Automotive Aftermarket: The Sleeping Giant

There's a lot of wraps opportunity in the automotive aftermarket.

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When you consider all available markets, the vinyl business is infinite in scope. The white vinyl we all print on can become anything we choose. So with that in mind, it can be said that the image we print on that vinyl will determine who buys it, who’s attracted to it, and what market it will be sold into. At the end of the day, it’s the artwork that sells the vinyl in any market.

While most people in the vinyl sign business tend to cater to businesses, doing commercial wraps and partials, the real sleeping giant is the retail market for custom printed vinyl-custom cars, trucks and motorcycles. The biggest trade show for the automotive aftermarket is the SEMA Show, held the first week of November in Las Vegas every year.    

The attendees are largely business owners who are somehow involved in the automotive industry, or the automotive aftermarket. The automotive aftermarket industry alone is huge, worth billions every year. Are you getting your share of profits from this industry? If you answered no, you’re the guy I want to talk to.

Wraps Becoming the Norm
While in the years past big car shows contained the best of the best paint jobs you would find anywhere, today you mainly see cutting-edge digitally printed wraps and partial wraps. The reason is that wraps are becoming the norm. Sure, you can still find killer paint jobs being showcased, but more and more it’s killer vinyl wraps on everything from rice burners to top-fuel eliminators, and everything in between. Lifted trucks, sand rails and everyday drivers with cool partial wraps, wheels and tires, and deep tint.

Consider the B2B (business-to-business) vinyl market. Commercial users have a definite need for marking equipment, vehicles, signs, windows and more. However, think about how many people who don’t own a business? That, my friend, is the majority of the population. The vast majority of people work for someone else-but they do own cars. They own trucks, motorcycles, boats-you name it. That is a huge and largely untapped market in most areas of the country. That’s the market you should be addressing, in addition to the B2B market.

Aftermarket Wrap Opportunities
Many individuals in the automotive aftermarket vinyl biz own plotters and printers and serve the aftermarket in their local city and sometimes other smaller cities nearby. These aftermarkets usually involve new and used car lots, camper and travel trailer sales, truck accessory shops, speed shops for cars and motorcycles, marine stores and the list goes on.

In the north snowmobiles get wrapped or at least fitted with “decal kits.” In the south it’s jet-skis and personal watercraft. From north to south, four-wheelers are big and so are the newer cousins, utility vehicles (UTVs), which are more work-oriented, especially with farmers. The market is huge and there seems to be no end. Making that connection is vital, but it starts with your decision to enter that segment of the market and push forward.

The automotive aftermarket is a tremendous market with unbelievable size and scope. It’s a worldwide market to be accurate. So when you think of your vinyl company, you may be focused on business-to-business opportunities like commercial decals, signs and wraps. But don’t rule out the automotive aftermarket. Have you considered that avenue for your vinyl printing and installing ability?

Some Perspective
To help put this into perspective, think about how many people you know who own a business. Now think about how many people who own a car, truck or both. The market for vinyl is much, much larger through the aftermarket than it ever will be for signs or commercial vehicle wraps. Shoot, everyone owns at least one vehicle though not nearly as many own a business that can benefit from a wrap or partial wrap. This automotive aftermarket has always been a strong market, but in the past 15 years or so it has changed, but the decal kit producers haven’t changed with it. That leaves an opening that, if properly addressed, could ensure strong profits. So why haven’t producers adapted to the growth of the aftermarket?

What to Blame
Can’t blame it on the economy; this downward trend started about 15 years ago. Can’t blame it on durability of the images; todays vinyl is better than any produced and marketed back then. Can’t blame it on the public, they still like individuality and custom looks. So what happened?  Change didn’t happen, and that is the number one reason why this market segment stumbled and then went on a long decline to present day levels.

So what is this change that didn’t happen you might want to know.  It’s simple: the big vinyl converters didn’t change with the market, but instead kept on beating the same drum, expecting it to work like it did before. Expecting people to see the graphics, fall for them and end up getting them-but it didn’t happen. The old look with a slightly new shape was no longer appealing and the market died on the vine.

The main reason the converters kept on selling the same stuff is largely because of their tooling setup. Printing kits on sheets that made the graphics nest well and came out of the sheets as efficiently as possible to insure profits. But putting a new shape on the same-old-same-old look didn’t work for very long, and the automotive graphics aftermarket continued to decline. It’s not that people don’t like custom artwork on their vehicles anymore; it’s the artwork itself that turned them off. It was yesterday’s look and it’s more profitable to market the next big thing. However you have to produce or print the next big thing for that to happen and most importantly, you have to market it.

To be fair, and without naming names suffice it to say the vinyl industry went through a major change about 20 years ago. Plotters came on the market and that was followed years later by thermal resin transfer printers which eventually gave way to inkjet printers and ink-receptive vinyl. Suddenly the very market the converters were selling into became small converters themselves. The difference is with printing on demand by the individual shops, and cutting on demand the market evolved into a just-for-me market and everything changed. In my opinion, the only thing standing between you and any market you want to exploit is the artwork. With the right artwork people want the decals, graphics and wraps. Without the right artwork, people simply aren’t interested for any price, and the industry dies.

Increase your Profits
So with your equipment, your install abilities and perseverance you too could be increasing your profits from the huge automotive aftermarket. Next November attend the SEMA show to see what I’m talking about. Then think to yourself: If these restyled vehicles get this kind of attention at this show, why wouldn’t they get the same attention in my home town? If you think that way, you would be right.

* From the 2015 issue of WRAPS magazine.

Dave Dorsey

Dave Dorsey is president of Aurora Graphics, a developer of digital artwork designs for vehicle wraps and graphics, based in Wichita, Kan. Visit www.auroragraphics.net for more information.

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