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The Benefits of Bringing Installation In-house

Aquire the plan, tools and the staff you need for in-house installation.

If this article has caught your eye, then we can probably assume that you have the capability to print stunning graphics. You may even have the ability to design stunning graphics. But when to take on the in-house installing of those stunning graphics is the big question.

Possessing in-house installation capability certainly has some benefits. Here are just a few of them: saving time, saving costs, increased profitability, direct control of the quality, and a wider range of services offered to your client base. Our company, bluemedia, wrapped nearly 1000 cars via subcontractor before we were able to successfully run an internal install team.

We desperately wanted to bring this capability in-house-but there always seemed to be one reason or another that we just couldn’t get the internal install team up and running. The primary reason was skill level. If we knew of an installer that was good enough, then he/she had their own installation company or they worked for an independent company.

It’s no secret to anyone, including these installers, that they could make more per vehicle if they worked as subcontractors. But it was feast or famine for them: When they had a wrap to do they were making good money, but there were no guarantees that they would have any work the next day. So once we had at least one vehicle every day to install, the tables began to turn in our favor. This meant we had the book of business to support our first full-time installer. We looked for someone who was very good at their craft and had the ability to train others.

It took a while to find the right person, but we finally did. Once we had one great guy-and a compensation package that helped ensure he would be committed to us-we were able to begin building an internal install department. As our sales grew, we were able to add more installers. And since we now had a "master installer," the newer guys did not have to be as good as the head installer because they could each be trained, internally. Each new installer we added reduced our need to sub out installs with each passing week. We repeated this pattern numerous times to arrive at today’s model-where we very seldom sub out an install.

The checklist
The advantages of adding install to your operation are relatively obvious. There are challenges, and you should proceed with caution, but these challenges are worth overcoming. Consider this short checklist before you add the words "in-house install" to your corporate website and brochures:

* The head installer: This should be someone who can train others; pay this person well.

* An install bay: The bay should ideally measure 60-feet deep, have a 10-foot-wide x 15-foot-tall door, and include a 20-foot-wide space (minimum) to allow for scaffolding on each side of a 53-foot trailer.

* Scaffolding: The kind that rolls; get the good stuff so your installers have a safe environment to work in.

* Standard operating procedures (SOP) for your entire install department: Put these down on paper. What time do vehicles need to arrive? How do you handle and store their keys? What vehicles can be left outside and which ones can’t? When is the standard time for a vehicle to be picked up by the client? Where and how are tools handled and stored? And so on.

* Tools: You’ll likely have to add a few tools you didn’t previously have in-shop, such as torches, squeegees, rubber floor mats, chairs with wheels and no backs, Olfa knife, cleaning solutions, remover solutions, primers, etc.

* Workload: The only thing worse than paying a subcontractor is paying an employee to stand around with no vehicles to install. Make sure you can keep them busy before you hire them full-time.

* Define what types of installs you may still sub out: Vehicles that are too big, too tough or too many in a short time frame. Keep your subcontractors happy; you will still need them.

* A great install calendar or scheduling system: This is essential.

* Official training and/or certifications. As I have said in this column many times before, there are great schools and workshops available. Being UASG-certified (United Applications Standard Group, www.uasg.org), for instance, is a great selling point.

* Rate card: Now that you are installing in-house, will your rates go up or down?

Keep these items in mind when working toward opening your install department for business. We could not do what we do without our in-house teams, but that doesn’t change the fact that we had to get a lot of items in order before we could bring install in-house. It takes a lot of work and time to get it right. As every facet of bluemedia is being scored and re-evaluated on a daily basis, so is our install department.

Contingency planning
Some of the not-so-obvious drawbacks that we have experienced have caused a few issues that we were forced to quickly handle. If, for instance, you have a vehicle scheduled for install and your one installer calls in sick, you have a problem. Similarly, if you unwrap a vehicle to find cut marks on a car that your own in-house team installed, you have no recourse as you would with a subcontractor. The same goes for a panel that gets ruined or an install that’s not completed before the customer arrives. Keep in mind that if you get the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of having your own crew, you also get the issues that may arise.

I recommend that you draw out a list of all of these issues you could foresee happening and come up with a contingency plan for each one. As with anything worth doing, installation work is worth doing right and will come with its own challenges. The more advanced planning you do, the easier those issues are when they rear their ugly head.

With small forward progress steps and a sales force that can bring in enough work, you can realize this goal and it’s definitely worth it once you get there. Be patient, take the right steps in the right order, and you’ll soon be enjoying the benefits of having your own install department.

One final note: Even though it can be very beneficial to have your own install department, I cannot stress enough how important good subcontracted installers are. We would not be here without them and we know we will always need them. There is no way we could be in 10 states at once or handle 100 local buses in four weeks without them. Treat them right and never forget how vital they are to your existence.

Jared Smith is president of blue-media (www.bluemedia.com), a leading provider of design and printing for use in vehicle, large-format, and environmental graphic applications, in Tempe, AZ.

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