Custom vehicle graphics fuelling explosive growth for sign shop

27 October 2021

Photos courtesy TNT Customs Graphics & Signs[1]

The staff of TNT Customs Graphics & Signs in front of their shop vehicles. Left to right: Zac Martin, Braedon Armstrong, Daphany Metzger, Sierra Polomaki, Margaret Chartrand-Poteet, and shop dog, Tao.

By Ginny Mumm

As the economy navigates a long and winding road back to recovery, vehicle graphics are one signage trend that keeps growing. With its ability to generate an estimated 30,000 to 70,000 impressions per day, vehicle graphics remain an efficient, cost-effective branding and advertising tool.

Consumers are also using graphics to customize their personal vehicles, adding colour and style to everything from their everyday ride to motocross bikes, all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), boats, and snowmobiles.

One shop that has built its business on designing, producing, and installing vehicle graphics is TNT Customs Graphics & Signs in Red Deer County, Alta. Established in 2017, TNT Customs has grown from a racecar wrap company to one that provides graphics for individual consumers, small businesses, and industrial fleets.

I spoke with Margaret Chartrand-Poteet, founder and manager of TNT Customs, about how the growth in the vehicle graphics market helped her launch thecompany, how she built up her client list, and what trends she sees in the vehicle graphics market.

When did you start TNT Customs Graphics & Signs?

Margaret Chartrand-Poteet (MCP): When I started TNT Customs in December 2017, my boss, Terry Raymond, asked me to print vehicle graphics for his racecars. I had previously owned a spa. I had never even turned on a computer before. So, I googled how to run the top-of-the-line printer he had sitting in the shop. Fortunately, it was a Roland DG SOLJET printer, so there was plenty of information out there, and I learned how to use the printer pretty quickly. I studied YouTube videos to learn how to design, print, and install the graphics.

[2]

TNT Customs is seeing increasing demand for personalized vehicle graphics like this custom design for a pick-up truck owner.

I posted the results of those first wraps on social media, and word started getting out. Then I began designing and producing graphics for my boss’ other business and I posted those as well. As the shop became increasingly busy, I put out an ad for some help and quickly found two more employees with 20-plus years of combined experience who were experts in the industry. Now, I manage, handle sales, and take care of the day-to-day aspects of the business. Social media is huge for us and accounts for 80 per cent of our new clients—people like what they see.

Braedon Armstrong was the first employee I hired on the team. Bringing his contacts, knowledge, and experience, he built the framework of the company. Shortly after that, we brought on Daphany Metzger, who had more than 15 years of experience in design, print, and graphic installation.

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We then hired Zac Martin who very quickly became a top-notch installer for us. Since then, we’ve hired three additional employees, and we hire temporary help for production and installation assistance on larger projects. Even so, we’re usually so busy, we have to turn away some work. We are actively looking to hire a few more experienced designers and installers.

[3]

TNT Customs designs creative and colourful vehicle graphics for trailers, trucks and cars.

What does your shop look like today?

MCP: We’re in a large standalone building and are fortunate to have a lot of space—approximately 1022-m2 (11,000-sf), so we can accommodate even the biggest rigs and fit several vehicles inside at one time. We also have a wash bay to clean the vehicles.

Our production is anchored by two Roland DG printers. We’ve added the TrueVIS VG-640 64-in. printer/cutter to keep up with our production needs. Our Roland DG printers have always provided excellent print quality, and we get outstanding service from our Roland technicians in Calgary whenever we need anything. We also have a plotter, dual laminators, a heat press, and an embroidery machine to round out our production capabilities. 

What industry segments do you serve?

MCP: We do a lot of fleet wraps and signs for the energy and pipeline sectors, and we provide vehicle graphics for Red Deer County police and public works departments. Road signage is another big sector for us. We also serve the construction, restaurant, and retail industries, along with mom-and-pop shops and sole proprietorships. We offer a complete branding package—we’ll design your logo and fix you up with everything from business cards to apparel and signage to vehicle wraps.

We are also seeing a high demand for personal vehicle customization and power sports graphics.

[4]

Power sports wraps are a growth area for TNT Customs and its new online store, TNT Kits.

Could you tell us more about what you do in the power sports space?

MCP: We have developed a range of custom graphics for ATVs, side-by-sides/UTVs, snowmobiles, and motocross bikes. We can design, print, and install at our facility, or ship the graphics directly to our clients. This year, we also introduced TNT Kits, an online store, for print-and-ship power sports graphics. That business has really taken off. We’ve already shipped our custom kits across North America and Europe.

My boss also owns Fire and Flood Emergency Services and they just took over the Rimby racetrack, so I expect that our racecar business will continue to thrive. We also provide graphics for several CAN-AM hobby drivers, and for CAN-AM rider Brad Johnson.

How active is your shop in the community?

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MCP: As part of our outreach locally, our shop sponsors a few female power sports athletes, including two female motocross riders, an Enduro rider, and a sledder. It’s a great way for our shop to give back and to promote women’s participation in some of these events.

We also sponsor a male ATV rider and a bull rider who rode at this year’s Calgary Stampede. We sponsor graphics for the new Sylvan Lake Gulls Stadium and The Dome in Red Deer, and we recently donated a custom wrap design and install for a pickup truck being auctioned off at the Battle of Alberta Charity Golf Tournament by the Calgary Flames hockey team.

What percentage of your work is vehicle graphics work?

[5]

TNT Customs offers clients a complete branding package including custom vehicle wraps.

