Remodelers are always looking for ways to find new business. I know that’s certainly true of my small company, Legal Eagle Contractors Co., in Houston. In the past three years we have expanded our territory far beyond where I used to travel to look at projects. We used to do 80 percent of our projects within a 5-mile radius. Those days are gone! We now will go 30 miles out — farther if it is a large project with an attractive margin. We have experimented with a wide variety of online search engine services from Yelp to Google AdWords, upgraded our yard signs and even religiously sent out monthly e-newsletters, all with mixed results.
At the beginning of this year, we had an uptick in business, so I decided to try something new: A vehicle wrap. But would it produce results? As it happened, it was time to buy a new 15-passenger van, my vehicle of choice for my business. These extended vans are more than 21 feet long. After taking out all the seats except the driver and passenger seats, and one bench seat behind those, it leaves me with about 13 linear feet of cargo space behind my seat. I have always built a plywood deck in that back area of these vans for my buckets of tools and materials. This platform is over 4 feet wide, over 8 feet deep and 8 inches high, so I can carry sheet goods (like expensive cabinet plywood) under my tools. The platform is covered with sturdy commercial carpet for transporting fragile items, like company signs, client fixtures, etc., without damaging them.
I can haul other large materials, such as paneling and drywall, too — even in the rain if necessary. My tools and equipment are much more secure than they would be if I were traveling from job to job in a traditional pickup truck. A cargo van (one without the rear windows) would be even more secure and a little bit cheaper, but good luck finding one that is not battered and dilapidated.
A 15-passenger van provides quite a “canvas” on which to put graphics for your company. It is literally a rolling billboard. I checked around in my market and found that pretty much everyone charged the same amount to do a full vehicle wrap like the one that I was looking for. The cost was about $3,000 for a big van, including tax. You can also do partial wraps on any vehicle for less than that.
A good friend and worthy competitor of mine, Wayne Ball, owner of Houston-based Lone Star Construction has had full wraps on four of his company vehicles for seven years. He is my wrap mentor. He paid about $2,000 for a full wrap on his truck. He originally expected his wraps to last five years. He did the value-math (Wayne actually likes math) and concluded each of his rolling billboards would cost about a dollar a day. Because his wraps are in year seven and going strong, it’s an even better value than that! Wayne also noted that wraps are repairable. One of his trucks was in a wreck. The sign company still had the artwork on their computer. They just printed out a new film section, applied it and it was good as new.
Designing the Wraps
After interviewing a couple of our trade partners, I chose one called “Houston Signs.” I highly recommend them. I began the design process and was very pleased at the way it unfolded. The first thing I did was to meet with my small staff to discuss our priorities in terms of graphics and message. It very quickly became clear we had way too many ideas and not enough space, even on this very large van. As I drove around town I looked at other vehicle wraps. I noticed there were no other remodelers who had done anything quite like this (other than maybe Wayne), so that was good.
Next, I noticed most vehicle wraps were difficult to read — too cluttered, the writing was too small, the text was all the same size or it was boring — nothing jumped out at you. Because of our focus on remodeling, my team and I decided the word “remodeling” should be a prominent feature on all sides of the vehicle, including the hood. To give it more visual impact and cut down on the amount of text, I decided to show the type of projects that we do by putting favorite job photos on instead of text.
By the way, you can choose to cover the windows, too (I did). Wraps use a perforated material that is amazingly easy to see through from the inside, but difficult to see in from the outside. This had two unexpected benefits. It cut way down on the heat in my car in the hot Houston summer and it offers security. With the wrap material on, it is very difficult for others to see what tools and equipment I am carrying in the back of my vehicle. Unfortunately, you can’t put this perforated film on the driver and passenger windows for safety reasons.
I let the graphic artist at the sign company choose photos that were most striking. The first design with photos was too busy, which led the graphic artist to the idea of making a fan-deck of three photographs of our work, different for each side of the van. These are actual after pictures of our remodeling projects. Because we do a lot of kitchen and bath work, we have pictures of kitchens and bathrooms on both sides of the van. The possibilities for your design are endless. You can choose any color you want, you can add borders or fades or anything graphic art software can come up with. Instead of two background colors with hard lines between the colors, we experimented with gradients, which look very customized and distinctive.
The design flexibility means it is also easy to incorporate your existing branding onto your vehicle at whatever scale you desire. The sign company will show you a color proof so you can see what all four sides of the vehicle will look like, to scale and in color. I found this to be very helpful and made a couple of rounds of significant changes before settling on the final design for our vans.
To make sure people know we are in the construction business, the third photo I chose, which appears on both sides of the van, is a shot of some rafter framing. If someone only has two seconds to glance at my van when they pass by, they are going to be able to read the large word “remodeling” and clearly see that we are in the construction business.
Wraps Promote the Company
To maximize appeal to the younger market, I made sure that I had a QR (quick response) code made and placed on the back side of the van, as well as on both sides. This enables people driving by to simply point their smartphone at my van and be directed to our website. Because more and more people are shopping online, and particularly with their phones, I created a simple mobile website that is smartphone and iPad friendly. I have observed neighbors near my jobsites and even people pulling up next to my van at traffic lights pointing their phones at the QR code to save the link.
The mobile site has a button on it that allows the user to click over to our full website if they desire, but in the meantime, people can take a quick look at our company. Also, to further appeal to the younger crowd, we put the Facebook and Twitter logos on the back of the van so people could learn more about us by going to those sites.
I belong to NARI and the NAHB Remodelers and both of those logos appear on the van. I also hold a few certifications so I wanted some of those to appear as well. I want potential customers to see we are more professional than our competitors who are driving around town with minimal signage and rarely any mention of certifications. Of course the company logo and tagline appear on the van as well, and to illustrate our long-term experience in the business, I chose to say “since 1974” rather than saying we have “been in business for 33 years.” It reads much faster.
So, does it work? I met an architect on a kitchen and bath job recently. He was trying to describe the owner’s glass tile backsplash selection. It so happened I had a photo of a kitchen I recently finished on the side of my van. We walked out to the van and studied a kitchen photo on the side. “Yes!” he exclaimed, “That’s it!” That moment shows how useful the placement of photos can be. I have only been driving my company vehicle with its new personality for a few months, but it has already attracted an amazing amount of attention leading to jobs.
I completely agree with Wayne who says: “Wraps are a huge branding tool. Together with my matching yard signs, I get more leads, especially if I work in the same neighborhoods a lot. People call and say, ‘I called you because I see your trucks everywhere!’”
Most of us have lettering on our vehicles, but this may be the perfect time to step it up to an eye-catching, memorable, colorful wrap. I have every reason to believe that my wrap will pay for itself in less than a year by driving new leads and by reinforcing our professional image to clients who were already considering using us for their remodeling project.
With our high-speed lifestyles and barrage of information hitting us from all angles, try a vehicle wrap. Do something completely different from your competitors. Make your company stand out. What better way than to have your own rolling billboard?
Dan Bawden is president of Legal Eagle Contractors Co., Houston.