Improving Your Trailer Appearance

Tips for vinyl signage and images, plus refurbishing trailers.

March 2014, - Department

by Kate Harlow, Associate Editor - Also by this author

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Trace George, CEO and president of fleet graphics company VSP, was able to significantly grow his business simply by parking his truck.

When he founded VSP in 1995 in Buffalo, N.Y., George would “go fishing” on Monday mornings at Home Depot. His bait was his truck and trailer.

Fontaine Renew can completely refurbish a standard flatbed trailer in about two and a half days on average.
Fontaine Renew can completely refurbish a standard flatbed trailer in about two and a half days on average.

“Trace George would park his truck and trailer in front of the contractor zone for three hours and pay the lot attendant to not bother the units, for it was illegal to permanently park in the Home Depot contractor zone,” according to Trey George, Trace George’s son and VSP’s vice president of marketing.

The senior George would watch for contractors with blank company trucks who showed interest in the VSP truck and trailer imagery and message, and then he would try to sell them on VSP.

Within the first three months, he grossed more than $58,000 in sales in just 36 hours of “fishing.” Today, VSP wraps more than 2,300 units per year within the continental United States, and specializes in corporate fleet marketing layout design, full print production and national 3M installation services.

As George’s story demonstrates, a nice-looking tractor-trailer not only can demonstrate to your customers the care you take of your equipment, but also has the potential to serve as a rolling billboard for your business.
If you are interested in increasing your sales or just improving the appearance of your trailer fleet, here are some tips on vinyl signage and images.

Make sure before you install vinyl graphics on to your trailer that the surface has been cleaned thoroughly.
Make sure before you install vinyl graphics on to your trailer that the surface has been cleaned thoroughly.

The right partnership

Choosing the right company to work with is first step in almost any venture, and it is the same with trailer graphics. Whether you want the company to simply manufacture the graphics or images or do everything – design, manufacture and install the graphics on your trailer –choosing the right partner is critical.

Ward Schneider, the president of Schneider Graphics, Des Moines, Iowa, believes working with a company that does it all can be the best option.

“I like a company that produces and installs the graphic so there is just one point of contact. Streamlines that whole process,” Schneider says. And because installing graphics on a trailer can be more complicated than applying simple decals to a tractor often it is best to leave the install to the professionals.

VSP’s Trey George recommends choosing a graphics company with a real graphics designer on staff.

“Many sign shops cut costs by using Internet clip art and designs, and do not offer specialized graphic services. There are often copyright issues when a sign shop doesn’t have a valid graphic artist that can design images or photographs from scratch,” he explains.

Schneider emphasizes hiring an installer that will send their employees to your location to install the graphics or one that will help you find certified installers.

Both companies recommend genuine 3M products but say you need to make sure your installer is 3M-certified. Most 3M materials that are not installed correctly are not fully warranted if not installed by a 3M-certified company.

The right products

According to Schneider, there are hundreds of different types of products to choose from, but 2-mil cast high-performance film is often his suggestion for the best product for fleets.

Trey George notes that many customers do not know that all fleet materials should be overlaminated to protect the prints from UV light, weather elements and surface physical interactions.  

Installing vinyl graphics on your trailer transform your trailer into a rolling billboard for your business.
Installing vinyl graphics on your trailer transform your trailer into a rolling billboard for your business.

“Without UV protection, prints will go from vivid to pale, such as red to pinks. Weather elements that go from one extreme to another will cause the material to expand and contract, leading to cracking and peeling, and of course, materials can be scratched or damage from physical components,” he says. “Without overlaminate, the price is always cheaper, but the materials are thus not meant for the longevity or covered by a warranty from 3M.”

Avoid common problems

For those who are going to try to their hand at installing themselves, Schneider says to make sure the surface is clean, clean, clean.

“The most likely cause of a failure in the future is not cleaning the surface properly. Make sure the area is free of any dirt or oxidation. Do a really good job of cleaning it. You may even need to get the buffer out,” Schneider says.

To product your vinyl images in the future, he cautions a soft hand at the power wash.

“Sometimes people power wash vinyl graphics too aggressively. Instead, stay back and angle your tip so it is not lifting the corners up,” he says.    

Refurbishing trailers

After a number of years when a trailer’s rough life on the road is showing, many might think of buying a new trailer and putting the old one out to pasture. Instead, you could choose to save some money and refurbish it.

According to Todd Anderson, the president of Fontaine Renew – a segment of Fontaine Engineered Products – a refurbished trailer can be expected to provide the owner with another full life cycle.

The company has refurbished approximately 2,500 trailers since it began in 2011, of all different types and makes, from a standard flatbed to an intermodal chassis.

“Depending on their specification and what exactly needs to be done, they can get a refurbished trailer that is basically a brand new trailer at 1/4 to 1/2 the cost of a regular new one,” Anderson says.

For a standard flatbed trailer, Fontaine Renew is able to completely strip it down and rebuild it in two and half days.

“We do fully warranty our work just like if you bought a brand new trailer,” Anderson says.

Other companies that refurbish trailers include Conway Manufacturing, East Manufacturing and Mac Trailer.

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