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Let’s Talk Shop: Streamlining the Estimation Process

Developing a system for giving out estimates will save you time and headaches and put the customer at ease.

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Over the years I’ve noticed that it’s very easy to get buried in paperwork. One of my many job titles includes quoting most of the vehicle wrap jobs that come through our shop. Quoting a complex vehicle wrap can be time consuming, but it needs to be done right because a misquote can be costly.

At our shop, streamlining the wrap quoting process has helped us be more efficient and more accurate. We created a checklist that is basically an outline of all the steps involved in quoting wraps. This keeps us on track when gathering information and is primarily broken into three categories: Graphics, Installation and Design. Breaking the pricing options into bite-sized pieces makes it easier for the customer to understand and easier for the sign shop to quote.

Graphics

All of our vehicle wraps are priced based on the total square footage of the project. I’ve discussed in previous articles how to create a pricing schedule for your company that takes into account your overhead and your geographical location. Understanding your overhead and the average prices on the market in your area will get you started on the right track for creating a per-square-foot price that will make your wraps both competitively priced and profitable.

  • Media Options

Be sure to create pricing for all of the vinyl options that you will offer. Most wraps will use a premium, cast material that is intended for long-term use. In some cases, however, the customer may want to use a calendared material because they have a shorter-term advertisement.

We do the fleet graphics on all of our city buses. Using a shorter-term MetroMark transit vinyl and calendared laminate, we’ve wrapped the sides of entire buses. The material was a little stiffer to work with than a cast film but it still wrapped great. In this case the bus sides are fairly flat (which is definitely a consideration when using a less conformable material) and the advertisement is intended for a one-year contract. The material choice fits the length of the advertisement commitment and also keeps the cost down on a shorter-term wrap.

Perforated window film and corresponding optically clear overlaminate works great for advertisements that extend onto the windows. Be sure that areas that are covered with perforated film are figured separately and priced accordingly because these media are often more expensive than premium vinyl and laminate.

We’ve created separate per-square-foot pricing schedules for premium, calendared, perforated view-through, color-change/specialty films and reflective films. All of our media pricing includes the corresponding overlaminate as we do not install any films without a protective laminate.

  • Coverage

When a customer asks, “How much to wrap my vehicle,” there are a whole bunch of questions that will need answers before you can start to quote. One of the biggest considerations is coverage.

We ask the customer what they are envisioning-spot graphics, a partial wrap or a full wrap-to help narrow it down. Often clients will say they aren’t sure, so then we’ll ask if they have a budget. This may be something else they aren’t sure about either so then we give the customer options.

Usually you will discover that the customer does indeed have a budget, they just may not have been fully aware of what the number was because they didn’t know what to expect. I like to give price ranges to customers as a way of educating them on the process. Offering a price range also helps keep the customer from becoming overwhelmed by a big number that they can’t afford, but also showing them from the beginning that there are other options.

  • Square Footage

For clarification purposes determining square footage is basically the height times the width of the areas you are covering. Of course there are some important considerations you need to take into account to be sure that you are pricing accurately.

For example, let’s say you’re looking to do a full wrap on a typical Ford Econoline van, and the customer has requested that perforated film also be applied to the rear windows. Here’s how I would figure the square footage.

If the height of the side of the van was 60″ and the length of the coverage is going to be 120″ the first thing you need to add is overage. We typically add about 3″ to the top and bottom as well as to each end. This gives us extra graphics to grip as well as overage for conforming before trimming.

So for the side you wouldn’t quote 5′ x 10,’ which would be 50 square feet; rather you would quote 5.5′ x 10.5,’ which includes the extra 6″ added to the height and width and would be 57.75 square feet.

You will be printing the overage so that you’re properly installing the wrap so you need to make sure that you charge for those graphics. If you did not take the overage into account you would have lost out on charging for 7.75 sq. ft. on each side of the van.

For the back of the van we would do the same thing. Add in overage to the actual height and width to create an accurate square footage of printed space. Since most vans have areas around the windows that will be wrapped we print and install-and charge for-the whole space then go back and remove the graphics that fall onto the glass so they can be wrapped in perforated film.

