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Let's Talk Shop: Managing Fleet Graphics Accounts

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.

We've been in business quite a few years and over that time we've cultivated numerous fleet graphics accounts. As I was outlining this article I made a list of these accounts and thought about what we've done to both attract and keep these accounts.

For this article I wanted to focus on how smaller sign shops can attract fleet accounts in their area, and how you work to keep those accounts. As your customer's company grows you can grow alongside them.

No matter the size of your company it does take some work to attract your next customer. Once that customer gives you a chance on the first project, it's up to you to turn one vehicle into a fleet.

Start Small

Fleet accounts are not necessarily big name corporate accounts; often they're the local pest control company, landscaper or contractor who maintains a fleet of vehicles. They have multiple vehicles and a name to get out there. It may be spot graphics or full wraps but the client knows the importance of advertising and will look to you to help them letter their fleet.

Many of our fleet accounts began with just one vehicle. As the customer's business grew they added more vehicles. Some of our accounts started out with a dozen vehicles and we had to quote and plan all of them at once.

When we first started our business we did a lot more print advertising, Chamber of Commerce events and cold calling to get our name out. Over the years our business has primarily grown by repeat business and referrals.

From cold calling to referrals we attract fleet accounts by being an organized sign shop with a clean facility, good signage, helpful employees and a good reputation. Earning the repeat business of our fleet customers comes from three main areas – customer service, cost and consistency.

Customer Service

Have you ever gone into a restaurant and had excellent food but your waiter was inattentive or had a sour attitude? No matter how great the food was, the customer service brought the whole experience down and you may consider not returning.

As a sign shop we have to offer our customers both an excellent product and great customer service or we may lose our customers too. Maybe I'm getting old but it seems like customer service these days has really taken a turn for the worse. I'm actually surprised when I have an overly pleasant experience rather than expecting that I should.

So put yourself in your customer's shoes and mentally walk into your shop. What kind of experience do you think your customer will have? Is your shop inviting and clean? Do you have helpful displays and samples of your work? Let's break the experience down by your staff and how accommodating and knowledgeable they are.

Professional Staff

So the customer walks in and your employee walks up to the front counter. Are your employees in uniform and look professional? Do they know how to greet the customer? Do they know how to lead the conversation so the customer is able to explain what they want and receive helpful feedback?

Are your employees knowledgeable of material types, pricing structure and coverage options? Do they take interest in the project or act like the customer is interrupting them? Over the years we've earned business by simply being interested in the customer's project. It's important to them, make it important to you

Be Accommodating

When it comes to fleet accounts we've noticed that our customers often add vehicles to their fleet on an ongoing basis and need them lettered quickly. Part of keeping our fleet accounts happy is making it easy for them to order from us.

All of our customer art files and paperwork is organized so that it is easy to repeat an order or make changes. Unless it's a very simple graphic, or the customer doesn't make changes often, we always shoot over a quick proof for approval.

Often the graphics will remain the same, but the vehicle will change. A good vehicle template software is great for providing an accurate proof quickly.

We also try to be accommodating on the installation. Again, we've found that many of our fleet vehicles come in last minute and need to be lettered and on the road quickly.

If it's spot graphics we try to squeeze the customer in even if we have a busy install schedule. If the graphics will take less than an hour to install we offer to install while they wait. This eliminates the need for the customer to send two people and drive two vehicles to drop off a vehicle for a simple install.

If there are multiple vehicles that need to be lettered at once we also offer to install on-site. While we prefer to do all wraps at our shop, spot graphics are easy to do at the customer's location and keep them from having to shuttle vehicles for quick installs. Be sure to charge a little extra to cover your travel time.

Be Knowledgeable

When you're first establishing a new fleet account the customer will typically have a lot of questions – how can we stay on budget with multiple vehicles? What are my coverage options? What materials do you recommend? Can you match our existing colors? What kind of discount do you offer for multiple vehicles? What art file types do you need? Can you reproduce our artwork from this business card?

Whoever is working with the customer needs to be able to provide answers and instill confidence that your sign shop is up to the task. While you need to have answers for the customer, you should also have lots of good questions for them. This shows interest, knowledge in what is involved and creates a good rapport with the customer.

