Shop Tour Making it Personal

The entrepreneurial spirit is always open to opportunity. So, when John Oakes happened by when his business partner’s wife was applying a pretty pink decal to her daughter’s notebook computer, the proverbial lightbulb went off in his head: “My first thought was, ‘Why doesn’t that have my favorite band on it?’”

For Oakes, that was an especially pertinent question. Freeze Artist Management, the company he’s built with business partner John Reese, specializes in the management and promotion of concerts, tours and recording artists.

“Music has been my livelihood, and I’m continually looking for ways to create new revenue streams for us and the artists we work with,” he says. “This looked like it could become a new revenue stream.”For Oakes, that was an especially pertinent question. Freeze Artist Management, the company he’s built with business partner John Reese, specializes in the management and promotion of concerts, tours and recording artists.

In August 2007, Oakes took that thought, and a sample pink decal, to his friend in the digital printing business, neighbor Bradley Trevethan. His company, Cutting Edge Signs of Orange County, Calif., specializes in large-format digital graphics. “Ninety percent of the work we do is on vinyl,” he says. “We’ve done some vehicle wraps, created prototypes, and custom projects like wrapping a drum kit and some small remote control cars.”

Drawing from Oakes inspiration, Trevathan’s experience, and Reese’s marketing acumen, DingLife was born. It’s a venture built on digital printing as a cost effective solution for one-of-a-kind graphics.

A FRESH TAKE ON WRAPS

Officially launched last year, this-up-and coming specialty printing company takes the concept of the digital wrap in a new direction. Oakes is CEO, Trevethan vice president of production, and Reese the head of marketing. While most in the wrapping business focus their efforts on the large-format fleet and vehicle graphics, DingLife offers the same type of personalized graphics on a much smaller scale.

The prints they produce—“dings” as they call them—are designed, cut and delivered for installation by consumers on today’s full range of personal electronics devices: cellphones and smartphones, MP3 players, notebook computers, video gaming systems and controllers. The company has also ventured into the custom wrapping of medical equipment, as one example of the range of products that could be “dinged.”

At last count, DingLife offered contour-cut graphic decal sets for more than 150 consumer electronics products, and the selection continually grows. The company has licensing agreements with many of today’s popular bands: No Doubt, Blink 182, Kid Rock, NOFX, Linkin Park, AFI, Slipknot and Nine Inch Nails, to name just a few. Customers can also personalize devices with original graphics from the company’s network of affiliated visual and tattoo artists, DingLife’s original artwork, or a menu of solid colors.

Every design is available for every device, currently totaling more than 100,000 SKUs. Oakes’ goal is to allow consumers to personalize whatever they want. “Within two years we expect to have more than 500,000 SKUs available,” he says.

A SIMPLE SOLUTION

Those choices are offered with the ultimate convenience. DingLife is an e-commerce business. Consumers log on the Web site (www.dinglife.com), choose the device they want to personalize, then the artwork. From the Web, their completed, prepaid order is routed to DingLife’s headquarters and production facility in San Juan Capistrano, Calif.

There each order is assigned a bar code, automatically cued for nesting on the Roland SolJet Pro III XJ 540 inkjet printer, counter cut with the CAMM Pro GX-500 cutter, then routed to the company’s order fulfillment department. There the bar code for the completed order is scanned into the system. Included with each shipment are an application kit that includes the graphics, an alcohol wipe to prep the device for application, instructions, and links to online tutorials to step consumers through the installation process.

“When we started, we wanted to create a way people could easily personalize their products with official graphics of their favorite bands,” says Oakes. “It’s become much more than that.”

BUILDING A WORKFLOW

For months, Oakes, Reese and Trevethan brainstormed on the best way to bring his idea to life. “Once we knew what we wanted to do, the most difficult part was developing a fully automated workflow,” says Trevethan.

Oakes agrees: “The biggest challenge was the organization. We spent months working with software engineers and programmers to create a scalable, fully-automated paperless workflow that could take our designs from an e-commerce Web site to our order fulfillment center.”

Choosing a printer to produce their graphics was the least of their worries. Trevethan strongly recommended they consider one of Roland’s inkjets. “I was already a Roland user, and very happy with the color, quality and speed of their printers,” says Trevethan. For DingLife, they invested in one of the first SolJet Pro XJ 540 printers shipped in the U.S. and companion CAMM-1 Pro GX-500 cutter.

The 54" eco-solvent inkjet offers a maximum print speed of 441 square feet per hour, and maximum print resolution of 1440 dpi. At DingLife, it’s driven by a Wasatch RIP, integrated into the company’s proprietary workflow software. To ensure color accuracy, all graphics are printed with Roland’s ECO-Sol Max inks.

Since DingLife’s designs are cut and delivered for installation by their non-professional end-user customers, selecting the right media required careful, thorough evaluation. “We probably sampled more than five dozen products—the full spectrum of available media, before choosing Avery’s MPI 1000 Series EZ RS adhesive backed vinyl,” says Trevethan. “The fact that it is repositionable is very important to what we offer. We have to have a product any customer can install.” A protective layer of Avery’s DOL 1000 laminate film is applied to all graphics before shipping.

KEEPING PACE

Now that DingLife is established, the challenge is keeping pace with the range of products consumers want to ding. Staff members continually design, develop and test templates for new electronics devices as they come to market. The printer is currently running eight hours a day, six days a week; and Oakes expects more shifts and printers will be needed as word spreads about how easy it is to ding anything. Prices range from $15.99 to $39.99, depending on device, and includes shipping.

Exclusive licensing agreements with major bands is helping drive traffic to the Web site. And, what started as a solution targeting consumers is also drawing the attention of marketers. “We just signed a partnership agreement with Samsung to integrate DingLife with some of their new product announcements later this year,” reports Oakes. “We’re getting an early look at some of the newest devices.”

That comes on top of other brand-building opportunities with companies like MTV, Revolver magazine, RockStar Energy Drinks and the many concerts and tours Oakes and Reese manage.

“We’ve got a lot of background in the music business, and we’re gaining a reputation there as the latest, greatest sticker people,” he jokes.