John and Stephanie Phelan recently had the opportunity to work alongside their son, Sean, who is a mechanical engineering student at the University of Michigan, providing the graphics to adorn an all-electric, formula-style racecar their son and his team had built from scratch for Michigan Electric Racing (MER).
It was a project that allowed them to stretch their technical and creative muscles as owners of SpeedPro North Shore, located in the northern suburbs of Chicago. And it’s a unique example of why the Phelans embraced the business in the first place.
A Business-to-Business Franchise Concept that Plays to the Couple’s Strengths
John had spent his career in a corporate setting focusing on international sales and marketing. Stephanie, meanwhile, had also worked in sales before her company had downsized her department, and she had then been a stay-at-home mom.
The pair eventually came to the realization that the entrepreneurial path was the best way forward.
“If we’re going to work for anyone, it might as well be for ourselves,” said John.
John and Stephanie had looked at different franchises and attended multiple discover days. SpeedPro stood out because of the blend of technology and creativity. John, specifically, had spent more than a decade with a leading international manufacturer of audio equipment, as well as a global tool manufacturer. Meanwhile, Stephanie had more of a creative background.
“I think that’s what SpeedPro is all about,” Stephanie explained. “There’s just a tremendous amount of technology and creativity that go into operating the business.”
The Michigan Electric Racing project showcases the pair’s skills as adept project managers and creative problem solvers.
Adding a Key Aesthetic Appeal to an Engineering Feat with Vehicle Graphics
The team at MER – formerly Michigan Hybrid Racing – design and build a formula-style racecar every year for a competition.
Since the Phelans’ son was part of this year’s team, the duo had the inside track for helping provide the graphics and decals for the vehicle.
However, the Phelans couldn’t simply wait for the team to build the car before they started designing the graphics.
“They originally sent us a mockup,” said John. “It had the sponsor logos and the racing stripes, and we worked with them from there.”
The car is hand-crafted from black carbon fiber elements. Any of the additional color on the racer is thanks to the graphics supplied by John and Stephanie.
The graphics that MER supplied the Phelans were created by a video game designer, so they were laid out in 3D renderings that a designer could manipulate and rotate. However, it was impossible to develop a flat file from which to print graphics using those designs.
Converting the 3D renderings into a flat file was one of the first steps for the Phelans in designing the graphics.
“That took quite a bit of work between their graphics team, our production manager and their sponsors,” John noted.
Another challenge that cropped up during the design stage was by virtue of the fact that the vehicle was a work in progress and many of the parts for the racecar were hand molded. As a result, some of the dimensions would change as the project moved along, which the Phelans then had to account for with their designs.
One workaround for the racing stripes, in particular, was printing them slightly larger than what they needed to be, so that when the Phelans went to apply them, they’d be able to trim them down by hand to fit properly.
“Installation took about nine hours,” Stephanie said. “And that’s mainly because they were still working on it, so we’d have to start and stop as pieces were installed or removed.”
The Phelans’ son had the honor of applying the final graphics to the car before the final unveiling.
A Project that Puts a Feather in the Phelans’ Cap
Although John and Stephanie have done projects in the field before, this was the first where they were somewhat in the dark as to what the final vehicle design would end up looking like. And their studio was roughly two states away.
“Even if you’re an hour away, a lot of the time you can run back to a SpeedPro studio and reprint or recut the design,” Stephanie noted. “This was really out there. There was no safety net”
At the same time, the pair were excited at the prospect of a fun project that would end up looking really cool. It ultimately ended up being a source of great pride for the whole family.
From a business perspective, the project also potentially opened the door to a new partnership with a small-format graphics provider.
“Their logo was missing from the car, so I went to look it up on their website and gave them a call,” said John. “I said, ‘If you ever need larger graphics, we can print at up to 74 inches and cut at 66 inches,’ and he responded that he was thinking about investing in a large-format printer but didn’t want to spend that much on equipment and would much rather work with us.”
So, while the MER racecar was a feel-good project, it also provided avenues for networking and growing their business.
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