Some of these questions may include – how many vehicles are in your fleet? Are you wanting full coverage or spot graphics? What artwork do you have available? Are you trying to work within a budget? Are you open to larger graphics on some vehicles and spot graphics on others?

Reassure the customer from the beginning that while there are a lot of questions and answers involved up front, once you have their information setup in your computers you will keep it on file for ease of ordering in the future. Use good customer service to establish a working relationship with the customer.

Pricing for Fleets

Customer service goes a long way in earning a new fleet account. The pricing of the graphics—especially when multiplied across a fleet—is also a big part of the process.

On most of our fleet accounts once we've earned the customer's account, setup their artwork, established their artwork and colors and priced out their graphics based on coverage, they don't seem to ask us for pricing each and every time. I'll talk about consistency in pricing in a minute, but when we take the time to explain where costs come from and we include the customer in the process, it doesn't seem to be a factor that needs to be revisited with each vehicle.

Our pricing for vehicle graphics is based on design time, total square footage of graphics and installation time. When we are planning for multiple vehicles we offer the customer a discount based on the number of vehicles they order at a time, not on the number they promise in the future.

We've all had the guy come in claiming to have five vehicles with large coverage and wants your best deal, then only orders one and you never see him again. Don't discount based on vehicles that may not exist.

That said, as you're building a relationship with the customer through your customer service you can get a better feel for how serious a customer is about ordering multiple vehicles. Use your best judgment. If the customer has multiple vehicles but wants to start with one to see how well the advertising works out or to test your workmanship, then explain your pricing and offer to extend the discount onto any subsequent vehicles.

Budget

Budgets are a big part of any advertising. If the customer has a set budget, we gather our information and figure out the best way to spread the cost across the fleet while still creating effective advertising.

This might mean we do partial to full wraps on easier to wrap vehicles like box trucks (maximum advertising space with faster and less expensive installation) while we do spot graphics or smaller partial wraps on other types of vehicles in the fleet. Some of our customers choose to do simplified lettering for their sales vehicles for example, while they might go with bigger wraps on their service vehicles.

Consistency is a big one for our fleet customers. Often the vehicles we letter are lined up side by side in the customer's yard and the client wants to see that the placement, colors, sizing etc. is uniform.

Paperwork

Good note taking and file keeping makes this easy. All of our artwork is saved to folders by the company name. We keep a “Working” drive with current projects, anything older than six months to a year is saved to a cataloged backup drive. Using the cataloging software, Catalog Cathy, we can find old art files in seconds.

We also keep printouts of the artwork on file and note materials used, fonts used, and Pantone colors and vinyl colors used. For specialty cut vinyl we cut a small swatch of the color and apply it to the proof. If we order in a special vinyl color for a customer to keep in stock, we write their name on tape and put it inside the roll. For printed graphics a sample printout is kept on file.

For fleet accounts and other repeat customers we create a separate folder within our file cabinets where we archive old invoices and paperwork. In the inside of the folder we'll note any dimensions, colors, placement sizing, etc. that will make it easier to repeat the job and will also help us maintain consistency.

For fleets with similar types of vehicles, especially when we're applying spot graphics, we'll use a printout of the customer's proof to note exact spacing on the vehicle. Not only does it make placement consistent across multiple vehicles, but it also speeds up the installation process by taking out some of the guess work.

Material

When we find a material that we like we'll use the same one for years. Usually the only time we make a change is if the manufacturer upgrades the material in some way. Since we don't hop from one brand to another it's easy for us reproduce graphics on the same quality material. If issues should arise we aren't left wondering what material we used on their job.

Pricing

We also remain consistent with our pricing. If we quote a fleet of vehicles up front we honor that pricing for the duration of the time to complete the project, when the customer schedules them in a reasonable time frame.

For example, we quoted a project that included 19 vehicles total. The entire project from removal of the old graphics, art setup, production of the graphics and installation was quoted up front. A purchase order was issued and although they were fully wrapped over a period of about four months the pricing was established up front and we stuck to it. Customers don't want surprises or up-charges along the way.

If we do anticipate a pricing change, we let the customer know where the increase is coming from. We have not found huge fluctuations in media costs over the years so this is not generally a big part of price increases. But, don't forget about other overhead costs like rent, rising utilities and employee expenses.