Small Business Spotlight: Associated Graphics

Peter Tonguette
Adam Wright

Many marketing plans might involve an advertisement in a newspaper, a jingle on the radio or some measure of social-media knowhow. With the help of Associated Graphics (AGI), however, businesses can communicate to consumers each time one of their vehicles whizzes through a neighborhood.

Since its formation in 1998, AGI has created and installed graphic decals that clients place on their vehicles. The company has developed a client list that reads like a who’s who of businesses that depend on trucks or vans, including Stanley Steemer and Otis Elevator Co.

“Whether they’re delivering a product or whether they’re [service workers] driving these vehicles to fix windshields, like Safelite AutoGlass, they have to have these vehicles anyway,” says CEO Adam Wright. “So why not leverage that asset and make it a rolling billboard?”

Dublin-based carpet cleaner Stanley Steemer, which has been doing business with AGI for over 15 years, praises the company for helping rework the decals on its vans—some 3,000-plus at last count.

“Our van is our logo,” says purchasing manager An D. Vu. “Everybody knows Stanley Steemer by the yellow van, so it’s very important that our vans all look the same and that we have very nice graphics on there.”

A native of Dublin, Wright started out in a profession synonymous with elaborate vehicle decals. In the 1990s, the future co-founder of AGI was a race car driver on the Formula 2 circuit, but by the end of the decade, he was looking for a change.

In forming AGI, Wright teamed with a racing-world colleague, Roger McPeek. “He was managing the graphics program for an IndyCar team,” says Wright, who also had off-the-track experience as the business development manager at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

Wright began AGI with a $5,000 line of credit from a rental property. “Once we paid off the credit line, we haven’t had any debt since and still don’t to this day,” Wright says.

AGI was first headquartered in a 600-square-foot space inside Wright’s one-time race shop. In the early days, McPeek oversaw the graphics, while Wright—still working at his day job—managed the marketing and sales operation. “Before I would go into work in the morning, I would make cold calls,” Wright recalls. “Then, on my lunch break, I would return any voicemails that I got back. And then, in the evenings, I would call the West Coast.” Within a year, AGI hired its first part-time help and, within two, its first full-time employees.

Since most businesses have developed their own branding, AGI is left to make tweaks to assure that a decal fits a vehicle’s curves and contours; the company maintains schematics for countless vehicles that are updated continuously. “A lot of the fleet vehicles, like Otis Elevator, Stanley Steemer, they already know exactly what they want,” Wright says. “That comes to us in files, and we make that work.”

A client’s logo may be most prominently displayed on the side of a vehicle, but smaller logos on the rear of a vehicle can offer the most value, Wright says. “People are always kind of following behind you in traffic,” he says. “You actually get more exposure behind them.”

About 10 years ago, AGI began tapping into rebranding, when vehicles are outfitted with new logos following a merger or acquisition, for example. The company has proprietary software that enables clients to monitor the progress. “Have the decals been removed? Have the new ones been installed? Is it waiting in line? Downtime for these vehicles is huge,” Wright says. “The last thing we want to do is keep them down even longer than they need to be.”

Today, AGI operates out of a 22,000-square-foot facility in Plain City, where all design work takes place. Across the country it has more than 500 independent contractors to install graphics for out-of-state clients—a network that sets AGI apart from rivals (there are about five companies Wright considers competitors). “We actually have one of the largest installer networks in the country, even among our larger competitors,” Wright says. “They’re kind of dropping these installers as they go on, because they want to do less of it, and we’re trying to get the good ones.”

AGI has annual sales growth averaging 15 percent; in 2018, the figure was 28 percent. Wright attributes AGI’s success to the reputation the company has earned over the course of two decades. “Reputation is one of those things that you’re not going to grow huge overnight, but after 20 years, you really start to see it,” he says.

Peter Tonguette is a freelance writer.

9021 Heritage Dr., Plain City 43064

Business: Vehicle graphics company that serves individual vehicles and fleets

Employees: 22-28

Associated Graphics (AGI)