Vehicle Wrapping Contracts 101
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Vehicle Wrapping Contracts 101

: Wrapping vehicles without a signed contract that spells out what the customer should expect - and shouldn't expect - from your sign shop is a mistake that could cost you. Find out how to avoid liabilities with a solid contract.

By Jennifer LeClaire

Discover what you need to include in a vehicle wrapping contract to protect your company from liability and tap into cost-effective legal resources to get the document drafted.

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  • So you're landing vehicle wrapping jobs left and right - congratulations. Did you have your client sign the contract? Do you even have a contract? Or are you just providing some details on an estimate sheet and hoping for the best?

    You can protect your business and your customer - and do a service to the industry - by clearly spelling out expectations about the cost, the delivery time, the warranties, the color proofing, the artwork and other details of your vehicle wrapping services before you ever accept a deposit on the job.

    If you've ever wondered what you should include in a contract, this article will offer some good guidelines. And if you are wondering how you are going to afford to pay an attorney to have the contract drafted, we'll offer some advice on that front as well.

    (Keep in mind as you read this article that SignIndustry.com is not offering professional legal advice. This guidance, though, should put you on the road to getting a contract drafted that helps raise the reputation of the industry and protect your business.)

    1. Limiting the Estimate
    When it comes to the estimate for vehicle wrapping work, include the manufacturer's name and product you plan to use on the job. Regardless who's the manufacturer of the vinyl you use, direct your would-be customer to the manufacturer's Web site for product details, such as durability, warrantee information etc. This takes the liability off you and places it on the manufacturer.

    "Detail the area of the vehicle that will be covered, sides, hood, and rear and any areas requiring perforated window material. Include where and when the graphics will be installed," says Lee Bonsper, sales manager at ASG Imaging, a sign and graphics service bureau specializing in high-resolution, large format digital printing.

    "Provide an expiry time line that the estimate is good for, such as 30 days. Most vinyl suppliers and distributors give advance notice of when any price increases may go into effect," he continues. "A client should be made aware that the price may increase if a decision has not been made within a stated amount of time."

    2. Making Copyrighted Artwork Clear
    If you are the one designing the layout, protect yourself and your investment in time and resources by making the copyrights on your artwork clear. The best way to do this is to provide a scaled layout on a vehicle template.

    "On the template include a copyright symbol, year, designing company name and a statement that reads, 'This creative Design is the property of (your company's name) and cannot be used, reproduced or distributed in any way without their express permission. Client retains ownership of logo, trademarks, slogans etc. used within'," Bonsper says. "Then have the client sign off on this copy and provide one for their records."

    By including provisions for your artwork and any copyrighted art you use within it in your estimate, Bonsper says, you protect yourself and the client by reminding them that there are certain images and slogans protected by copyrights.

    3. Ordering Color Proofing
    You can protect yourself and your client by including the cost for a press proof of at least one section of the graphic you are concerned about. While more and more designers are becoming aware that digital printing of colors cannot always match PMS colors, small to medium business owners may not be.

    Bonsper suggests the contract state: "Whereas we will attempt to closely match your design colors, not all PMS colors can be exactly duplicated by digital printing, if you have specific color(s) you wish to be printed, please let us know and we will provide a small press proof for you to approve before production of your graphics."

    4. Inspecting Vehicle Surfaces
    If you've wrapped your fair share of vehicles, you already know that any adhesive vinyl will exploit a poor paint job on a vehicle. That's why you should state in your estimate that the client agrees to provide a vehicle that has sound paint and is free from defects. You should also spell out that if the material fails or if the paint comes off when it's time to remove the wrap, the sign shop is not liable.

    "Naturally, it would be in your best interest to inspect the vehicle," Bonsper says. "Bring to the buyer's attention and note in writing any areas of concern in advance of producing the graphics so they are aware of this point."

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    5. Producing a Pilot
    If you will be wrapping more than one vehicle with the same design, produce one pilot wrap first, then have the client approve it or make changes before printing any additional wraps.

    Bonsper says you should state this in your estimate with a timeline so the client is not expecting 20 wraps completed in three weeks. The contract should read something like this: "Pilot wrap in X to X days. Balance X to X days after approval or receipt of approved revisions."

    6. Cleaning Responsibilities
    You also need to spell out who will be responsible for preparing the vehicle for installation, including removal of existing graphics. If the sign shop is prepared to handle this, then state it in the estimate with language that sounds something like this:

    "Vehicle(s) will be washed completely and free of road grime, tars, rust, etc. and completely dry to insure adhesion of graphics, at least a day before installation by (your company name). For older truck or trailer bodies that have chalking paint, check with a maintenance provider to have the chalking removed by the best-recommended method. Unless otherwise specified, (your company name) will remove any existing graphics and all adhesive residues. The residue from old graphics, if left on, will affect the performance of new graphics going over them. For automotive vehicles (car, SUV, etc.) do not have vehicles waxed before or after washing."

    7. Installing the Graphics
    Depending on the weather conditions and time of year the graphics are being installed, unavoidable delays can happen. That's why you need to be sure to include a statement addressing this. Something like: "Seller cannot not be responsible for any downtime of the vehicle due to unavoidable delays of installation and any loss of revenue that the vehicle may incur while not being on the road for the buyer."

    "Advise the client of temperature limitations of the vinyl you are using and the particular time of year scheduled for installation. Take necessary steps to install the graphics in a temperature-controlled garage or bay where the graphics can be applied," Bonsper says.

    "Check manufacturer's specifications for temperature range converted graphics can be installed. In cases where installations take place in the colder northern United States, be prepared to include the installation temperature limitations that are provided by the vinyl manufacturer in your estimate."

    8. Visit LegalZoom.com
    So now that you know basically what the contract should say, how do you go about getting one without spending thousands of dollars in attorneys fees that eat your profits? Marjorie Jobe, an attorney and author of Business Law Battle Plan for Entrepreneurs: Protect Your Company From Lawyers, Lawsuits and Legal Disasters, suggests going to a site like Nolo.com, Legalzoom.com or LegalSourcePress.com to download a contract, adapt it for your operation, then take that draft contract to a lawyer to review it to address their concerns and the specific state laws.

    "Such a review will not cost much and then that contract form can be used for every contract they enter into from that day forward without the lawyer's participation. The clauses to incorporate should include arbitration clause, choice of law clause, limitation of liability for subjective taste decisions," Jobe says.

    "The most important best practice is do a mock up of the wrap on a quote sheet showing the image and look and then have the customer sign off his or her approval on the design and look before the work is done. This simple action will help reduce the disputes."

    9. What Not to Do
    If you don't want to go that route, you could approach an attorney and ask if he or she will work on a flat rate you can afford. Trade associations are often good sources for form/sample agreement, and may have lawyers with which they have relationships who can work at lower cost.

    You could also ask your insurance broker or carrier on what risks you should be focusing, especially those that aren't covered by insurance, says Professor Jonathan Ezor, Director of the Institute for Business, Law and Technology at the Touro Law Center in Central Islip, NY.

    "Don't just take another company's contract, or one you find online, and replace the other company's name with your own. Every contract has a history, and you never know whether the vendor gave in on some important negotiation points to win on others, or if the customer had substantial leverage that drove the deal, or if the lawyers who wrote the contract were just bad at their jobs," Ezor says.

    "Others' contracts are good as models, and to see what kinds of provisions can be used, but every company should ultimately have its own contract, however simple, that reflects its own unique issues."

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