The Wraps Race

If you’re a print shop that offers—or exclusively prints and installs—vehicle wraps, then you’ve probably gotten the phone call asking, “How much do you guys charge to wrap a 2009 Chevy Suburban?” And against your better judgment, you replied with the best and most reasonable price you can over the phone—without knowing too much about the job in question. Then comes the response, “Wow! Why is it so expensive?” Or worse, “Your price is higher than anyone else I’ve called!” 

It’s an all too familiar conversation. We’ve all heard one response or the other, since the day we first started selling wraps. And whether or not you’re able to sway these prospective buyers into the right direction, the fact is, the majority of the general public has no idea what vehicle wrapping costs, and more importantly, what it’s worth. What’s more, they are rarely ever prepared to hear the price tag attached to this great product they’ve heard so much about as being “a cost-effective, advertising alternative”.

Sometimes we get lucky and the call comes in from an ad agency or big company that has deep pockets and experience buying printed graphics. When we hear a cheerful production coordinator’s voice stating that “We just need it done right,” we can relax and breathe a sign of relief. Other times, it might be a sympathetic business owner that understands how it feels to be “hammered” for the lowest possible price and they just want to pay what is fair. 

But, nowadays and for the most part, companies are looking for ways to grow their business and get an “unbelievable” deal in the process. They want bargain prices on what can be a time-consuming and sometimes difficult, manufactured, hand-applied product. 

When we hear a negative response from a potential buyer, we can sometimes get irritated—if not a little indignant. Are they kidding? Can they really not perceive what is involved in the designing, pre-production, printing, laminating and installation of something as specialized as a vehicle wrap? Do they not understand that vehicle wraps are a completely and totally custom made product? Have they no idea that wrapping their company vehicle or fleet is by far the cheapest advertising they’ll ever buy?  

Well, the fact is, most of the time they don’t. Rather than get wound up or discouraged, this is where you can make a real difference. 

I have found that the best way to deal with the “bargain hunter” —instead of going into a whole marketing analysis diatribe—is to first try and establish, in a non-invasive and non-offensive manner, if they are sincerely interested in purchasing a vehicle wrap to advertise their business, product or services. You’ll want to know as soon as possible if this person is a real prospect or just a curious window shopper—and anyone who’s been wrapping cars can tell you, they get asked a lot of questions by a lot of people, so you need to use your selling time wisely.

When you are finally able to establish that this potential customer is serious—and more or less willing to make a considerable investment wrapping a vehicle or purchasing vehicle graphics—then you can proceed to the next step. This next step is to try and get them to talk about their promotional objectives. Customers love this. They lay awake at night thinking of ways to turn their business around, increase profits, and get a promotion because they “beat last years numbers”, and now you are listening and helping them. 

Ask them if they know about the effectiveness of vehicle advertising. Discuss the differences of full and partial wraps. Tell them how long the wrap will last and how many impressions it is likely to garner in that time. Demonstrate to them your expertise and show genuine interest in their company’s promotional success. Once you gain their trust, you can share with them a little bit about the process and the materials used in producing a vehicle wrap. I always try and explain what is involved time-wise, without making it sound like it’s a hassle or a difficult task.  

I do this for two reasons. One is because I want them to understand clearly that a lot of time and thought goes into creating vinyl graphics and that we’re not just using a magic computer to instantly create art out of thin air before we push a button and spit out a perfectly fitting vehicle wrap. The second reason is I want my customers to understand that we’re not simply selling and installing vinyl by the square foot, but rather we are offering our services to them. 

Effective advertising and promotional services

These services include creative assistance, quality printing, premium materials and professional installation. I explain to them that we stand behind our product and our work. I also offer them testimonials and references (“bottom feeder” competitors will usually not be able to produce much of a list of satisfied customers, so always be sure to get testimonials from your customers). I assure my clients that we will be there for them months—even years down the road should they ever be involved in an accident, or if their car gets vandalized and needs a repair. I make sure to tell them we will be able to produce a “perfect color match” for a repair and that they will not need to rewrap their entire vehicle. This service is for a price of course, but it’s a fair price.  

Customers are usually quick to appreciate this and realize that they hadn’t even thought of the possibility of needing services for their wrap down the road. They think to themselves “Who knew the company I choose to work with is much more important than what little money I might save?”