MCP: I would say that our business is roughly 70 per cent vehicle graphics. Vehicle graphics have grown to be a larger source of revenue for us over the years, and we continue to see it as a growth area for our future. We’re adding paint protection film (PPF) and tint services as well to ensure that our clients are covered with every service they might require. We have amazing vinyl capabilities and offer print design, colour change, gloss, matte, satin, brushed metal, chrome, carbon fibre, textured and even leather vinyl. The options are endless. We have an eye for designing graphics that stand out.

 What are some of the more unusual vehicles you’ve wrapped?

MCP: I sometimes joke the only thing we haven’t wrapped is a baby. We’ve wrapped all kinds of vehicles, including cars, trucks, trailers, semi-trailers, RVs and stackers, tanker trucks, and other utility trucks. We’ve also done a wide range of power sports vehicles, golf carts, and plenty of boats too.

One of the more unusual and challenging wrap jobs we did was wrapping a houseboat. We had to figure out what material to use since it was an older structure, and we had to remove the top section of the boat in order to get it into our shop. We’re actually seeing a lot of power boats lately, with people asking for different finishes, metallic and holographic graphic designs, and so on. People want to personalize their toys.

[6]

Careful installation on all types of vehicles helps TNT Customs keep its reputation as a provider of quality custom graphics.

Why do you think your customers choose TNT as their graphic provider of choice?

MCP: I know that our clients come to us for the quality of the finished product and our customer service. We have a great name, and our team is top-notch. We work hard to ensure we offer vehicle graphic options for our clients that meet their budget, and designs that create maximum visual impact. We also provide our larger clients with on-site installation service.

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What are your top tips for pricing a vehicle graphics job?

MCP: Make sure you are designing graphics that fit your client’s business and budget. The first thing we do is research what the client company is about. We then discuss their goals for their graphics and talk them through the various types of graphics, ranging from basic vehicle decals up to a full printed wrap, and the costs for each one. Then, we create a few design options for them to choose from based on digital proofs.

Material costs and labour are major factors to consider when pricing vehicle graphics. There’s a big difference between doing basic decals, a shell wrap, or a full door jamb vehicle wrap, in terms of the labour involved. You have to be sure to account for all those details in your price.

How did your shop fare during the pandemic that shutdown so many businesses?

[7]

TNT Customs produces all its vehicle graphics on its Roland DG printers, including a Roland DG TrueVIS VG-640 64-inch digital printer/cutter.

MCP: When the pandemic started, our production slowed down a bit. I laid off a few employees, and we kept our shop open to provide essential signage, and road signs. Then my boss said to me, “You can’t do this by yourself. Go hustle up some business.” I went out and got so many new clients, and we ended up bringing back our entire staff and hiring two new people as well. Now things are really busy and we need to hire more people again. We are a quirky bunch and super productive, but we all love what we do.

What trends are you seeing currently in the vehicle graphics segment?  

MCP: We are in high demand for personal vehicle customization. Chrome delete, colour accents, roof and hood wraps are usually a constant in our shop. We can provide so many different options for our clients to make their rides unique; from different vinyl textures, finishes, and colours, to loud and bold graphics.

Full and partial company vehicle wraps are also very popular. Our customers are always very impressed with the final product. Our printers produce outstanding print quality.

What lies ahead for TNT Customs Graphics & Signs?

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TNT Customs has a spacious shop floor where they hope to one day teach classes on vehicle graphics production and installation.

MCP: Our TNT Kits department has really caught on for power sports graphics, and I see the print-and-ship vehicle graphics as a growth area for us as well. Online shopping has grown dramatically over the last year, and we are working on ways to make our products easy to purchase and available online.

In the next few years, I’m also hoping to offer training classes to teach the basics of vehicle graphic design, production, and installation. Our staff can provide expert instruction for people who may be interested in these careers. It would certainly help our business fill its hiring needs, and I’m sure there are other shops out there that are also in need of trained staff.

We may also expand to another location. Things are going well for us now with our experienced and dedicated team and our great production equipment. We’ll see what happens next. The sky is the limit.  

Ginny Mumm is a freelance consultant for digital inkjet printer/cutter provider Roland DGA. For more information, visit www.rolanddga.com.

Endnotes:
  1. [Image]: https://www.signmedia.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/PR_TNT-Custon-Sign-Canada_XL_Group-Photo_20210727_V01_DG.jpg
  2. [Image]: https://www.signmedia.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/PR_TNT-Custon-Sign-Canada_XL_Back-of-Black-Truck_20210727_V01_DG.jpg
  3. [Image]: https://www.signmedia.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/PR_TNT-Custon-Sign-Canada_XL_Grand-Pasyalero_20210727_V01_DG.jpg
  4. [Image]: https://www.signmedia.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/PR_TNT-Custon-Sign-Canada_XL_Snow-Bike_20210727_V01_DG.jpg
  5. [Image]: https://www.signmedia.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/PR_TNT-Custon-Sign-Canada_XL_Little-Red-Barn-Van_20210727_V01_DG.jpg
  6. [Image]: https://www.signmedia.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/PR_TNT-Custon-Sign-Canada_XL_Blue-Gold-Gully-Wagon_20210727_V01_DG.jpg
  7. [Image]: https://www.signmedia.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/PR_TNT-Custon-Sign-Canada_XL_In-TNT-garage_20210727_V01_DG.jpg
  8. [Image]: https://www.signmedia.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/PR_TNT-Custon-Sign-Canada_XL_Roland-Printers_20210729_V01_DG.jpg

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