Friday, September 30, 2016

Social Media Traffic Boost

We constantly hear about the effectiveness of social media in many areas, and we hear about it because it's true.

And as long as it is used properly, you can get a healthy traffic boost free of charge.

Without going deep into marketing strategy and ways to increase not only your traffic but also—ideally—revenue, let me show you a simple yet very telling example of how one simple post to a Facebook group I'm a member of, gave one of my blog's posts a heck of a traffic boost in a matter of hours. Fourteen hours, to be exact.

Last evening, at around 8:30 p.m., I posted a direct link to a blog post I had made several months ago. Since I am a Corvette enthusiast, it was related to my 1976 Stingray. I posted that link to the C3 Corvettes group on Facebook which is a public forum for C3 Vette lovers, of which I am a member.

There had been some back-and-forth about the Stingray name earlier, so I thought to share a story I had posted to my blog which was related to the topic. I did not comment directly but rather decided to make a new post altogether.

Since I had to search through older posts to find this particular one, I noticed that it had only captured 22 views since June 27th of this year, which is pathetic. So I decided to do a screen-capture to see if views would go up once I shared the link to the C3 Corvettes group.

This morning, approximately fourteen hours after I posted the link to the C3 Corvettes Facebook group, I checked to see if it had generated any additional traffic, and was pleasantly surprised to see that views had jumped from the original 22 to 257. That's 235 views in a matter of fourteen hours.

That's pretty good for a single post, and I expect readership to that article alone to continue to increase for the next couple of days. This, of course, may also bring new blog readers, so it's a win for me, no matter how I look at it.

My 1976 Corvette blog is a chronicle of work I do to my car. I also post other related items such as photos and videos having to do with the C3 Corvette world, so it's a non-commercial website.

For the business-minded individual hoping to generate traffic and sales from such efforts, the marketing curve can be pretty steep. Not impossible, mind you, but it will be tricky and sort of a mine-field.

That, of course, is a topic for a different article, but the point I think I've illustrated here is that when something is promoted correctly through social media, the results can be significant as well as rewarding.

So put on your marketing thinking cap and figure out a way to generate a free traffic boost through a similar effort.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Vinyl Car Wrapping Industry
Part 2 — Training


I made hotel reservations at the Courtyard Marriott East in Ft. Lauderdale since it had excellent reviews after being recently remodeled. Plus, the hotel has a bistro serving breakfast and dinner, as well as a free shuttle which means I can leave my truck safely parked at the hotel and not worry about transportation to and from Geek Wraps University.

Since training starts at 8:00 am tomorrow (Labor Day Monday), I drove down to Ft. Lauderdale Sunday afternoon and got settled in and ready for my first day of vinyl wrapping class.

I am taking the 5-day course which allows me to earn 3M Advanced Installer Training credentials in addition to the Geek Wraps University Advanced Air-Wrangler Training certificate. I think the extra two days of training fully warrant the additional expense. Since I am already down here I might as well complete the whole training process.

DAY 1 — Vinyl Wrapping 101

Above: Kenny doing a demo.
After a good breakfast at the hotel, the shuttle driver dropped me—along with another trainee who happens to be staying in the same hotel—off in front of Geek Wraps University at 7:45.

Everyone taking the course and the instructors arrived a few minutes later and, after a few quick intros, we were given a quick tour of the facilities, which are very nice and well appointed.

Our class is comprised of six students and we all made a more formal introduction at the beginning of the classroom session, as it's customary. The classroom session lasted pretty much all morning with a very thorough intro to the business of vinyl wrapping as well as explanations about products used for different jobs, how they're manufactured, product life expectancy, installation techniques, and more.

Kenny Calman, our instructor, also took the time to explain many tricks of the trade as far as how to inspect a vehicle prior to wrapping, what to ask the customer, liability insurance requirements, and much more, including boat wrapping. Very valuable information coming from an industry expert.

We took a break after four classroom hours and after a good lunch (provided by Geek Wraps U.), we started the hands-on training, which was something everyone was ready for.

