Make a Seat
How a female vinyl wrapper paved the way for herself in a male-dominated industry.
Tales of women from different walks of life – both fictional and nonfictional – whom I have classified as either intelligent, independent, successful, or perhaps all three, have been woven into milestones that dot my journey to this very moment. Ten years ago, I came upon one of life’s many crossroads that was inspired by their stories, and I chose a path that would change the course of my career. In the summer of 2008, during the height of the recession, I decided it was the perfect time to start my own company in the fleet and retail graphics industry. It was my first overt action to personal and financial independence and, since that moment, I’ve never looked back.
Prior to making this decision, I’d been indirectly exposed to this field through my former career in General Electric’s logistics division. I noticed both the positive and negative trends in our line of work and identified what I felt was a gap that needed to be filled. I wanted to change the way graphic installation companies were viewed at the time – which was not always in a favorable light – and create a more efficient and policy-driven structure with a group of trained wrappers who are proficient at every type of installation.
By my third year in business, I was contracted to install extensive fleet graphic conversions that were provided by some of the biggest printers in the graphics industry. It did not happen by chance or luck. It was achieved by building a stellar reputation through consistently delivering fast, quality-controlled service for vinyl work that exceeds customers’ expectations. I am a vinyl wrapper and CEO in equal measure, and not in the conventional sense, because I was a woman entering a mostly male-dominated field. There’s always been inequality embedded in an occupation like ours, but I’ve come to believe that the gender lines are blurring based on my very own example, which gives way to the rise of a female wrapper becoming the norm instead of the exception.
Establishing a business has numerous challenges and obstacles in any profession, especially if you’re looking to become a permanent fixture in your respective market. Being a female business owner, unfortunately, has resulted in some additional hurdles that require me to perform at a higher standard than my competition to be taken seriously. In an effort to boost credibility among my peers and employees, I set out to become a 3M Preferred Certified Installer. At the time, I was unaware that no woman had ever obtained the elusive certification. But earning my wrap credentials was still not enough, nor were the countless hours I logged physically wrapping a trailer, car, floor, wall, fleet, or custom (even by myself at some points), which seemed to not matter in the eyes of my male counterparts. I repeatedly had to prove myself in the field – it just became another task that was added to my job description.
One day, it just clicked. The validation that I sought should only come from an unmistakable few: my clients, vendors, employees, and business partner. They are a special collection of individuals, comprised of men and women, who really understand the high-quality work I am capable of producing in my industry. Outside of that group, everything may seem normal on the surface, but sometimes you’re judged more on your appearance than your technical skill base.
I have finally subscribed to the curious suggestion from the graphics industry that my company is a tight, exclusive community of trained installers functioning according to our own rules. It might be attributed to our strict, boot camp-esque approach to learning the trade and monitoring both progress and productivity in our custom and fleet divisions. We understand that building a loyal and long-term relationship with staff members has rewarded us with better talent on the field and lower employee turnover.
Taking the Leap
For anyone who wants to ditch their 9-to-5 and take their passion for wrapping to the next level, your starting point may begin with a quick and legitimate course from a graphic manufacturer or reputable wrap shop. Be advised that any shortcuts you build into your strategy (whether intentional or not) will often come back to haunt you in the long run, which can lead to a few problems like shredding your reputation as a credible wrapper or impeding your chances to secure another paying assignment. There’s no substitute for earning those genuine experiences with customers and colleagues through the quality of your work.
Another way for a newly minted wrapper to fast-track their professional goals is to add a graphic certification (3M, Avery Dennison, Hexis, etc.) next to their growing list of installation credits. Having this particular status under your belt will prove your expertise to customers, make huge strides with job prospects, and maintain a competitive edge over noncertified installers. I’ve also discovered that taking less desirable assignments that others might have passed on may put you on a prospective client’s radar for future gigs and offer unexpected exposure.
“2018 Stand Up To Cancer” telecast
Make an impression on social media – which is almost a requirement in business these days – as it’s a chance to start developing and curating your own personal brand by sharing images in your posts that represent you and your best work. Joining the ranks of notable industry vets is no easy feat, but conditioning yourself to stay on a fully committed and active path, while occasionally playing outside the rules, may give you a much-deserved fair shot.
For the 2017 Super Bowl telecast, we scored two massive projects for the multihyphenate Lady Gaga’s halftime performance and the Audi A5 Sportback “Daughter” commercial. I was awarded the sole responsibility of handling the full custom vehicle wrap for the European brand’s campaign that would eventually be seen by more than 100 million US viewers. The buzzed-about project was a 60-second, “equal pay for equal work” spot that featured the only girl in an all-boys soap box derby race as her father watched from the sidelines. Ending with her emotional win and a shot of our color-change makeover, it left such a lasting impression on viewers – and me – because of its core message of equality: a recurring theme in our nation’s dialogue today. One thing that binds each wrapper together is the creativity involved in the medium and the emergence of a new breed of artists. Like our recent gradient piano wrap for Stevie Wonder at the “2018 Stand Up To Cancer” telecast, my company has a knack for crafting vinyl-infused projects that resemble art installations. And I am thrilled when some of them are imbued with a social consciousness that’s a product of the times.
Audi's “Daughter” commercial
Growing with an Evolving Industry
From when I first started, my perspective on our profession has evolved for the better through words of encouragement from respected key players (sales reps, CEOs, managers). Some of those words helped me understand the importance of my role as one of the first female wrappers on the scene; I had no roadmap of how to perform this task during the many successes and setbacks of my journey. I’ve learned I’m more comfortable working behind the scenes making important decisions that affect my company’s bottom line, rather than be the face of it. Nonetheless, my presence is felt on both sides of the business, which may separate me from the rest of my competitors.
Being a devout member of the practice has undeniably created a new career option for young girls and boys alike. Hopefully, I will serve as a positive influence for the next crop of women entering our specialized market and we all will continue to challenge people’s perceptions of what our occupation could and should be like in the coming years. The 21st century is a period of vast opportunities for women, and whether people realize it or not, we have taken a seat in places where we have not, historically, been welcome. In today’s digital age, women have held a seat at almost every table, which has allowed us to become even more connected to one another. And I welcome this ongoing trend that will one day become the norm.
Susanne Tuor, one of the first female graphic installers, is the director of sales and co-founder of custom and fleet branding firm, Icon Image Graphics. In 2012, Susanne became the first female installer to pass the 3M Preferred Certification test. Follow her wrap journey on Instagram @vinylwrapgirl.