In my experience, most printers selling vehicle wraps either don’t know, or never think to mention possible repairs, changing out graphics or snipes in the future. Nor do they tell their customer that they can save them considerable money in the future on a reprint because of damage or vandalism.  Most don’t explain the value of the wrap and how it can be utilized and even altered for years to come. 

And what about those wrap companies that have sprung up in your area that are throwing out those “rock bottom” prices, completely foreign to what we’ve seen in our industry? You know, those prices that would make you and everyone else who is serious about wrapping as a business go broke in about 10 weeks? Chances are they won’t be around to fix that dented bumper or “gasoline” stained wrap, and once you’ve left your potential customer with the warm fuzzies, they will be able to spot this for themselves should they continue to shop around. 

This is just one simple way you can stand up against any competition that is truly unfit for the task and not really a professional vehicle wrap provider. Isn’t that the whole reason customers shop for a reliable wrap company? Even if they may have started out looking for a great price, they will still see a bad risk starting to take shape. The point is, if you aren’t offering assurance, then all you are doing is competing with the company that’s offering wraps for $6 a square foot. 

And that brings me to price

You can’t win on price alone. Nor can you win by saying you are the best in town—not for very long anyway. Someone will always be there with less experience, a worse business plan and a hungrier salesman. They will always use the same old tagline of being the original, the oldest, the first, the cheapest, the experts, No. 1, the best, etc. Making the same claims will only make a customer more confused on who to choose. And likely, they’ll just conclude that everyone’s an expert and then just look for the best price. 

You’ll need to demonstrate real expertise to compete effectively. Your best advantage is competing not only as a qualified wrapper, but as a qualified and thoughtful business person as well. Aligning yourself as a partner with your customer in order to insure their success will go a lot further with them than simply saying you’re better than the other guy, or by offering them $180 savings from the total price.

Another thing you should always do when you have a potential customer who is price shopping is to make sure they are relaying accurate information about your competition. It’s not so much that you need to know what your competitor is charging, but you always need to know what they are selling. 

Are they offering comparable materials? Do they laminate their wraps? (And I don’t mean the lamination that comes in a can, either.) Are they truly offering free design? (And what kind of design is worth nothing, anyway?) Has your customer seen designs they’ve created, or just photos of wraps on their Web site? These are all important aspects in our industry and this is why the term “industry standard” still has no real meaning to a customer. 

Then there is the matter of warranty. Does your customer know that any warranties on materials are offered only “to you” by the manufacturer, not to them? So a warranty is only as good as a printer/installer’s commitment to their customer, and their compliance to a manufacturer’s specs and guidelines.  

Here’s a good example: Every day I see the “5-year warranty” line tossed out as a selling point. Most wrap companies that do this have never thoroughly read a product bulletin. The fact is, most vinyl manufactures have only a “limited” warranty on horizontal surfaces and a few have none at all. That means in most cases, there is no warranty to a hood, a roof or a trunk against failure. What I do is offer my own version of the “fabled” warranty, and I point out to my clients the limits of the manufacturers’ warranty. This not only ends the warranty debate, but it also shows a level of deception on the part of the competition.

From my perspective, there isn’t and has never been a real “industry standard” to speak of.  Regardless of certifications or claims of warranties, the majority of buyers of vehicle wraps and vehicle graphics shop price first, then quality. That is the industry standard. 

This is especially true today as there is such a wide range of prices and material claims to choose from. 

Wrapping vehicles isn’t rocket science, but it does take skill, talent, interest and experience. Anyone who thinks they can simply sell vehicle wraps like carpeting (no offense to carpet layers), will be in for a brutal lesson. I have seen wrap companies spring up and in no time have a bustling business, only to see them price themselves right into bankruptcy. 

I am one wrapper with the firm belief that it’s essential for my company (as well as yours) to charge a fair market price and not succumb to the pressure of the low-ballers. This helps everyone and insures that we can thrive in this industry and continue to do what we love.

Until a day comes when printer manufacturers devise a fool-proof method to print without errors, installers can apply vinyl without ever making a single mistake, and we can run a business that isn’t subjected to the realities of inflation, custom vinyl wraps must be sold at a fair price. 

Customers should always get what they pay for and customer service is always our best “value added service.”

Good luck, and happy wrapping. 

For more information on pricing your wraps, including specific dollar amounts for specific situations, be sure to check out Todd’s webinar series “Making Money by Adding Wraps” at http://sb.nbm.com/page/webinar.