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Let’s Talk Shop: Managing Fleet Graphic Accounts

Setting up and maintaining fleet accounts requires organization and consistency.

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It takes a lot of time and hard work to run a successful company. Businesses that utilize a fleet of vehicles in their daily operations often turn them into a source of advertising by purchasing vehicle wraps. Whether they fully wrap their fleet or choose spot graphics, setting up and maintaining this advertising is time consuming for the business owner.

Over the years I’ve realized that the companies and suppliers I order from most are the ones that make it really easy for me to do so. We try to apply this same idea to our own daily operations.

With existing customers we set them up on payment terms, stay organized to speed up reorders, and push their job through production by keeping their wrap materials in stock. With new customers we have to spend a little more time gathering their information, but part of our sales strategy is making it as easy as possible for them to create a new working relationship with us.

So how does this specifically apply to fleet graphics? A company operating a fleet of vehicles wants ease of ordering and consistency from their sign company. Competitive pricing is a factor as well, especially initially, but the importance of cost is often eclipsed by the other factors.

Easy Ordering

We’re a small company so often my husband and I are the ones to answer the phones. And quite often we’re able to quickly remember customers and the past work we’ve done for them.

We have done work for thousands of individuals and businesses over the last 19 years so we can’t be familiar with every job right away, but the companies that order from us regularly are easier for us to quickly place. Being familiar with our customers and their particular graphics is easier because we are so hands-on. Our employees also build up a rapport with customers the longer they work for us, and they try to be familiar with a company’s graphics.

I think it’s important to the customer to place a reorder quickly and know that the person taking their order is familiar with their job. We don’t just rely on a good memory; we also keep really organized files.

Organization

Our filing cabinets are stuffed with invoices and paperwork from all of our past jobs. We keep them all alphabetized of course, but we further break down repeat clients’ paperwork into their own labeled folder.

This is great for those repeat order phone calls. Often, as the customer is calling in a new order, we’ll go to the files and pull out their folder. In the folder is all of their paperwork with sizing, colors, placement, etc., noted.

We take note of the new order and place it (together with the customer’s folder) in one of our job boxes and enter it into our scheduling software. It’s a quick process, followed by a quick entrance into production if we’re just repeating an order with no changes.

In addition to well-organized paperwork, we also keep well-organized digital files. It’s important to find previous artwork quickly. Consistency and efficiency are what makes your job easier and more profitable.

Using a disk cataloging software called Cathy we are able to do a quick search for a customer’s backed-up artwork finding all the results in seconds. This of course means that we label, save and backup all of our artwork files as they come in. We maintain a working drive that is networked to all computers with current ongoing working files from the last few months. Older artwork is backed up to a server.

We create a new folder for every customer on the working drive and label each file with the name of the customer and a very short description of the project. This not only makes searching easier for the catalog program, but we can also quickly search through the results to look for the right project for that customer.

Color Consistency

Our fleet vehicles may come in one at a time or a couple at a time, depending on coverage. But they will typically be parked side-by-side back in the company yard. Consistency in colors, size and placement from one vehicle to another will be obvious.

For cut vinyl graphics we note the color and manufacturer on the customer’s invoice. We also cut a little square of vinyl and place it on either the invoice or work order paperwork to keep on file.

If we order in a special color for a customer, we write the company name on a piece of masking tape and place it on the inside of the vinyl roll. When it’s hanging on our vinyl rack we can quickly match a particular roll to the customer.

For printed graphics we print either a section of the customer’s graphics or a smaller version that showcases the colors used. Most RIP software will include an option for printing the print profiles right onto the sample printout as well. These printouts can be used for the customer’s initial sign-off on colors and then kept on file for future reference.

Scaling and Placement

We proof most of our vehicles on either templates or actual photos of the customer’s vehicle. When the customer finalizes the layout we keep a copy of the final artwork in their file. Noting all of the sizing for the graphics, especially if the customer orders the same graphic in multiple sizes, is important for scaling consistency.

Listing multiple logo sizes, truck numbers, individual graphics, etc., inside the customer’s folder along with current pricing is also a great way to streamline the reorder process. Some customers may ask for identifying file names and/or numbers that correspond to a different decal for both their use in reordering and for our use in organizing. This should be noted with the list of graphics as well.

We have quite a few truck fleets that we wrap for different companies. Most commonly the fleet will consist of white pickups, but often they will be all different makes and models of trucks and vans.

To maintain consistency in placement of the graphics we take photos of the first truck type we do, print them out and then note placement of the graphics, the number of inches from the door handle to the start of the graphics, the number of inches from the bottom of the door to the graphics, etc. When the next vehicle comes in we pull this sheet and use it during the installation process.

Pricing

Okay, so back to the pricing I briefly mentioned. Of course pricing is important to your customer and is often a big consideration. But I discuss it last for a reason. Keeping a fleet customer long term-which means you’re maintaining their fleet long term-comes down to customer service more than price.

I can be the cheapest guy in town, but if I’m not taking care of my customers they are going to move on. Business owners and managers are busy; but no matter how cheap you are, if your customers can’t do business with you quickly and easily they will find someone else who will.

You will have to be competitive on your initial fleet estimate, but be sure to show the customer from the start that your pricing comes with excellent customer service and deep expertise. You can do this through your professional sales approach, clearly spelling out where the pricing comes from and explaining how you keep track of their information for future ordering.

Be sure that when you work with the customer you not only find out how many vehicles they have in their fleet, but how many they actually plan to wrap or letter at a time. We’ve all heard about the guy who comes in promising you 10 trucks to wrap, and wants that awesome deal on the one he’s bringing you now-and then of course you never hear from him again after the first truck.

If a customer wants a really good deal on multiple vehicles then we ask that they place the order, and give a deposit, on all the vehicles. Of course use your judgment here; you can usually tell how serious a company really is about actually lettering just one vehicle versus their whole fleet.

As part of maintaining fleet graphics accounts we also will set pricing with the company for specific fleet vehicles. This truck is X amount for graphics and X amount for installation. Each time the fleet customer orders a graphics set for that particular vehicle they know exactly how much they will pay.

We have to remember to watch this over time though. We have customers that go back 19 years with us, and we’re still producing the same graphics for them with maybe minor updates. Of course our costs have gone up over the years so we have adjusted our pricing accordingly.

Be sure that when it’s time to make a price change, that you do it every couple years, or as needed, and always explain to the customer that your cost of goods has gone up X amount, and you have to raise the price on their graphics. If you do it every couple years or so then the pricing doesn’t jump big amounts at one time (which can spook some clients). If your costs have remained level, then let the customer knows that you’re able to keep their pricing the same.

Charity Jackson

Charity Jackson is owner of Visual Horizons Custom signs, a full-service commercial sign company based in Modesto, Calif.  She has been in business since 1995 and specializes in vehicle wraps, design and project management and workflow. You can visit her website at www.vhsigns.com.

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