Let me tell you that I watched many hours of Geek Wraps videos available on YouTube prior to taking the course, and even though they provided a very good basic understanding, I was not prepared to handle vinyl wrap. I consider myself very good with my hands, but handling a piece of wrapping vinyl for the first time is sort of like learning to ride a bicycle. You're going to be white-knuckled when you really need to be relaxed.

So it was not pretty, but after a few tries things start to make some sense, and I was able to get a bit more confident handling and, especially, heating the vinyl.

Truth be told, I really felt like a fish out of the water since I was the only newbie in the group. All the guys there had some experience with vinyl wraps, from basic to advanced. But on the other hand, my being completely green on the subject meant I had no bad habits to break.

Plus, in addition to Kenny and his wife Kathy who's also an instructor, there were three additional trainers on hand which almost gave us a one-trainer-per-student ratio. That alone makes this class an outstanding value.

So it's been a long day and after ten hours of training, which really feels like information overload, I was ready to come back to the hotel, have a good dinner, take a nice hot shower, and get ready for tomorrow.

DAY 2 — Wrap it up!

Today we started the day with a short classroom session followed by applying vinyl wrap pieces to wall surfaces such as block, brick, and interior wall surface. We then applied wrap pieces to flooring material.

Above: The right vinyl, installed properly, can be applied to brick and mortar walls.

After a half-hour lunch break, we continued doing practice wraps on vehicles, and I was able to finally do a cargo van rear door and get 90 points out of 100. I then wrapped the front door and rocker panel area on a Chevy HHR, followed by the rear door and rocker panel.

Above: Rivets can be handled even by a newbie with the right tools and instruction.

Above: Sprinter rear door. My first attempt was with a smaller piece of vinyl.

We were also given a demo on how to wrap the rear quarter panel, which includes the taillights on the same vehicle. It is a very tricky area with compound curves, so it was a challenge.

Above: From this wrinkled mess...

Above: a smooth vinyl wrap application by yours truly.

During dinner, I chatted with Rob, another workshop trainee who happens to be staying at the same hotel, and we both agree that even though it's only been two days out of five, it feels like we've been doing this for far longer. It goes to show you how intense the training sessions are.

DAY 3 — 3M Advanced Installer Training

Wednesday was a very busy day for everyone since after a short classroom session, we were all in the shop wrapping larger areas such as doors, rear quarter panels, and front bumpers.

Above: Jordan and Enrique wrapping one of the HHRs at Geek Wraps U.

The day went by pretty fast, and by mid-afternoon, we had a short demo on how to test interior walls to determine what type of vinyl to use, based on the kind of finish on the walls, as well as the length of the application.

We also had to take a 25-question test in order to determine how we were doing and at the end of the day, we all received certificates of participation in the 3M Advanced Installer Training course and Geek Wraps Advanced Air-Wrangler Training.

Even though I've completed three days out of the five, I feel like I've been doing this for a week. The days are long and busy, so everyone is spent by the time we go back to our hotels. And the last two days will be a bit more intense, so I have to be in bed by 10 p.m. in order to get up by 5:30 am the next day. I usually arrive at Geek Wraps by 7:30 am and we're in the classroom by 8:00 am sharp.

I am glad I've made some good progress in a short time, and I am getting closer to being able to wrap a whole vehicle, in addition to being able to wrap walls of different textures, aplying vinyl to floors, and trailer sides.

DAY 4 — Vehicle Color-Change with Vinyl

Thursday we teamed up in groups of two and did color-change on one side of the Chevy HHRs used for vinyl wrap training.

Above: Vehicle color change with 3M vinyl. Amazed that we can do this three days later.

I teamed up with Robert, a guy from New York state and who is also staying at the Courtyard Marriott. We've shared the hotel shuttle rides to and from Geek Wraps U, and have struck a friendship along the way.

Above: The same vehicle from a different angle.

So after a quick breakfast, we started our project by measuring the HHR and then placing the huge vinyl panel alongside the right side of the vehicle. From there we removed the backing paper by "hingeing" the vinyl along the midsection, then removing the backing paper from the top-half and then sticking the vinyl wrap, first on the top, then repeating the process for the bottom half.

