ewing graphics

Women Who Wrap: Q & A with women working in the wrap industry

Charity Jackson is owner of Visual Horizons Custom signs, a full-service commercial sign company based in Modesto, Calif.  She has been in business since 1995 and specializes in vehicle wraps, design and project management and workflow. You can visit her Web site at www.vhsigns.com.

It's fair to say that the sign and wrap industry is primarily male dominated. That isn't to say though that there are not a fair number of women succeeding in this industry. The cool thing about vehicle wraps is the ability to be successful at wrapping depends on your skill. These skills have nothing to do with gender and everything to do with the individual.

While there may be a bit of a preconception that the wrap installer will be male, I haven't found this to be a big deal. When we're first working with a customer to determine their wrap coverage, or to go over any possible issues, I'm often asked to go out and consult on the wrap. I've received a few comments over the years, mainly surprise that “I'm” the installer with a question mark at the end of the statement. Once I start talking though they know I'm knowledgeable and experienced. That's all it takes to remove any hesitation.

As the industry grows, it's great for newcomers to hear from industry veterans, to see how they got their start and what has helped them grow over the years. For this article, I had the opportunity to talk with a few women in the wraps industry to share their story.

Jenn Ewing – Ewing Graphics

Jenn Ewing is co-owner of Ewing Graphics in Farmington, New York. Her thorough answers to my questions give lots of great feedback to starting and growing in the sign and wrap industry. She also noted that although I was asking her these questions, her husband and dedicated employees play a significant role in the success, growth and future of her company.

How did you get started?

I began working in the sign industry in 2001. At that time, vehicles and signs were still being hand-painted and die-cut vinyl graphics were being used in layers. We airbrushed to achieve the fades that we now print. Printing anything at that point in time was still in its infancy stages. Our shop initially started when my husband, Tom, progressed from hand-painting pinstripes on vehicles in the ’80s to hand-painting logos and signs. And from there we have advanced to the “vehicle wrap age.”

Along the way, we have offered a variety of products. Today we primarily focus on vehicle wraps and decal kits.

How have you learned over the years?

As for training, I would consider myself a self-taught installer. Having had the history of applying non-air egress vinyl in layers, I have also worked through the various developing stages of vinyl. We have tried several manufacturers’ vinyl products and continue to do so daily. With so many options out there, being self-taught gives me the confidence that the product we send out the door is exactly what the customer expects and it will have the longevity that the manufacturer guarantees. We are a 3M certified company.

Have you attended any training classes?

While I have not directly attended a training class, my husband and I have demonstrated vehicle wrap demos at many of the industries trade shows. That has given me the opportunity to receive many ideas, tips and tricks from other great installers in the business. We have also taught quite a few training classes over the years. And I truly believe that when you teach, you too, are learning.

Have you had any positive or negative experiences, as a female, while working in the wrap industry?

While the wrap industry in male dominated currently, I would say it hasn’t affected me one way or the other. No matter what gender you are, you must be a person that works well with their hands, pays a lot of attention to detail and has a tremendous amount of patience.

What is your favorite type of wrap to do?

In upstate New York, color wraps are few and far between. So, we tend to specialize in commercial and fleet wraps. I personally prefer to work on commercial wraps when I am installing. The change in vehicle types and layouts keeps me challenged. The fleet side can be equally as fun because it lends itself to be the most efficient and economical as it’s systematic. I find the process of putting the systems together for each fleet is what is rewarding in a different way.

In what ways do you and/or your shop stand out from your local competition?

We are different from most local companies in that we departmentalize. We have IT, Design, Sales, Estimating, Conversion and Installation. This allows us to be a start-to-finish company on most jobs. This allows our employees to be great at their individual skills, instead of “jack of all trades and master of none.” While other installation companies need to use sub contractors.

We are a large company, but we still deal with the customers on a personal level. Every aspect of each job is customized. This leaves our customers feeling satisfied as they have been part of the entire process.

What do you feel makes you good at doing vehicle wraps?

