July 17, 2019
By Ginny Mumm
The wraps industry has come a long way ever since Matt Richart and Dallas Fowler first started their vehicle wrap company, Digital EFX Wraps, in Louisville, Ky., in 2004. Barely 27 years old, but already sign industry veterans, the duo were ready to take on new challenges. In addition to recognizing how vehicle graphics could transform the overall appearance of cars and convert vans and trucks into mobile adverts, they also saw vast opportunities in designing and installing these graphics as a lucrative business prospect. “We figured there’s a lot more return on investment (ROI) from vehicle graphics than yard signs,” said Richart.
Once they were able to find a financial sponsor, Richart and Fowler bought a printer, plotter, and a few computers, following which, they figured out the best way to wrap vehicles.
“In those days, there weren’t a lot of training materials. We had a six-minute DVD by media manufacturer 3M, showing an install on a van,” said Richart. “We watched it over and over.
“Back then, we mostly learned by trial and error. We informed our clients this was a new process, and we would need their vehicle for five to six days, so we could ensure we got it right.” For the first three years, the company co-founders worked by themselves, each putting in 70 to 90 hours a week, fine-tuning their skills and expanding their list of clients.
From the start, Richart and Fowler consciously put their efforts into producing quality over quantity. As Richart explains, “We’re still not the fastest wrappers out there, and we don’t claim to be. But we stand by what we install.”
“Instead of telling someone what you do, show them. That’s the power of a wrap,” said Richart. “We love what we do, we love the industry, and best of all, we love seeing the business our wraps generate for our customers.”
By their fourth year, Richart and Fowler felt their business had grown large enough to support hiring an employee. “It’s a really big decision to bring someone onboard,” said Richart. “The biggest fear is, will we be able to pay this employee?—Not just their first paycheque, but also further down the line.”
Even after they had hired their first staff member, it was challenging for the owners to incorporate someone new into their business. Richart explained he and Fowler had to learn to “let go of the reins,” and allow their employee an opportunity to learn from his mistakes. “It’s hard to do so, but people learn by trying things themselves, and sometimes it takes a few attempts,” said Richart. Interestingly, their first employee is still working with them.
Today, with 12 team members, Richart and Fowler are much more experienced at hiring and managing staff. The industry has also grown to the point where a large number
of job applicants have some experience or training in wraps.
When hiring new employees, they use a probationary period to find a successful match. This trial period gives the staff member a chance to see if they enjoy the work and the environment. “We work closely, and the fit has to be right, not only for the employee, but for us as well,” said Richart.
Richart acknowledges it took them a long time to begin saying “no” to projects they did not feel wholeheartedly about. Like many shop owners, they were concerned about the repercussions of turning down business. “You don’t want to risk losing a customer,” he said. “When we finally learned to say ‘no,’ we actually became profitable.”
“Now I tell people, we don’t wrap motorcycles, but here’s the cost if we do,” said Richart. “We factor in the time it takes to complete every job.”
In Richart’s experience, many wrap businesses are, unfortunately, operating in the red. “Many people get into this business with a pool of talent and passion for graphics,” he said. “The fact is, you can have the best printers, installers, and facility, but if you aren’t pricing well, you won’t make a profit.”
Richart points out most vehicle wrap shop owners consider the cost of media, laminate, and ink when pricing, and some even add in labour. But they do not typically include the back-office, operational costs of running their business, such as cellphones, internet, health and shop insurance, and mortgage or rent payments. “If you don’t combine all this into one, you’re underestimating the true costs of running your business,” said Richart. “And, while it may sound obvious, these costs need to be included in your pricing.”
“There will always be someone offering a wrap at a cheaper price,” says Richart. “In today’s more saturated marketplace, it’s important to differentiate yourself. The cheapest price will attract some clients, but you can still compete for the rest.”
Richart and Fowler have found a way to make their company stand out from the rest—by focusing on the quality of their work. Digital EFX Wraps creates 2D and 3D designs featuring drop shadows, bevels, and glows to make their graphics come to life. They use specialized digital printers and cutters to provide the best quality graphics.
“A lot of vehicle wraps look stunning from a distance, but the true measure of a wrap is in its print quality and what it looks like up close,” said Richart.
When approached with a project, he informs the client upfront the job will not involve low-quality wraps; hence it may not be cheap. But he also takes the time to ensure the customer is aware of the differences between ‘seamless’ and ‘tiled’ wraps, as well as the different levels of printing quality available. Digital EFX Wraps also offers its clients
People often ask Richart how his shop transitioned into providing vehicle wrap education and training. “We entered a wrap contest and won in several categories,” he said. “That got us noticed by the marketing team at Roland DGA.”
Today, Digital EFX Wraps provides hands-on vehicle wrap demonstrations at major trade shows including the International Sign Association (ISA) Sign Expo and Specialty Graphic Imaging Association (SGIA). The company also leads Roland’s comprehensive ‘Born-to-Wrap’ workshops, which are designed for new wrap business owners and installers and provide a thorough overview of the vehicle wrap process along with tips for running a successful business. These sessions also provide attendees with pointers for getting the most out of their wide-format digital printing equipment for vehicle wrap and graphics applications.
“My father used to think we were crazy for teaching people what we learned through experience,” said Richart. “But the industry is growing each year, and we enjoy sharing what we know with those who are just getting started.
The best part about providing this training is having former students come up to you several years later and tell you how successful their businesses have become,” he said. “Some of them are much bigger than we are today. It’s beyond rewarding.”
Ginny Mumm is a freelance consultant for digital inkjet printer/cutter provider Roland DGA. For more information, visit
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