It is a cumbersome task, but we managed pretty well for a pair of newbies faced with this advanced job.

Without going every boring detail of the process of wrapping a vehicle, we managed to finish the task after lunch, or roughly approximately six hours after starting. Not a world record, but not too shabby, either.

After that, we tackled a few different jobs, with the last big one being wrapping a Dodge Dart hood, which we decided to split in half, metaphorically speaking, of course.

I have to say that I am pretty proud of the results I got from my half, and it seems everyone really liked them too, as Kenny—owner of Geek Wraps—took a bunch of photos of the hood and asked all the trainers to also check it out.

Above: I used a metallic blue for the base color, followed by a graphite stripe.
I took this opportunity to try "knifeless" tape.

Today was a great day, as things seem to be getting a little easier and falling into place.

DAY 5 — That's a wrap!

It's been a long week along with tons of information being thrown our way, but I am also sad that's it is coming to an end.

Even though for the last couple of days I've been struggling (thanks to a cold), Kenny, Kathy, and the crew at Geek Wraps U made the training entertaining as well as valuable.

For our last day of training, Rob and I wrapped one of the HHR's front bumpers with a single piece of vinyl and then continued with one of the sides of the vehicle. It was a big job and it took us almost all day, but what an accomplishment for two guys that had never done anything like this.

Above: The HHR front bumper beautifully wrapped in a record (for us) three hours.

Above: Rob finishing the passenger side rocker panel.

Above: Front bumper and passenger side commercial wrap, done!

Above: It's hard not to be a little giddy after all that work.

I would like to thank everyone at Geek Wraps University for their patience and friendly counsel. Kenny and Kathy Calman, Jon, Wes, Santiago, and Wara. They treated us like family and even fed us lunch every day.

Also thanks to my new bud Rob Falkevitz for the friendship, good conversation, laughter, and company, especially that first day when we had to wait for almost an hour for the shuttle driver who went to pick us up at the wrong address.

To Jordan, Phil (dad), Phil (son), and Enrique, it was a pleasure to meet you all and work with you. And Enrique, way to go on attaining 3M Preferred Graphics Installer status!

If you, the reader, is considering attending Geek Wraps University for vinyl wrap training or 3M endorsement testing... do it! I personally believe that the five-day option is the way to go.

The facilities, tools, and training provided will give you the best foundation possible to become a vinyl wrapping pro.

They did it for me in five days!

Above: Thank you Geek Wraps U. You guys are the best!

For more details about Geek Wraps vinyl wrap training, visit their website.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Vinyl Car Wrapping Industry
Part 1 — A New Career?

I've always appreciated beautiful custom paint jobs on cars, trucks, motorcycles, boats and more, so when I started seeing high-quality and flawless creative designs made with vinyl, I became intrigued by the automotive vinyl wrap industry.

Automotive paints have improved tremendously, in both quality and friendliness to our environment, over the years, but paint takes specialized equipment in order to be applied properly and—probably the biggest drawback—it takes time. Sometimes days or weeks, if not months.

If—like me—you are a car restorer, you've probably been to "paint prison."

Vinyl, on the other hand, can take anywhere from a few hours for a simple full-color graphic application, to about a week for a complete color change on a car.

Of course, vinyl has its own issues, and the biggest one is longevity.

To spend a few thousand dollars on a vehicle wrap that may only look good (and be guaranteed) for an average of five years, can be hard to justify, even if the price difference between paint and vinyl is (on average) a three-to-one ratio in favor of vinyl.

But for commercial applications, vinyl is the winner hands down!

You can take a car, truck or van, and turn it into a rolling billboard for a few grand, which equates to pennies on the dollar as far as advertising and promotional value are concerned.

That is hard to beat.

When I had my grill cleaning business a while back, I had the trailer professionally wrapped. And from the number of calls I received from people who saw it at job sites or even as I drove around town, it was a sound investment.

Alas my heart was not into cleaning BBQ grills so I closed shop and sold the equipment, but the entrepreneurial yearning made me look for another business, and I am now researching the vinyl car wrapping industry.

