By Peter Saunders
AIP Media has found a foothold in the market as a trade-only supplier of printed graphic installations, specializing in large-format pieces. Based in Mississauga, Ont., the company works with a variety of business-to-business (B2B) clients across North America—including print service providers (PSPs) and ad agencies—to implement installations for a broad variety of projects, big and small.
“Our specialty is installing graphics for national campaign rollouts,” explains Tony Iacobelli, president. “These involve a range of substrates, including self-adhesive vinyls, films and three-dimensional (3-D) shapes, as well as channel letters. By combining our in-house full-time installers with hundreds of subcontractors, our reach is both deep and wide. We can install at one store or 400 simultaneously with a guarantee of consistent look and quality.”
Art meets business
Iacobelli has been in business for more than 20 years. He credits AIP’s success to a team focus on customer service, which in turn he attributes to lessons learned at one of his earliest jobs.
“For a short time, I was a concierge at the Four Seasons Hotel in Vancouver,” he says. “The level of customer service required was phenomenal. Ever since then, I’ve always made sure we serve our clients using the same methodology.”
When he became a commercial artist and mural painter, he named his business An Apple In Paris, inspired by 19th-century French post-Impressionist painter Paul Cézanne, who famously said, “I want to astonish Paris with an apple,” in reference to his still-life paintings of fruit that would go on to influence the cubists of the early 20th century.
And indeed, up until 15 years ago, Iacobelli was painting his large-scale commercial murals by hand. Like other ‘Walldogs’ of the time, he suspended himself from buildings to create outdoor ads for the likes of Labatt and Molson.
“I made a very good living at it, but my output was limited by what my hands could produce, so it was impossible to scale up my initial business model,” he says. “Eventually, as large-format printed graphics became more accessible, I started to explain to my clients that I could adhere their ads onto walls instead of painting them. This way, their ads were up in two or three days, rather than me painting for weeks on end. I continued to design their murals, but then got them digitally printed before installing them.”
AIP could be an acronym for the original name of Iacobelli’s business, but these days, he’s more likely to tell his clients it stood for ‘Antonio Iacobelli, Painter.’
In 2001, AIP operated almost exclusively as a print broker and installer for commercial clients. Within the following two to three years, however, the business increasingly received calls from clients who only required the installation services, as they had developed their own design and printing departments. By 2005, AIP was a trade-only supplier, having entirely dropped print brokering and direct clients.
“My installers are personable, offer solutions and respect the client relationship,” says Iacobelli. “When the installation work was growing and we realized it was what we were best at, the next logical step was to concentrate on that exclusively.”
By 2009, AIP was well-known for installing digitally printed wall murals, such as a 4,831-m2 (52,000-sf) graphic wrap of downtown Vancouver’s Royal Centre, which Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) and 3M Canada commissioned in advance of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. To this day, that project has maintained its title as the single biggest vinyl graphic wrap ever in Canada.
“It was installed completely by my employees and me,” says Iacobelli. “I put up the first sheets of vinyl myself, working from a basket 122 m (400 ft) up in the air. That job caused a big jump in the visibility of our business. As it was happening, we were simultaneously installing graphics across Canada for Bell, Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) and Nike and we didn’t miss a beat!”