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Fish wrapping When anglers want to dress up their boats, they head to Knowlton-based VFX Wraps

Mike Pilote is the owner and operator of VFX Wraps, a vinyl wrapping company which specializes in wrapping professional bass boats.-(PHOTOS BY AARON HOUSTON)

Mike Pilote was a senior in high school when he saw an opportunity to make some money. It was 2003 and the “Fast and Furious” movie franchise had just started, inspiring many of his classmates to put custom designs on their cars.

“I owned a mobile DJ business and sold my half to my partner,” he said. “I used that money to buy a car and the equipment to cut vinyl graphics.”

But it wasn’t until 2012, after years of modest growth, that he found the niche for his Knowlton company, VFX Wraps: the professional bass fishing industry.

“(My wife, Corinne, and I) got on board with Bass University, a training program for serious tournament anglers,” he said. “We ended up introducing ourselves to the guy who runs it and gave him our information.

“A few months later, he called us.”

Biz in brief
Company: VFX Wraps
Headquarters: Newton
Founded: 2003
Founder: Mike Pilote
One last thing: Mike Pilote is the only official employee but, even though he’s putting in 15-hour days, hiring new help would be a major investment of time due to the specialization of the work.

They wrapped his truck and his boat in exchange for some advertising, and wound up getting more than their money’s worth.

“He wound up (in) the Bassmaster Classic and really got our name out there,” Pilote said. “It’s kind of snowballed from there.”

The business has allowed Pilote to work in an industry he’s passionate about and has given him the opportunity to serve some of his favorite professionals.

“A few years after that, we ended up getting one of our idols, Mike Iaconelli, as a customer,” he said. “He’s one of the top in the world, and he happens to be from New Jersey.”

But Pilote said that niche wasn’t always so obvious.

“It’s not a typical situation,” he said. “I spent years and years finding my niche.”

Pilote is a fisherman himself and, when people at tournaments would see the wraps on his truck, they’d ask why his boat wasn’t wrapped.

“I didn’t really think there was much of a market in northern New Jersey,” he said. “Our season is short and there’s not a whole lot of water to fish.”

Advertising potential
Mike Pilote’s company, VFX Wraps, specializes in designs and installation for bass fishing boats.
But the advertising potential for other businesses outside of this industry is large, he said.
“I believe it’s the cheapest cost-per-impression form of advertising,” he said. “You already own the vehicle, and are traveling 10,000 to 20,000 miles a year and it’s always in front of a new audience, no matter where you’re driving.
“As long as you have an effective design on there, you can’t beat it for the cost.”

Then, one day, he was looking at his old, faded boat and thought a wrap might make for an economic facelift. It turns out it also made for good advertising.

“My wife and I spent a weekend wrapping it and really saw a big impact from that,” he said. “People used to pull over just to get my information and ask about the truck and boat.”

Since then, the company has come a long way and expanded from the Northeast to gaining customers as far reaching as Alabama.

“We have people that travel really far to come to us, or vice versa, where we go down to work wherever we have to go,” he said. “It was slow and steady, but it’s finally getting there.”

Part of that is the specialization: Bass boats, Pilote said, are an entirely different beast from cars.

“You have a bass boat that’s going 70 miles per hour out on the water, you need to make sure that wrap is staying down,” he said. “We’re committed to the sport; it’s our passion.”

Getting bites
Bass fishing may be a niche sport, but its professional anglers still have plenty of visibility that attracts sponsors.
Vinyl wraps, like the ones provided by Mike Pilote at VFX Wraps, offer a cost-effective alternative to custom paint for displaying sponsors on boats and trucks.
“Anglers are driving 30,000 miles a year, all over the country,” Pilote said. “It costs a lot of money to fish professionally, so they seek sponsorships similar to NASCAR.
“It creates a very effective device for advertising even non-fishing-related businesses.”
But, there’s an added bonus: Apart from being cheaper than custom paint, the vinyl wraps also provide a protective coat for the anglers’ boats.
“These anglers spend $50,000 to $70,000 on a boat, and they want to protect that gel coat,” he said. “The wrap provides protection from UV rays, dock rash and other things that you’ll encounter.”

That passion has gained Pilote’s company notoriety, and even made its wraps a benchmark for many aspiring bass anglers.

“We just had a professional from Pennsylvania; he’s going out on tour for his first year,” Pilote said. “He came to us just because he’s seen VFX wraps on a lot of these boats and talked to a lot of people.

“He didn’t even shop. He just knew that, when the time came, I was the one to call.”

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Andrew Sheldon