But wait. Limiting vinyl wraps to cars is absurd, as new products are constantly being developed, and you can apply vinyl wraps to walls (smooth or textured), furniture, glass, floors... you name it.

I did quite a bit of research online, of course, and thanks to a link in a vinyl wrap forum, I found out about trade training and certification. Best of all, the place that was recommended is right here in the Sunshine State.

I called Geek Wraps University, located in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, a few weeks ago to get more details about the classes.

I decided to take the five-day course since it provides Geek Wraps University and 3M Advanced Installer Training certification.

Classes start at 8:00 am and end at 6:00 pm, with a lunch break around noon. The course also includes the tools necessary for the training. And I also liked the fact that they limit the number of students per class.

Based on hotel recommendations provided by Geek Wraps, I booked a room at the Courtyard-Marriott, which is located about a mile-and-a-half from the training facility, with free shuttle service to and from Geek Wraps U.

I hope to provide a useful chronicle of my experience to become a 3M and Geek Wraps-certified vinyl installer, for those of you who may be interested in this exciting industry, so stay tuned for Part 2.

Thanks for following.

Photos courtesy of Geek Wraps University.

Monday, April 25, 2016

2006 RAM 1500 Radio/CD Player Replacement

Several years ago, the factory radio/CD player on my Dodge RAM 1500 started acting up every time I tried to listen to a CD. At first, it took a few tries to get the CD to start playing, until one day it simply quit working altogether.

I've had Sirius-XM on the truck since the day I drove it off the lot back in '06, so I wasn't in a hurry to address the issue right away, although I missed listening to self-help and motivational CDs every once in a while.

Plus, since I've accumulated a pretty nice music library which I have available on my Sony MP3 player, I managed to get by for close to five years without listening to a CD.

But recently, the little auxiliary inlet started to fall apart, I assume in great part due to accidentally pulling on the MP3 player cord. This forced me to constantly have to wiggle the plug in order for the music to sound good, so it was time to either have the original unit repaired or install a replacement unit in its place.

Repairing anything nowadays is quite expensive, so having the original radio fixed would have been costly as well as a pain since I would've had to be without tunes for as long as they kept the radio. So the best alternatively was to find a factory unit in good condition.

I searched eBay to see what was available and was lucky to find a refurbished OEM unit in fine condition and for only $125 offered by 1 Factory Radio. But before making the purchase I decided to contact them to see if this unit would be the right one because of the satellite radio.

Derek, the 1 Factory Radio representative, replied within an hour and explained that the satellite portion was controlled by a separate receiver box, so the radio I was considering was—most likely—the right one. However, to make sure it would be a plug-and-play swap, he asked me to look at mine and see if it read REF under the tuning knob. I checked and it did, so I went ahead and ordered it.

I received the refurbished radio within two days and last Saturday I decided to go ahead and swap the units. I watched a couple of videos on how to remove the dash portion that would give me access to the radio, but the videos were not 100% specific to my truck, so I had to figure out a few things myself.

Here are the step-by-step how-to photos on removing the console, trim pieces, part of the dash, and then the radio. Since I worked alone on this project, I added additional comments to some of the pictures to explain how I removed each section.

Above: The first thing that has to come off is the center console.

Above: There are no bolts that secure the console, just a few clips. So in order to remove it,
all you need to do is grab it and pull up the back first. Then the whole thing comes off.

Above: Close-up of one of the clips that secure the top portion of the console in place.

Above: Three 8mm bolts hold the base of the console in place.

Above: Once the three bolts are loosened, the base comes off.

Above: Remove two more 8mm bolts in order to reach additional bolts that secure
the bottom edge of the dash.

Above: Once the two 8mm bolts are off, you can remove the base piece followed by
the console trim. That one is a press fit so you must pull it down for it to come off.

Above: The are two 7mm bolts that secure the bottom portion of the radio/AC trim plate.
You will need an extension in order to remove them. They are a pain to get to, but they must be removed.

Above: Once the 7mm bolts are out, you will need to grab the front panel with both hands.
The best place to do this is where the arrows are shown. Place four fingers of each hand in the spots
where the red arrows show, and your thumbs in the opening shown by the blue arrows.
Grab a firm hold and pull the dash out.