I personally feel I do well with vehicle wraps because I am knowledgeable in every aspect of the job. I pay attention to detail and I am a perfectionist. I take a lot of pride in my work and maintaining a satisfied customer from the initial start of the job to the completion of our project together.

What do you like, and dislike, about this industry?

I love that we get to work with so many different people. From the customers, to employees, to vendors. I love that we can travel. Whether it be working at a trade show, attending a trade show to gain more knowledge, and even going on-site to do installs. It’s remarkable the contacts we have made and that we stay in touch with from over the years.

One of my biggest dislikes is the bidding aspect. In most cases the customer will take the lowest bid. This can be frustrating when you’re not part of writing the bid. It can be difficult to estimate a project properly when all competitors may not be bidding the same specs in order to win the bid. It’s equally frustrating when the customer may not be educated enough on what they are actually receiving from the bidders to make a viable decision.

How do you feel about the future of the wrap industry and your business specifically?

We built a new facility in 2013, and already this past year have expanded to accommodate more in-house printing and conversion space to keep up with seven full-size installation bays we have. We will continue to grow both our commercial and fleet contracts and strive to be the best “all-accommodating” company in the Northeast. 

 

Susanne Tuor – Icon Image Graphics

I had the opportunity to talk with both Susanne Tuor and her business partner Sino Tour about Icon Image Graphics, based in Cerritos, California, and their growth in the industry.

How did you get started?

Before I began Icon Image Graphics with my business partner, Sino Tour, I worked at General Electric (G.E.) leasing trailers for their fleet department. I was first introduced to vinyl graphics during one of our client’s national fleet programs about a decade ago. Fueled by a desire to always be independent and self-employed, I had an idea to create my own business in the wrap industry. Before we expanded into other areas of the industry, our immediate focus was strictly on fleet wrap conversions for corporate accounts. I thought this new career venture would be a perfect way to reinvent myself… and possibly, reinvent the wrap game. I saw wrapping as a specialized craft and art form where we are able to change or enhance the visual aesthetics of a vehicle, a room, wall, a walkway or any object. With vinyl wraps, we also have the chance to present a client’s company or brand in a dynamic way that will hopefully create a surge of new customers and opportunities for them.

How have you learned to wrap over the years - Are you self-taught, attended classes, attended training?

To some extent, all of the above. I was originally self-taught in the art of vinyl wrapping, but now I make sure my training is up-to-date. My company holds certifications with many reputable graphic manufacturers, such as 3M (including Di-Noc,) Hexis, Nano Fusion PPF and Expel.

Have you attended any training classes?

I think it is imperative for both upcoming and established installers to continue their training so they can develop and maintain their installation skills. As certain films are being upgraded, shelved or created for the market each quarter, it is an installer’s duty to stay on top of all the latest media from all the manufacturers that he or she uses for projects. My wraps skills are improved with each field experience that I am on – I still learn something new everyday and I share my findings with my team.

Have you had any positive or negative experiences, as a female, while working in the wrap industry?

Professionalism is gender neutral. To be the best in this industry, you must possess talent, drive, an eye for design and a way with clients that sets you apart from the competition. As both an installer and sales rep for the company, I have had moments of victory working with both Hollywood elite and fleet/corporate accounts that have tested my character as we raced the clock to meet a deadline. At the end of the day, contract terms do not care if I am male or female. The only thing that matters is the quality we deliver.

When I first started in this industry, certain customers immediately dismissed me as not being a sufficient or competent wrapper simply because I was a woman. To this day, I feel as though I can do the same job, if not better and faster, than my male counterparts. It has never been my mission to break down a societal stigma that has existed for centuries, but I do see positive changes of how I am perceived these days among customers and my peers. It is really a shame, because I find such enthusiasm and satisfaction in all areas of the wrap business. With a willpower to always succeed, I am never one to let something like this ever keep me down.

What is your favorite type of wrap to do?

