In today’s challenging market, many in the marine fabrication industry are looking for ways to diversify their businesses and offer new services to clients. One service area that could be a logical fit is boat wrapping. As an almost 30-year veteran of the boat painting and wrapping industry, I have witnessed the development of the market firsthand and believe that there are currently valuable opportunities for growth.
Who buys a boat wrap?
Customizing a boat wasn’t always as fast and affordable as it is now. Prior to 2000, our company provided custom painting services for offshore race boats, specializing in hand airbrush artistry and dimensional stripping designs. This service cost a client upwards of $30,000 and took approximately six weeks to complete. Those six weeks comprised hours upon hours of demanding physical labor, consisting of machine sanding preparation, taping lines, spraying layers of color and clear coat, and finally hand wet-sanding and high-speed buffing to assure the flawless finish demanded from custom paint work.
However, this was about the same time that our company had built up several years of experience using a digital printer to perform vehicle wraps, and so we decided to attempt to wrap boats and developed a very successful technique for doing this. Today, we can wrap an offshore race boat in about one week for a price of $10,000 to $12,000—considerably lower than the old price, and more affordable to a greater number of customers.
We have seen the market for custom boat wraps grow rapidly. While the specific market for offshore race boats has cooled somewhat, we have seen significant growth in the bass boat market. Most professional fishermen are required to have a wrapped boat. The branding provides a great form of advertising for their sponsors, and also helps fishermen build a brand for themselves.
Additionally, while many people don’t have the budget for a new boat every few years, wrap graphics give owners the flexibility to keep their boat looking new with a simple redesign. Wraps give a boat a new and totally custom look for a cost that is many times less than a new boat. Prices for wraps are determined according to square footage, so a wrap for a typical 20-foot bass boat with a trailer and cockpit costs about $3,700, while a 35- to 45-foot offshore race boat could be wrapped for $10,000 to $12,000.
Our motto at Wrap This Ink is, “If you can touch it, we can wrap it,” and the variety of projects we have completed over the years illustrates this very well. We have wrapped everything from hot dog carts to buildings to airplanes. In the marine industry, our wraps are not limited to just boats, but extend to additional branded items like trailers and trucks, as well as personalizing marine equipment.
Just five years ago, we wrapped approximately 10 bass boats per year. We now estimate that we wrap more than 100 rigs per year—not just the boat, but often the trailer and truck. Our revenue from boat wraps is currently about $250,000 per year, and we are seeing that figure grow each year. In fact, we recently completed a project wrapping 14 rigs at once for the Bass Pro Shops Nitro Team.
Consider your investment
Marine fabricators interested in diversifying into boat wraps should first consider whether they want to invest in a large-format digital printer, or whether to outsource the printing to a sign company. While purchasing a printer is obviously a large investment, it does allow the owner to maintain more control over the process. We print on two HP Designjet L25500 printers, and in the past 12 months have run 110,000 square feet of material on these machines.
The same rule applies to design. To offer a customer the most value, it is best to have a designer on staff who can interpret the customer’s wish list and turn it into a great wrap. However, design work can also be subcontracted to a sign company for less-demanding projects or for fabricators who are still getting their feet wet in the wrap business.
The only vinyl product that we utilize is 3M™ Controltac™ Graphic Film with Comply™ v3 Adhesive IJ180Cv3. We collaborated with 3M several years ago to help develop the company’s warranty on this product for marine wraps, and in our experience it has been amazingly reliable. We laminate the vinyl with 3M™ Scotchcal™ Gloss Overlaminate 8518, which is a high gloss laminate that gives a “wet paint” look and helps provide durability. Once the vinyl is printed and laminated, it is ready for installation. The vinyl is self-adhesive, but heat guns can be used to help it stretch around contoured areas.
To perform the installation, we insist on stripping the boat down as much as possible, so rub rails, trolling motors and any additional hardware pieces are removed. The wrap is applied in just two pieces, one for each side of the boat, with the only seam being on the nose. This helps the wrap maintain its durability. Wraps with more seams than this can often degrade quickly, and we have seen the poor results of these techniques. Other wrap companies even provide repair kits with their wraps, but we don’t find it necessary if the wrap is installed properly.
With our experienced crew, we are able to wrap a typical bass boat in about 20 hours. Offshore race boats can be completed even faster, due to the simpler design of their sides. Factoring in time for double checking our design measurements, printing and laminating the vinyl, and additional finishing steps, even a 40-foot boat can be completed in five days, start to finish.
Consider your investment
Marine fabricators who are considering adding wrap services should know that wrapping a boat can be tricky, but it is a skill that can be learned like any other. It is important to work with high-quality materials to deliver the best look out of the shop and a wrap that will have staying power in the water. By developing your talents in this area and offering high-quality wraps that impress customers, you can also draw new attention to your existing fabrication services—potentially growing both sides of your business at once.
Dale Salamacha is president and co-partner of Wrap This Ink in Longwood, Fla.