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The MacGyver Effect

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The MacGyver Effect Making do with what you have
Article Author:

Justin Pate

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Sign & Digital Graphics

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Contractor: Justin Pate  Project: Vehicle wraps

Key to success: Be able to adapt when a project doesn’t go as planned.

This is the original layout for the Gov’t Mule Sprinter with 140-inch wheelbase.

Installing graphics on vehicles is in many ways more demanding than other forms of graphic installations. The main reasons for this are that the film/lamination is expensive, there is always the possibility of cutting the vehicle, the film has to conform and register perfectly to a complicated surface, and the completed install must be durable in all types of extreme weather conditions.

What comes with this pressure is a higher than normal expectation that all the pieces needed to put on the graphics will be correct. Some examples of this are: the right film for the particular vehicle, a well-lit workspace at the proper temperature and the client dropping off the vehicle on time and clean. Anyone who has been in the vehicle wrap game for a while will laugh at the last part. As much as one would think that having the right pieces in place for an install would be easy to put together, it rarely happens. I tell people that one out of 20 wraps has all the right pieces in place. The remaining 19 wraps are a mix of fixing problems so that the final result is a perfect install. The ability to fix problems is an invaluable skill of a vehicle graphics installer. In fact, the best ones I know are basically a modern day version of MacGyver, but with a squeegeei and a knife.

When I first started wrapping vehicles back in 1996, I used to get extremely frustrated. I would complain to fellow installers about all the time I spent waiting around for the vehicle to show up or a client would give me a new (aka: cheap) film to put on a vehicle which would end up costing me several extra hours during the installation. After about a year of installing, I had an “ah-ha” moment, which was that the right pieces hardly ever come together. This simple realization allowed me to see things as they were, and not how I thought they should be. From this vantage point, I began to see ways to solve these problems creatively which made me a better installer, saved me time and stress, and made me a lot more money due to greater efficiency and loyal customers.

Here are several examples of this MacGyver mentality:

A good client of mine asked me to wrap a Sprinter for the rock band Gov’t Mule. The Sprinter, 120″ wheel base/extended top, would be brought to one of my install locations in New Jersey. The film was 3M IJ180C with glossy overlam. The driveri of the vehicle confirmed that the graphics were in the Sprinter and that he would show up on time. The price for the install was higher than average so I was assured of a solid profit. Life was good.

When I arrived at the install location, the driver was waiting with the graphics and the Sprinter was clean. Cool. The hitch —instead of a 120″ wheelbase, it was the extra-long 140″ version. The band’s manager gave my client the wrong version (confirmed in an e-mail). After laying out the graphics, I realized that even if I used the extra bleedi from the sides, I would be short by about 14 inches.

The blank sections behind the driver door and at the rear are where the new panels will be put in.

This is how the adjustment worked on the 158-inch wheelbase Sprinter. Text and images balanced with minimal reprinting.

Now, I had several options in this situation. One, I could throw a fit and walk out—blaming the band’s manager for wasting my time and charge a kill fee. Two, I could tell my client that they had to reconfigure/reprint both the passenger and driver sides. This would cost Gov’t Mule a lot of money for the reprint/shipping and they would lose a day of travel (they were scheduled to leave the next day at 11am from NYC). Three, I could take some extra time and see if I could figure out a creative solution that would work out for everyone involved.

Needless to say, option three was the route I took. After spending some time looking at the layout and talking with the graphic designer, who was in Los Angeles, we found two sections on the sides that could be extended without compromising text or the overall concept. This area was right behind the driver and passenger doors and at the rear of each side. The designer figured that he could print a 12-inch vertical strip for these areas that I would then match up as best I could to the other panels. I then proceeded to install the hood, back and panels on the driver and passenger side right up to where the replacement panels would go.

The next morning, I met the Sprinter at the band’s hotel in NYC and picked up the graphics which had been Fedexed for first delivery. I finished the install in the hotel garage with a growing crowd of people wondering what I was doing to the Sprinter. The lines and color schemes matched up better than expected and the band hit the road on time. So, with a problem-solving hour on the phone and coming back the next day a bad situation was fixed. Instead of reprinting two whole sides of a Sprinter, one panel was used to print both replacement panels, which saved a lot of money both in printing and shipping.

Instead of a five hour install, I spent an extra hour on the phone and had to go into Manhattan the next morning which cost me around five extra hours. Yet, my client was happy with the extra effort which meant that they would continue to give me work. Gov’t Mule gave me extra money for my effort and the next year when they went on tour, who did they ask to wrap their Sprinter? Me. Short term I lost a bit during the install but by putting in the extra effort, I won long term.

Another MacGyver example came on a PT Cruiser I had to wrap that involved a two-hour drive to the install location. The PT Cruiser was clean; the garage pristine, the film was Avery’s 1005 Easy Apply RS with 1.3mm overlam. The problem, the print for the driver and passenger sides were too big for the PT Cruiser, both left to right and top to bottom. I had every right to ask for the sides to be reprinted but I took some extra time and found a creative solution that worked.

A driver side is not just a driver side. It’s actually broken up into sections—front fender, front door, back door, and back fender. The body of the vehicle also has lines and breaks in it that further separates it into sections.  I call this way of viewing the vehicle “seeing in sections.” A good example of this cani be seen on the accompanying picture of the Prius. The driver side is not a driver side, it’s a front fender, front door, backdoor and back fender area. By looking at the side of the PT Cruiser as sections and comparing it to the printed layout I found the solution.

The PT Cruiser has a small, recessed area that runs along the middle of the body just under the door handle. I used this as my starting point and cut the panels in half along the top of the white section above the text in the middle. I installed the bottom sections of the panels first and cut off the excess film (roughly 4 inches) on the topside of the recessed area. I then installed the top sections and cut off the excess (roughly 4 inches) on the bottom side of the recessed area. The recessed area hid the overlapi which was around ¼ inch and served to make a perfect straight line for the graphics.

By finding the right solution I saved my client from having to reprint two complete sides and the costs of shipping. More importantly, it kept my client’s client from knowing there ever was a problem. For me, I saved myself from having to drive to the location again and created customer loyalty, which means money and security.

Finding these creative solutions are actually one of my favorite aspects about being a professional graphics installer. I relish the chance to problem solve a situation so that it helps save material, time and money. I also think it’s the right thing to do. In many situations, it would be much easier to just reprint a wrap but I firmly believe there is a solution to be found in almost any situation.

One of the keys to coming up with MacGyver-like solutions is thinking outside the box. Often times the solution isn’t obvious or even logical. When a problem comes up, I take in all pertinent information and then continue working on another part of the vehicle. By stepping back from a problem the solution generally just pops into my head after about five minutes. Communication is also a good way to help solve problems. By discussing them with the designer or another installer, a clear angle can often be found.

Granted, not every situation can be or should be fixed. If a client sends me calendar film with a 3mm overlam for a VW Bug and expects it to last for three years, no dice. If I get two driver sides and no passenger side (this has happened), I can’t do much with this. Yet, more often than not, there is a solution that works for everyone. By channeling MacGyver and making that extra effort, an installer will get the reputation as a stand-up, go-to option which means money, security and possibly their own TV show.

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