Wrapping the throttle
A tête-à-tête with Chris Thiessen, founder of Wide Open Throttle Graphics
June 11, 2021 By PrintAction Staff
Chris Thiessen, founder of Wide Open Throttle Graphics in Lacombe County, Alta., has a T-shirt with a slogan that pretty much sums up his motto: “Everything will kill you, so choose something fun.” He started his career working in an oilfield for almost 20 years. When he was laid off, he became a service manager at a Yamaha and Arctic Cat dealership, where he was introduced to installing graphics on bikes and sleds, and to the sport of snowmobiling. Soon after, he decided to open his own print and snowmobile rental shop.
We talked with Thiessen about why he decided to bet big and start his own business, how he’s built a strong client base in powersports graphics and rentals, and what’s next for his shop.
How did you decide to go out on your own?
Thiessen: After learning to do wraps on sleds and bikes, I went back to the oilfield briefly and ended up getting laid off again. I looked for a job for a few months, but no one was calling, so I asked myself, “How can I make a living with sledding?”
I started Wide Open Throttle Graphics in early 2019, working out of my basement and an enclosed trailer. I set up deals with other wrap companies to sell and install their wraps for snowmobiles and motocross (MX) bikes.
I recently moved to a new location with office space, which also helps my clients find me more easily. The new shop is approximately 720 square feet and is literally five steps from my back door.
Today I have three sleds that I rent out with my own wraps on them. Those are my showpieces.
Why did you decide to purchase a wide-format printer?
Thiessen: After four months in business, I realized I needed to stop outsourcing and purchase my own wide-format printer. I bought a Roland VersaCAMM VS-540 printer/cutter, and taught myself to use it. Having that machine helped me offer my own designs and prints without having to third-party anything out.
A few months later, I traded in my VersaCAMM for a new Roland DG TrueVIS VG2-540 printer/cutter. My business exploded when I got the VG2, and it’s getting even busier now that I’ve been able to expand my product line to offer wraps and graphics kits for motocross bikes, personal cars and trucks and fleet vehicles.
What is your product range?
Thiessen: The top two products that come out of my shop are sled wraps and MX wraps. Both of these products are seasonal, but together, they keep me pretty busy. I also print decals, banners, posters, canvas, T-shirts and small signage projects. However, I mostly stick to anything with a motor. I also do some fleet graphics, and I see a lot of potential for that area to expand.
Who are your clients these days? How do they find you?
Thiessen: My clients love “life behind bars” – handlebars, that is. They’re the kind of people that can’t get enough adrenaline and excitement. I have customers from Texas to Nunavit, and everywhere in between. Most of my customers are from my home province of Alberta, but I ship to about 20 per cent of my clients.
Customers find me by word of mouth and through social media. People drop my name in Facebook, and then someone ends up messaging me saying, “I hear you’re really good.”
I also supply most of the powersports dealerships in central Alberta. Dealerships and groups I have worked with include Turple Brothers, both the Honda and KTM race teams, Parkland Sled and ATV, Altitude Powersports, Dirty Miner Clothing Co. NASTE (North American Single-Track Enthusiasts), and Redline Performance, just to name a few.
I sponsor a team of riders as well. My riders all show the same passion and dedication, whether it be on a bike, sled, or any other toy.
Tell us about the Snoriders West 2020 Best Sled Wrap Contest – is this the first year you’ve entered?
Thiessen: This is something I am extremely proud of: two of my sleds were nominated for 2020 Wrap of the Year. That really came out of nowhere. I entered the crown jewel of my rental fleet, the new 2020 Ski Doo Turbo, and the 2019 Ski Doo Summit 850, named Alpyne. This is the first year I have participated in this competition, and I look forward to entering again next year.
How have you been coping during the pandemic?
Thiessen: When the pandemic arrived back in March 2020, it pretty much shut me down completely. My sled rentals were considered a non-essential service causing interprovincial travel, which meant I risked a minimum of $100,000 to $500,000 fine per machine that left the building, so I closed. Later, we were able to open for graphics work, with curbside pickup only. Now, thankfully, we’re wide open.
Coping with no work for two and a half months was hard. Every graphics kit I had on the go was cancelled and the deposits were forfeited. There were times I didn’t think Wide Open was coming out of the pandemic. I was wrong. When Alberta opened again in June 2020, the phone started going crazy with people calling for kits and new projects.
What do you see for the future of your business?
Thiessen: I am going Wide Open Throttle into the future, with my main focus on powersports wraps. I am also interested in expanding the number of fleet and commercial graphics I produce. I’ve wrapped fleets for a few local service companies, but I’d like to do more.
To date, it has been a one-man show, however I think I may need to hire someone soon! My business continues to improve and grow.
This article originally appeared in the May 2021 issue of PrintAction.
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