Port Charlotte, Florida
Posted on Saturday, August 29th, 2020
Kevin and Theresa Woolbert moved to Florida from their native New Hampshire almost three years ago. Years of dealing with the snow and the cold had convinced them that they needed to head south to a warmer climate.
“We used to come to Florida for a week in the winter,” Kevin says, “and decided we wanted to live there. We looked around the state and decided that the Port Charlotte area would work best for us. We’ve always lived near or on the water, so that was important to us. We bought a house here in 2015. Unfortunately, it took us a couple years to sell our sign business in New Hampshire and finally make the move.”
Today, they are building a growing business in Port Charlotte, specializing in vehicle wraps—a change from their full-service sign shop in New Hampshire. Here’s what Kevin told SignCraft about wraps, their work and the sign business:
Second Wind Signs
2000 sq. ft.
ShopBot CNC router
24-in. Graphtec cutter
On Facebook: Second Wind Signs
My work is primarily vehicle and boat wraps. In New Hampshire, I had a bucket truck and did the full gamut of sign work. I built a lot of signs. In a small town like that, you would go broke if you tried to specialize in just wraps. I did all sorts of signs—from flat signs to wraps to 3D. We were in business there for 20 years.
Down here, I’ve been able to focus on wraps. That’s good because I don’t really want to have to deal with sign permits and ordinances. Besides, there’s no air-conditioning out there on a storefront when you have to install letters.
Keeping the message out front
When I do a wrap design, I try to keep the message out front. I want a lot of impact, but I don’t want to lose the main message. That’s a common problem with wraps. There are a lot of misses out there on the road. The message gets lost in the photos and panels and effects.
How many times do you see one, two or even more photos of air-conditioning units on the side of a van—along with logos for Rheem and Carrier and Trane or whoever? But you can hardly find the name of the company on there anywhere. It’s a waste of the wrap.
Of course, it’s not always the sign designer’s fault. Most of the customers that come in here seem to want that same thing: “Can you put a picture of my water softening system on the side of my van?” They don’t realize that nobody wants to see a big, boring picture of a big, boring piece of equipment. The people who see your van need to know that you provide cool, comfortable air or clean water for their family—not equipment. When people contact me about a wrap, they often say that they have seen my work around and like it because it stands out. But when I do a design for them, they want to start changing it into the same ineffective look you see on so many wraps. It’s frustrating, because they want what they have been seeing on the road rather than what would really work for them.
The shop and the workflow
The shop is 2000 sq. ft. with a 12-by-14 overhead door, so I can get almost anything in here. We have a small office up front. It’s great to have a lot of room like this. You can have more than one job underway at a time. I know of sign people who have to borrow a bay when they do a wrap or work outside. That’s not for me.
We’re staying busy, and that’s great. It would be nice to have some good help, but that’s hard to find. You’re competing with a lot of other industries. And let’s face it—this isn’t a high-paying industry, and it takes a while for someone to learn enough to be really helpful in a sign shop.
So for now, it’s just me and Theresa, my wife. She is a nurse but is between jobs so she’s been helping out. Ironically, because of the pandemic, a lot of people have quit going to the doctor for other issues, and that has slowed things down for doctor’s offices. She’s been helping me with disassembling and reassembling the vehicles.
My favorite part of the work is when the customers ohh-and-ahh when they see their vehicle finished. I enjoy design, but I don’t like that I have to squeeze it in along with production. When you’re really busy and don’t have any help, it puts a lot of pressure on you. That messes with your creativity. You’re busy trying to get the work out the door, but you know you need to get a design together for the next guy.
It’s hard to be creative all the time—you can’t just turn it on and off. And each customer who comes expects you to one-up the last job you did, so you’re always trying to do something new and cool.
Wrap application can be a drag
I don’t really enjoy the process of actually doing a wrap. It’s tedious, especially if you want to do it right. I believe that if you are doing a really professional installation, you need to take everything apart—not just cut around everything. I pull the handles and the moldings and the mirrors.
That takes time and it means my prices are higher than someone who just cuts around stuff. The customer often doesn’t realize how important that is, either, until they go to trade their Silverado pickup in and can’t get much for it because the paint’s all cut up.
Because some of the businesses who sell wraps now are not primarily sign shops—they may be a printer or a T-shirt shop—they aren’t very concerned about quality. They market wraps strictly on price. I can’t do that. I need to do a professional job with quality materials that I know will last. A wrap isn’t an add-on sale for me—it’s the whole focus of my business, and I plan to be here for a while.
Fortunately, there are customers out there who appreciate value and quality. I have a growing list of fleet customers, too, and that’s great. That’s not exactly creative work, but it provides stability for the business. It’s financially rewarding but boring.
Growing the business
I want the type of customers who appreciate what I do and want quality work. That’s the best way to build a business. I’m not interested in the price shoppers. I know the business has grown because I want to deliver a quality product and help their business be more successful.
There are a lot of small businesses around here, and I like helping small businesses grow. A great-looking wrap can deliver a lot of advertising for a small business for a much lower cost than other advertising.
Of course, a lot of new small businesses are starting on a shoestring. They often have a worn-out pickup or van that they want you to wrap. You have to clean off the grime and work over the dents. It’s not the same as getting a shiny new vehicle to wrap! [Laughing.]
For now, we’re staying busy and doing some nice work for good customers. Eventually I’d like to find someone to come in as a partner who could maybe take over the business down the line. It’s a good market, but I’ll want to cut back at some point.