mini Cooper. “The market has really evolved. Whereas it was very unique and then went cookie-cutter, it’s back to being unique. There’s a huge market for single-color and printed wraps that change the look of a vehicle. It’s a perfect fit for restylers and truck-accessory stores to personalize their customers’ vehicles.”

Rip Stoltz, president of Camowraps®, has taken a different approach.  Camowraps produces universal-fit camouflage graphics and wraps for pickups and SUVs aimed at outdoor enthusiasts. Applications include full-wrap camo kits, rear-window film with wildlife images, accent kits and wrap-around Bed Bands.
“Camouflage is cool, it’s a lifestyle,” said Stoltz. “And, it’s a win-win for retailers. Not only do they get to make a markup on the product, there’s good profit in the installation.”

Transforming Work Trucks
Nowadays many commercial fleet operators are upgrading their vehicles. While ladders, racks and other gear help get the job done, fleet graphics help promote a business -- and provide an upselling opportunity to transform work trucks into mobile billboards.

“The fleet market is a huge opportunity that you don’t want to miss when the vehicle is already in your shop,” said Jacobs. “Once you start thinking about that type of work, there are things that tie in which are totally unrelated to truck accessories. If a customer is getting a wrap through you, he might be interested in yard signs. That’s an opportunity outside the norm, but it provides the convenience of one-stop shopping.”

“We see a lot of commercial wrap applications,” added Eagle’s Casimir. “If a company wants to advertise its business, you can put on a visually appealing graphic and a partial or three-quarter wrap. It’s a great way to upsell and build that relationship over time.”

Marketing With Flair
While graphics and wraps open doors to new opportunities, success depends on effective marketing, whether to a vehicle dealer or retail customer. Suppliers’ marketing resources include displays, on-line product and installation videos, and installer-centric websites. Eagle’s generic catalog allows installers to brand it as their own. Restylers’ catalog has a tear-off cover to hide its identity and can be customized to include a shop’s name.

When targeting car dealers, special-edition packages help differentiate a dealership’s inventory. “Accessory packages that include nerf bars, a graphic and bedliner work very well for some restylers,” said Duchinsky, “Because it’s something the dealer can market as exclusive to his dealership.”
But for sheer impact, nothing trumps a customized vehicle. “That’s a must have,” he noted. “Nothing sells better than an actual vehicle with graphics that people can see, touch, feel and understand.”

“Advertising-wise, you can’t beat the dollars spent to wrap a shop vehicle,” added Restylers’ Jacobs. “Even if a customer isn’t thinking of your shop as a place to get a wrap, he may ask where it was done. Immediately, you’re in the conversation. That’s where truck-accessory retailers or restylers have a real opportunity to get a foot into that market.”

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