It was only a $5 decal, but in the early years of growing its tinting and custom vehicle wrap operation, those $5 decals - if ordered in big volumes - helped keep GotShade Online Inc. marching forward.
That's the rhythm that's come to define this Bear-based business - formerly Formula One Tinting and Graphics - where unexpected challenges to growth have been met with moxie and ingenuity.
Take, for example, the time the company received an order from Goodwill to wrap their trucks: The entrance to their work bay was too small, so they let the air out of the tires, then used the heft of 15 guys to weigh the truck down so they could push it inside.
Or the time surprise construction at the site next door began spewing concrete onto waiting vehicles. Or the long nights their employees would wrap or tint because the heat of the day meant the vinyl adhesive wasn't repositionable. Too cold and it becomes brittle and can tear.
"Yes, we look back and think, "˜That was crazy,' " laughed owner Sylvia Gourley, of the early challenges.
In October, Gourley and her business partner and significant other Ron Faulkner moved the business into a 13,500-square-foot warehouse on U.S. 40.
The new warehouse space signals the company's considerable growth and burgeoning orders. It also houses a massive workshop and installation bay that features a heating and cooling system so Gourley, Faulkner, and their five full-time employees no longer worry about the impact of seasonal temperatures.
"We're so busy," said Gourley, who proudly shows off the ample space that houses offices, meetings rooms, an open graphics and design space as well as a generous work space in the back for multiple vehicles and trucks waiting for various applications. "This represents an accomplishment."
Just a decade ago, the Belgium-born graphic designer was at a crossroads following the death of her husband, Robert, who had purchased the existing Formula One tinting business a few years before.
"The first thing I had to do was try to figure out what to do with the rest of my life," she said. "It was like, "˜Now what?' ''
Connecting with Faulkner set the trajectory. At first, they focused on the existing tinting business while attending trade shows and conferences. When Faulkner came across the concept of large format printing for vehicle wraps, the duo purchased a Roland rolling printer.
"In the beginning we would print, cut and hang the prints all over the walls," said Faulkner, who said they had no money for a take-up reel. The first car they wrapped? Their own, and en route to an appointment in Dover, the phone started ringing - their vehicle had been spotted, and PSC Contracting Inc. out of Delaware City placed an order for their fleet of 14 vehicles.
City placed an order for their fleet of 14 vehicles. An appearance at the Delaware Auto Show helped launch the vinyl wrap business.
"It was exciting," said Faulkner. "We were actually building something."
Custom vinyl wrap now comprises 50 percent of their business, according to Gourley. The other half is tinting, as well paint protection and customization.
GotShade also offers custom designed print materials like business cards and brochures, as well as in-house produced apparel caps to banners and coffee mugs, and of course, decals.
"Every little thing has counted," said Faulkner, about keeping the business growing. "It helped to give us the extra.""We put everything
"We put everything in to this business, we eat sleep, and eat the business," said Gourley. "We used to call it a baby, now it's a teenager."
Inside the work bay, vehicles are transformed. Rolls for vinyl wrap provide color and texture options;
fleets of work vehicles are wrapped in preprinted vinyl and sit in various stages of the wrapping process, sans their rearview mirrors and door handles until the process is complete.
The process is intricate: Gourley's son Alan meticulously lays a piece of green vinyl wrap against the right front panel of a vehicle. He smooths it, then cuts any excess. He said the process is gratifying.
"It takes time but I like it because it's hands-on. It's nice to see completed work on the road."
Like his fellow employees, Alan is cross-trained and certified in other applications, including tinting and paint protection.
Brian Weidert, fleet facility and safety manager at NKS Distributors, has used GotShade Online for several years. The shop is currently wrapping a trailer with Corona graphics.
"The work they do is really good - quality of the vinyl that we use has held up nicely over the years," said Weider. "It's one of the better companies I deal with."
Since 2007, GotShadeOnline grown substantially: Sales volume has increased steadily, and Gourley said they're hoping to break a half-million dollars in sales this year. "In this business you don't really every know everything," said Faulkner. "And if you don't keep up with the times, you'll fall by the wayside."
Gourley said she has plans for offering additional carbon fiber "skins" for Android tablets. She tested the waters with a template sample, and sold 8,000 of them. "If we didn't have fun, we wouldn't do it."
Word of mouth draws jobs large and small. According to Gourley, word of mouth generates most of their business. One-off connections have even led to some famous customers. Bumppboxx, a Florida-based company that manufactures a "boom box," asked Gourley to wrap two of them - one for singer Vanilla Ice.
And when singer Vince Neil's airplane was parked at the New Castle County Airport to be refurbished, GotShade wrapped the interior in a silver carbon fiber material.
Closer to home, GotShade counts G. Fedale Roofing and Siding Contractors, Hillside HVAC, P.G. Fitzpatrick, NKS Distributors, and B&F Towing among its regular customers.
"We want consistent work for everyone that works here," said Gourley. "We want them to be secure in working here."