You dont need to go to Sheryl and Jay Oiens business on Garland Avenue to see what kind of work they do. You can stand on most any busy street corner in the Spokane area and the Oiens highly visual products will come to you.
The Oiens own Graphic Results, the company responsible for most of those eye-catching full wrap vinyl advertisements that cover virtually every visible square inch of metal and glass on some Spokane Transit Authority buses.
Theyre just big mobile billboards. The clients love them, despite production costs that typically range from about $6,000 to $15,000, Jay Oien says. Some people are quick to criticize the boldly designed rolling displays, Oien says, but he adds, All that tells me is theyre getting noticed. Its a good advertisement.
Vinyl graphics have been around for a long time, and theyve been used on transit buses in some larger cities for a number years, Oien says, but their use here still is new enough that its drawing lots of attention.
They obviously have caught the eye of local activist attorney Stephen Eugster. In July, he fired off a letter to Spokane City Manager Bill Pupo, describing the shrink-wrapped entire bus advertising as a blight and contending that it violates the city sign code.
STA attorney Tom Kingen replied to Eugster, disagreeing with his interpretation of city sign laws, which Kingen said dont pertain to vehicles. Kingen contended its a minor issue, anyway, because only 10 of STAs 144 buses sport total wraps and two of those are being used for public-service messages rather than by private businesses.
Undeterred, Eugster insisted in a letter to Kingen that those 10 buses impose an extraordinary visual impact on the citizens of Spokane, and said its quite clear that STA plans on escalating the sale of bus naming rights to businesses. He also expressed concern that if STA someday expands into light rail here, the cars making up the light-rail system might also be wrapped in advertising.
For their part, the Oiens appear to be ignoring the legal jousting. Jay Oien says the bus advertisements that Graphic Designs has created, which include some full vinyl wraps and some vinyl decals applied to totally repainted buses, have given the company nice exposure and brought it some referral business, but represent only 15 percent to 20 percent of the companys overall workload.
The company specializes in large visual communications, which include everything from outdoor signs to trade-show displays. It has taken on jobs that range from creating the stencil used to paint the new Eastern Washington University Eagle logo on the football field in Cheney to developing an authentic-looking minivan cutout that was used by prosecutors here last year in the first-degree murder trial of Spokane County Sheriffs Deputy Tom DiBartolo, who was convicted in the shooting death of his wife. It also designs and produces corporate marketing materials.
The company leases a 1,500-square-foot building at 727 W. Garland and employs six people, counting the Oiens. Jay Oien says the companys annual sales doubled in each of the last three years and are expected to be between $400,000 and $450,000 this year.
He is vice president of the company and oversees the management side of the business. He also handles some of the sales responsibilities. His wife, who is president of the company and has 16 years of experience in the graphic-arts industry, does a lot of the corporate-design work and also gets involved in sales.
Shes incredibly creative, Oien adds. Its a good match for us to be working together. We have a blast. Were real proud of this.
Working closely with the couple is general manager-art director Liz Rudy, who handles customer relations and designs a lot of Graphic Results larger pieces. The companys other employees work in accounting, production, and installation.
Jay Oien grew up in Spokane, studied liberal arts at Spokane Community College, then lived for six years in Seattle, where he became operations manager for a large coffee distributor. He married his wife while living there. She had studied graphic arts at Shoreline Community College, in North Seattle.
The couple moved to Spokane in 1991, with Jay going to work for the local Millstone coffee distributor and Sheryl taking a job with Century Publishing, in Post Falls. Sheryl started Graphic Results in the couples home here in July 1992, doing mostly graphic design and marketing for small startup companies, and Jay says the enterprise just grew to where I needed to quit my job to help her with the business end of it.
The couple moved the business to the location on Garland in January 1995. They had gotten involved in vinyl graphics for buses for the first time the previous year on behalf of Spokane-based Tel-West Communications Inc. (now part of Bellevue, Wash.-based Nextlink).
Greg Green, then president of Tel-West, says, We were looking for some vehicle, no pun intended, that would allow us to reach our particular customers, and I didnt want to go down the traditional lines of billboard advertising. Being a marketing guy, I wanted to find something that was non-traditional and that could be used as a powerful tool.
The resulting all-black bus, with the companys name emblazoned across it in giant chrome letters, was just the ticket, he says. In the middle of the winter, with the bus contrasting strongly with the snow, You could literally watch peoples heads turn to look at the big vehicle as it rolled by, he says.
Jay Oien says, At that point, we werent doing vinyl graphics in house. We had to job it out. After that, he says, We figured we could buy the equipment and start doing a lot of outdoor advertising ourselves.
In 1995, after moving into the building on Garland, the company bought a third computer and the specialized software and knife-equipped plotter needed for translating design sketches into huge images cut from 30-inch-wide rolls of thin vinyl. On the buses, the vinyl strips then are applied manually in a process known as tiling.
Windows are covered with a perforated vinyl material that allows passengers to see outside, but that blend seamlessly with the rest of the vinyl covering when viewed from a distance outside the buses, Oien says.
Along with using solid-color vinyls, he says, Graphic Results designs and produces bus graphics that include full-color images, such as photographs. However, it then sends those finished designs to an out-of-state subcontractor for application to the vinyl since they require a different processbasically printing the desired images on the vinylthat is done with expensive, large-format printers. The Spokane company then installs those graphics on the buses here.
Installations can take two or three installers anywhere from eight hours to 30 hours to complete, Oien says. We do the applications in the bus barn and have to work closely with STA to schedule them, since the buses are being used almost constantly, he says.
Although computers play a key role in the vinyl-graphics production process, the creative talent thats used to come up with effective designs is what makes the whole enterprise successful, he asserts.
We have (profile) templates for all the different buses. We design the image around the bus. You can only do certain things in certain areas, Oien says. Its kind of a brain-storming process, and it typically involves three or four sessions with each client before a final design is approved, he says.
Graphic Designs has designed and installed vinyl advertisements on about 25 buses in all, and would like to see that part of its workload expand. Oien says, though, that he doesnt expect the bus ads to grow substantially.
Through its current advertising contractor, Transportation Displays Inc., STA is trying to limit to about a dozen the number of buses that are totally coated in advertisers vinyl or painted over with advertising messages.
Gary Hunt, STAs director of support services, says part of the reason for that is the transit authority doesnt want its own image and identity to become weakened. It also wants to avoid overuse.
We see it as having some uniqueness to it, and obviously that makes people pay more attention to it than if it becomes commonplace, he says.
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