I am drawn to the large fleet programs we have been hired to convert for our clients. It is those programs that have the most organizational requirements, challenges, moving parts and even headaches -- both in the office and on the field. When these programs are done correctly and deadlines are firmly met, it feels like such a huge accomplishment. I enjoy how the fleet wraps are constantly changing with ingenious or offbeat designs that gives you that creative spark or initial germ for other assignments. Over the years, it is interesting, yet frightening, to see many recognizable, corporate giants undergo a rebrand or merger of their fleet… while some companies are not as fortunate and have gone out of business. Nonetheless, our services are required during this awkward, but lucrative phase.

In what ways do you and/or your shop stand out from your local competition?

We are a full-service installation house with an elite team of talented wrappers and office personnel. In addition to our Santa Fe Springs shop, we are also mobile, and service all of the West Coast, which makes us heavily in demand for national fleet conversions. Our success also relies on a diverse portfolio of unconventional wraps for many different industries, including the world of entertainment. It is these entertainment-related projects that have put us on the map, and have garnered us much praise and support from graphic manufacturers, vendors, peers, clients, etc.

What do you feel makes you good at doing vehicle wraps? As an installer, designer, sales person or all of those roles.

I would confidently say that by combining all three of those roles -- installer, designer, and sales rep – makes me incredibly proficient in vehicle wraps. Although I have an affinity for sales and find it a rewarding part of my job, I learned that being well versed in all three roles (I refer to it as being a "triple-threat") is beneficial in gaining new insights, experience, and knowledge into any type of wrap job. For example, I am able to steer a project or program into another direction and identify potential issues during the development, prep, install, and post phase. The bottom line is that you do not want your business to lose money or even worse – lose a client or customer.

What do you like, and dislike, about this industry?

The majority of my professional experiences have been positive. I adore our clients and they trust us implicitly on their projects -- a strong indication that we have been doing things right for the past nine years. I have been extremely blessed to work with many talented artists through our custom work, and have met all the key players in the fleet graphics world. I am impressed by the bastion of creativity and brilliant work that is being produced as a whole by wrappers from around the world. It is our duty to further push vinyl graphics into mainstream culture.

I strongly dislike bad vinyl wraps or bad installs, especially when I see them in public. Quality should always be of the utmost important and at the forefront of every company’s agenda. Just recently I traveled to Tokyo, and was able to check out all the different types of installations around the city. Each one was flawlessly executed. Why are we not doing this in the states?

How do you feel about the future of the wrap industry and your business specifically?

Where do I begin? In general, there is such a versatility to vinyl graphics and wraps that makes it so appealing and applicable to many industries. We just need to further educate the world to what graphics can do for their fleets and businesses. I see continued growth for my company with a wealth of opportunities to take wrapping to another level, especially with our high-end custom work. Whether they know it or not, I have fought a slew of battles for my team by getting them better rates, training and more worthwhile jobs. If I push them to the extreme, I am pushing myself even harder so that I can live up to the title of being a strong and proactive leader within my organization. In other words, the ultimate boss lady in the wrap industry.

Debbie Ohlman – Austin Extreme Graphics

While no longer doing the 'hands-on' installs, Debbie Ohlman, owner of Austin Extreme Graphics, has plenty of experience in all aspects of the wrap industry.

How did you get started?

I started in this industry at the request of my husband. I previously owned a day spa/boutique and when I closed it I wasn't sure what to do next. He owns Central Texas Collision Services and specializes in commercial fleet work. His customers would come in with not only body damage but the graphics would have to be replaced as well. So … the need was there. I started out with one part-time employee and a small plotter. Twelve years later I have five full-time employees and occasional contract labor plus an office manager. We knew we wanted to specialize in vehicle wraps, and we successfully do so. (We are two businesses under one roof.) I basically handle the books and the "owner" responsibilities. I personally no longer install, but I use to "help" my husband in the first few years and will certainly offer another set of hands if needed.

In what ways do you and/or your shop stand out from your local competition?

We have a very talented staff and they are very good at what they do. One "perk" we have is that we remove lights, handles, emblems...anything to give the vehicle a cleaner and more professional end result.

What do you like about this industry?