Above: The trim plate will hang in there held by a few connectors, but out of the way for you to remove the radio.
The shifter leveris in the way, but I was able to leave it in parking and remove the dash.

Above: The radio is held in place by four screws.

Above: With the four screws out, the radio can be removed. But first, you must unclip the two connectors. Press the tabs shown by the arrows and they will come off. Then unplug the antenna (orange arrow) and the radio is free.

Above: The refurbished radio is on top.

Above: Connectors and antenna plug are identical.

Above: Notice the REF by the tuner knob. This is a satellite radio.

Above: And here's the refurbished OEM radio installed. Everything works as new.

Above: Time function is okay, and I tested the CD player and auxiliary which also work fine.

Above: Reinstalling dash trim and console pieces is quite easy.

One parting thought; If you plan to swap OEM radios as I did, before you remove your old radio make sure you write down all your settings, such as favorite radio stations, AM, FM, and satellite. This will make is a snap to reprogram your new unit to your liking.

Again, special thanks to Derek at 1 Factory Radio for his assistance to make sure I got the correct OEM radio for my Dodge RAM 1500 pickup.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

A New Reality? "Rubber Bumper" Corvette C3 Prices

1974-1982 C3 Corvettes—with a few exceptions—have been the "entry level" vehicles to the Corvette hobby for a long time. Maybe too long of a time.

Having said that, when I saw posted asking prices on several "rubber bumper" Corvettes at Gateway Classic Cars of Orlando, I almost got a case of "sticker shock!" But since I happen to own a 1976 Stingray, I am not complaining about prices of these models going up, but I was surprised at the sudden increase and, especially, how much.

Although you may correctly say I am biased, I am just one of millions of people all over this planet who think the C3 Corvette design is one of the most beautiful ever. The C3 Corvette body shape—like the Coca-Cola bottle—is timeless.
My 1976 Corvette Stingray

Last Sunday, as I waited at a red light while driving my '76 to a local cruise, a young woman literally screeched to a stop, threw her car in reverse and, when next to mine, shouted, "Your car is so beautiful!" I thanked her and felt proud like a new dad holding his baby for the first time.

This is not the first time something like this has happened to me so I know that most people love C3s. Some may not know or even care about the difference between a chrome bumper versus a rubber bumper model, and that's fine. They are attracted by the shape of the car and the fact that it's easy on the eyes.

I regularly scan Corvette ads on Craigslist in order to see what's available out there, and rubber bumper C3 prices range from a couple of grand for what could be considered a parts car, to just shy of $20,000 for "mint" cars. Of course description accuracy varies greatly and most may not be as "mint" as advertised. And the fact that odometers of the era turn back to zero after hitting 99,999 miles, only compounds the problem.

The Corvettes at the Gateway Classic Cars of Orlando showroom were fine examples of C3s, although I have to admit that I found a lot of flaws that would make justifying the asking prices difficult. But I am a perfectionist and very picky when it comes to certain small details, and maybe the average Joe would not notice or care about such trivial particulars.

On the other hand, a C3 Corvette in beautiful condition should command a high valuation. A proper and flawless paint job, for example, costs anywhere from eight to ten grand or more, so a nice restoration can set you back at least $20,000 and that's if you shop around. My guess is that if you bring a car in need of a complete restoration to a reputable shop, you're going to be looking at around $35,000 and about a year's worth of waiting. Add the cost of the vehicle to the bill and you're darn close to $45,000 for the finished product.

So maybe purchasing a car that has been restored and ready to drive and enjoy in the $25,000 to $35,000 range, is not such a bad deal after all.

Above: This '77 Vette sported Corvette Orange (code 66) paint. Gotta love that color.

Above: Another orange Corvette, this one in Orange Flame (code 70).

Above: This Indy Pace Car 'Vette looked clean without the door decals.

Above: A very clean '76 Vette in Flame Red paint, powered by an L-82 motor.

Above: A '74 Stingray powered by a 454 big block. Nuff said!

Above: A black beauty with custom 1990s throwback graphics.

Above: Starting with some 1980 models, prices start to taper down.