Although there may be signs of a recovering economy, times are still tough, and many in the graphics market are looking for ways to diversify their businesses in order to become more competitive. For some shops, this could mean adding a new printer with unique capabilities, or for vehicle wrap professionals, it could mean looking at offering other vehicle services, such as paint protection film, which could have crossover and partnership opportunities for both restyling and vehicle wrap professionals. Still, vehicle wrap professionals should be aware that while PPF can be a natural extension of their services, the market does pose challenges, as well.
Finding the Right Market
In the experience of Greg Duchinsky, marketing director of Sharpline Converting Inc., a vinyl manufacturer in Wichita, Kan., PPF has been especially popular in the northern regions where harsh winters are the norm. As those areas try to make driving safer for snowy and icy conditions, there is a good deal of debris on the roads that could cause damage to the paint.
“Those guys in Calgary don’t salt streets—they rock streets,” Duchinsky says. “If you spend one winter sending your car through the snow on those public streets, you might as well have the front end sandblasted. It’ll have the same kind of look.”
But PPF isn’t solely reserved for those colder regions, Duchinsky says. PPF has become more popular in the South, especially as cars continue to rise in price. Consumers often spend upward of $30,000 for a car, and they want to preserve their vehicles for as long as possible.
“PPF by nature of its chemistry is a perfect way to protect the appearance, so that the car continues to look new for years,” Duchinsky says. “If you go to sell it, the car will have a lot more resale value if the front end of the vehicle doesn’t have 30 or 40 paint chips in it.”
While PPF may be a natural extension of vehicle wraps, Justin Blackburn, owner of restyling shop Intrigue Detail in Denver, is concerned about what he calls the “Craigslist competition” of the PPF market. In some areas, so many people without the proper training have taken up PPF installation, which is oversaturating the market and making it difficult for some true PPF professionals to compete.
“There’s a low barrier to entry,” Blackburn says. “Anyone who calls themselves a PPF installer can go out, put it on their business card, and put an ad on Craigslist, and then guys like us are competing purely on price as opposed to quality, so it can be a tough market.”
Still, Duchinsky believes there is room for growth, but proper training is critical for PPF installation. Applying PPF takes much precision, and even those who have worked with some type of vehicle graphics need specific training.
PPF is a natural extension of vehicle wraps. Photos courtesy of Valley Clear Bra.
“You do have to have proper tools and proper training,” Duchinsky says. “Just because a guy has 20 years of experience putting decals on the sides of cars does not mean that he can immediately switch over to PPF and be able to properly apply it. There is definitely a training curve involved, even for experienced graphics installers.”
Vehicle wrap professionals could be at an advantage when it comes to learning PPF installation, Duchinsky says. Unlike someone who hasn’t previously worked with vinyl films, vehicle wrap professionals are already familiar with proper installation methods, such as how to stretch film around a vehicle’s curves. Working with PPF still takes an added level of precision, but vehicle wrap installers have a head start in the training process.
“The big difference is instead of having a printed design, you have something that has to look perfectly clear, and there’s definitely more care involved in putting that on,” Duchinsky says. “You can get away with minor installation flaws on a vehicle wrap as opposed to applying paint protection film.”
Applying PPF takes even more precision than a vehicle wrap. Photos courtesy of Sharpline Converting.
To be successful in installing PPF, it takes much training. Photos courtesy of Sharpline Converting.
Along with PPF, an installer can upsell windshield or headlight protection and other aftermarket upgrades, making for a better profit margin, says Daniel Gill, owner of PPF and graphics shop Valley Clear Bra and Daniel Gill Design studios in Chatsworth, Calif. PPF can be a competitive market, but a few upgrades can turn a job into a highly profitable endeavor.
“That can make or break a job,” Gill says. “On a PPF job, you would have a gross profit of about 60-70 percent, but by doing headlights, it will turn that job into being an 85-90 percent profit job.”
For vehicle wrap professionals who aren’t looking to get into the PPF side, they can still expand their market by developing partnerships with other local restyling professionals, Blackburn says. Some restyling professionals are trying to enter the vehicle wraps market, but taking on the design and production processes is beyond their capabilities, which is the perfect opportunity for a vehicle wrap professional to develop a relationship with a restyling business.
“I’m not interested in learning how to become a graphic designer or printer,” Blackburn says. “I’m interested in working with the materials, and there are plenty of graphics and printing shops all over the metro area of every major city. Designing and printing is what they do for a living all day long, so I let the experts do what they do and let me do what I do well.”
The PPF industry can be competitive, but there's still market available for those willing to make the investment. Photo courtesy of Sharpline Converting.
Beyond Traditional PPF
In addition to PPF, vehicle wrap and restyling professionals can offer other types of specialty film, such as carbon fiber and matte black vinyls, Duchinsky says. Both vinyls are experiencing a rise in popularity in the restyling market as consumers are looking to mimic the hot rod look of the 1960s. Matte black vinyl, in particular, works well as a vinyl application because the paint alternative is difficult to apply and even harder to maintain.
Gill also finds that he can use PPF in ways beyond traditional uses. For example, Gill previously printed graphics on a set of bongos, and to protect the images, he finished the bongos with a layer of PPF.
“Those drums are going to take a beating,” Gill says. “I put PPF on it, so they can take the beats without damaging the graphics. I’ve done really weird things with PPF that you wouldn’t think to use it for, but it comes in handy.”
Whether a vehicle wrap professional is looking to add a full suite of restyling services or simply develop a partnership in the restyling market, the business is there. The market may be competitive, but vehicle restyling options are a possible product offering for professional wraps installers looking to expand their portfolio.