Why not transform your van into a travelling billboard, the better to promote your goods and services? All that space on its sides, doors, bonnet and even the roof is going begging; and it's completely free.
Richard Clark certainly thinks you should. He's managing director of Edenbridge, Kent-based Raccoon, which specialises in wrapping vehicles in vinyl complete with full colour images and graphics.
If you are a kitchen fitter you can have a huge photograph of one of the kitchens you've installed digitally printed onto the vinyl that's then applied to your van. If you're a landscape gardener, then you can have it covered with stunning pictures of flowers and flowering bushes.
Be guided by the experts though. What you may think looks fantastic in theory may not be so wonderful in practice.
“We employ a team of trained graphic designers,” Clark says. “Most people who put graphics onto vehicles don't have the training or experience that our guys do, and their work can be a bit hit and miss as a result.”
Raccoon's printed wrappings carry a five year warranty. Some customers leave the wrapping in place for, say, four years, but change the vinyl on the back doors every six months so that different facets of the business can be promoted at different times of the year.
“We can usually wrap a van in a day but we like to have it for two days to give us enough time to clean and prepare it thoroughly,” he says.
Set up in 1992, Raccoon has seven wrapping centres including locations based in Manchester, Leeds, Ipswich, Maidenhead, Edenbridge and just outside Southampton. They are all franchised operations. “We aim to open five more a year for the next three years,” he says.
He prefers vehicles to be taken to one of the centres for the work to be carried out if at all possible. “If you're going to wrap a vehicle the environment cannot be windy or dusty, the temperature has to be just right and you've got to have access to power,” he says.
Surely the big in-house workshops operated by some of the major van fleets would be an acceptable atmosphere to work in? Not always, he sighs. “Even large companies sometimes decide to push us into a dark, dusty corner of their premises, and we may find when we get there that technicians are proposing to work on the vehicle at the same time as we are,” he remarks.
So what's a wrap that packs plenty of punch cost? “From £1,000 to £3,000 depending on the van and what you want doing,” he replies. Sounds steep, but Clark argues that it isn't really.
“If you're spending £2,000 and keeping the vehicle for four years, then that means you're investing £500 a year in some really effective advertising,” he points out. “You can buy very little for that sort of money in the other media available to you.”
Raccoon is willing, however, to spread the cost of the job over the length of time that the operator intends to keep the wrap in place.
Van owners who want to keep their wrapped vehicles in pristine condition would do well not to take them through a brush wash, Clark advises. It will do the vinyl no favours at all.
A pressure washer is fine, just so long as the water jet is kept at a 45° angle to the vehicle. But ideally you should use a good-quality vehicle shampoo, a sponge, warm water in a bucket and some tender loving care. “You should also use your common sense,” Clark remarks.
Unwrap a van after a few years and you'll find that the paintwork underneath is as good as new; a key advantage if you're proposing to sell your vehicle second-hand. It should help it attract a premium price.
Vinyl is available in every colour you can think of plus a few more. Using a wrap means that you can have your new van finished in shocking pink or deep purple without having to ask for it to be sprayed that colour at the factory.
That's always assuming the factory is willing to do so; and if is, you may be charged extra.
Instead, you can order your van in white and have it wrapped in the shade of your choice. Used light commercials painted in lurid tones can be difficult to sell, but the white van that's revealed once that pink or purple vinyl has been peeled away will always find a home.
Price aside, how come wrapping isn't more popular in the UK? Lack of awareness, reckons Clark. “Not enough people know that it's available,” he contends.
Raccoon is by no means the only company willing to wrap vehicles. Inchmere Design of Banbury, Oxfordshire will happily do so too, and has wrapped buses and trucks as well as smaller vehicles. Eastleigh, Hants-based Stewart Signs has done so as well.
You don't have to wrap a van to achieve a real impact however. Vinyl can be used in other ways.
Julia Mitchell Distinctive Floral Design runs a black Volkswagen Caddy with pictures of a pair of calla lilies on each side with an outline around them so that they really stand out. Cream lettering is used to promote the range of events that can be catered for by the flower specialist and the entire design was executed by the Warwick outlet of Signs Express.
The design was highlighted in trade magazine Florist & Wholesale Buyer says Mitchell. “We've had a lot of positive comments about the van, and what with the magazine mention we know we're portraying the exact image we were hoping for,” she comments.
Turning to a very different area of activity, Signs Express's Gloucester outlet has applied eye-catching images of rugby players to the metallic silver Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 211CDI kit van operated by Gloucester Rugby Club. It travels to training sessions and away matches carrying everything from rugby balls and kicking tees to splints and a medical trunk.
It's been supplied by local Mercedes commercial vehicle dealer Mudie-Bond as part of a two-year sponsorship deal.
Less can sometimes be more, a point proved by Chalcroft Construction. It opted for green lettering for the sides of its white vans plus window graphics at the back.
Signs Express (Kings Lynn) applied this livery to 45 of the company's vehicles with far more consistency than could have been achieved by a traditional signwriter with brushes and pots of paint.
With its headquarters in Norwich, Signs Express can boast 80 centres in the UK and Ireland. It points out that on average a van can be seen by over 3,000 people an hour while in motion; a good reason for employing its body as a promotional tool.
One of the key advantages of vinyl is that your chosen design will have been recorded on the signwriter's computer. This means that if you buy more vans, replace the ones you've already got or need to get one repaired after an accident, all the graphics can be replaced with complete accuracy.
Bear in mind too that a fancy design is not compulsory. You can simply have your name, address and telephone number applied to each side of your van if that's all you require at a cost of from £75 to £200.
An eye-catching design that causes heads to turn may make it less likely that your light commercial will be stolen. There is the argument, however, that people such as electricians, plumbers and indeed anybody who carries power tools or items such as copper piping should be careful about advertising the exact nature of the trade they follow on their vehicles. It could act as a magnet for thieves.
Whichever route you choose, it makes sense to harmonise the image employed on your van with whatever appears on your business cards, letterheads, compliments slips, invoices and the signs on your premises. That way, you'll look consistently professional.
Once vinyl has outlived its usefulness, it can be peeled away simply by applying heat to the edge with a hair-drier, waiting for it to lift, then tugging sharply. After that has been done, however, you may find that the outline of the graphics will still be there because although the paint that was beneath them won't have faded, the paint around them will have.
The only way of dealing with this problem is by using a cutting compound like T-Cut; and a liberal dollop of elbow grease.
Not only can van livery, whether it be simple or a full vinyl wrap, act as a mobile advert, but in the case of the latter it can help with residual values. It's definitely something worth investigating.
Vinyl livery specialist Raccoon is offering a superb prize to one lucky What Van? reader. It will design and apply a full vinyl wrap livery to the van of your choice completely free of charge; a prize worth in excess of £3,000.
It could not be simpler to enter the prize draw. Click Here for full details or visit Raccoon's stand in the What Van? Live section of the British Motor Show. The competition ends on 3 August 2008, the final day of the show.