The square footage of the windows (including a little overage) is then figured and priced separately. Since perforated film is often more expensive, the per-square-foot price will be slightly higher than what you quoted for your regular vinyl.

Installation

The second major consideration to accurately estimating a wrap is the installation. Again, coverage will make a big difference in the cost so it’s important to narrow this down with the customer when discussing budget options.

Be sure to offer advice when working with the customer and determining budget and coverage options. For example, keeping the wrap off the cab or front end of a vehicle will cut down the installation costs considerably since there are many contours and time-consuming areas on the front end of vehicles. The advertising space at the front end is also less effective than on flatter, larger spaces toward the back of most vehicles.

Some sign companies determine their installation costs based on a per-square-foot price while others estimate the amount of time they expect to spend on the wrap and price by the hour. Either way works as long as you’re accurately covering your labor costs and still making a profit.

The complexity of the vehicle install-which takes into account vehicle contours, after-market parts and other obstacles-should be a major consideration of the installation price. If you’re pricing by the total square footage you would need to take into account these extra obstacles and estimate the extra time you will spend on the finish work.

Keep track of the amount of time you spend on the actual install portion of your next wrap. Not only will this determine if your pricing was accurate but it will also give you a guideline for estimating future wraps.

  • Measurements

Up to this point we gather our information as quickly as possible while also building a working relationship with the customer. Once the customer has given us an idea of coverage and length of the advertising campaign, and we’ve assessed the complexity of the install, then we take the necessary photos and measurements we’ll need to figure out the square footage.

This step is an important part of the process as you’re moving beyond simple questions and answers with the customer and getting down to accurately gathering the sizing you’ll need to sit down and quote out the wrap. Simple quotes-like on box trucks or simple-shaped vehicles, or on vans that we’ve quoted many times-we’re able to give the customer pricing fairly quickly, usually during their initial visit.

On unique or more complex wraps I take the photos and measurements and scale the images in our computer programs and carefully figure the square footage based on coverage. I then offer the customer either a price range or exact price based on our initial discussion via email and/or a phone call.

Design

The last section of the estimating process takes into account the design. All of the steps go hand-in-hand when determining an accurate quote. This doesn’t mean the customer needs to have all of the information and artwork ready for you yet, it just means that you need to know what is available.

We ask the customer if they have a logo already and if so is it available in a digital format that will be either vector or of a high enough resolution for a large print. If they do not have a logo then we price out logo design separately from the wrap design pricing.

Besides the logo we also ask the customer about any additional artwork they may want to include, like high-resolution photos or other artwork that may need to be purchased. If the customer wants to add a photo then your best bet is to direct them to stock photo websites (like iStockPhoto or Shutterstock) and encourage them to browse the photos and provide you with the numbers to the photos they like. This will save you a lot of time searching through photos the customer may or may not like and keeps them from having to pay you by the hour to browse photos.

  • Process

Part of the design process includes setting up a template for proofing the wrap. We create custom templates for all of our wraps based on the straight-on photos and measurements we take of the customer’s actual vehicle. You can also proof the wrap on a vehicle template such as you’d find with ProVehicle Outlines (www.provehicleoutlines.com), Art Station (artstation-vehicletemplates.com) or The Bad Wrap (https://thebadwrap.com). Either option includes some amount of setup and is part of the time that we figure into the process.

So we determine available artwork, purchased artwork and overall typesetting and add in the time for creating the template. This gives us a base wrap design price.

Since we try to gather as much information and narrow down the customer’s vision as much as possible prior to designing in the computer, our goal is to keep major changes to a minimum during the design process. Our base price includes the initial design with a few minor changes. If the customer completely changes their vision or makes excessive changes then we add design charges based on our hourly shop rate. Communicate these charges from the beginning; it helps keep the changes to a minimum and encourages the customer to narrow their vision.

Of course don’t start any designing until the customer has placed an order and given a deposit. When a customer is indecisive on whether they want to invest in a wrap or not we’ve offered to just start with the design portion, and then gathering full payment for that process since we can’t get that time back. This includes the custom template, gathering artwork, etc. and helps the customer visualize the final wrap and investment.

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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