Wraps are exciting. To see the end results and the "wow" factor on our customers’ faces. It's very rewarding. Some of my favorite projects have been high school band trailers (53' full wraps) and anytime there is re-branding involved. I enjoy seeing customers that we have done work for throughout the years. I have a wonderful repeat customer base. I think being a woman owner has actually helped my growth, never hindered it. 

 

Tonya Kimbrell & Kayla Hart – Finish Line Graphics

Tonya and Kayla are both 3M preferred installers running their shop in Dobson, North Carolina. Brought together by yellow flower decals on a VW bug, they've been a team for nine years. Their business, and success, is built upon their friendship. By balancing their strengths and weaknesses they're able to work through any situation. As Kayla noted, “We have a truly special bond, and continue to enjoy seeing each finished project come to fruition because of what we accomplish together.”

How did you get started?

In 2003 when I was pregnant with my daughter I decided I wanted to work from home and be able to make enough money to buy “baseball bats and baby dolls” for my kids. My husband was racing late-model trucks at the time and we were spending too much money on decals. So, I bought a vinyl cutter and software, and taught myself the program. My first order was for a large local business -- a big banner and 50 yard signs. They are still one of our top customers year after year.

How have you learned over the years?

In 2011, Kayla and I decided that in order to stay competitive in the industry, we had to buy a printer and learn to wrap. It’s fair to say that we are self-taught, from learning what it means to “rip a file” to pushing the limits of a film’s capabilities. Thanks to a wonderful friendship, we learned about 3M’s Advanced Installer Class and attended in 2012 and 2013. We both passed our Preferred Installer exam on the first attempt. That gave us the confidence to know we could be successful at wrapping in addition to our sign, banner and decal offerings.

Would you recommend training and how has it improved your skills?

I would absolutely recommend training. Some tricks we learned while at 3M have saved us on more than one occasion. We are also able to get the job done faster because of what we learned, and with more perfection. Understanding film stretch, memory and the “perfect” temperature plays a key role in our wraps. Learning to use different application tools is also something we found extremely helpful. Lots of this we believe we never would know if it weren’t for Marcio, Todd, Joe and Jim at 3M.

Have you had any positive or negative experiences, as a female, while working in the wrap industry?

With regards to this being a male-dominated industry, we have received plenty of questions about where our help is, if we really do this ourselves, and who actually does this work for us. It gets very frustrating, and we’ve come up with all kinds of funny responses. But once people see our finished work, they are very impressed that two girls are capable of producing such excellent results.

What is your favorite type of wrap to do?

We really enjoy our commercial customers. From designing eye-catching logos and wraps, to installing the finished product, we love hearing our customers tell us what people have to say about their new look, and proud to know we are a small part of their success.

In what ways do you and/or your shop stand out from your local competition?

We stand out from our local competition because we are 3M Preferred Installers, 3M Certified Trainer and offer personalized service. Everything we do is custom. We never want a customer to see their logo going down the street with another company’s name on it. Every day we strive to laugh as much as we can while accomplishing all tasks at hand. We believe people enjoy our enthusiasm for what we do and our sense of humor. One of our favorite customers answered this question by saying “for the past 10+ years, we know the work from Finish Line will always be top quality, done right, and we don’t have to worry about it after the order is placed.”

What do you feel makes you good at doing vehicle wraps?

We think what makes us good at wraps is that we do it all - we design, print and install it ourselves; and have had the proper training. We treat every job as if it were our own business. We want all our customers to look good and be successful.

What do you like, and dislike, about this industry?

We love the wrap industry for several reasons. Number one is it gives us, two women, the opportunity to own our own business. We get to set our own hours, be creative and love what we do. We’ve also had the opportunity to meet people all over the country through our 3M network. They’ve always said, find a job you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life. Even after a 22-hour day we were still happy to be doing what we do. The thing we dislike the most, is that the majority of people expect us to be men.

How do you feel about the future of the wrap industry and your business specifically?

Our business has grown steadily since we got our printer, began wrapping and became 3M Preferred Installers. Each year we gain new clients that call us back time and again. Knowing they have that confidence in us is what we strive for every day. As long as the Lord blesses us with the ability to do this work that we love, we believe our company will continue to grow.