Reno, NV â€” Armed with heat guns, a small group gathered on a chilly morning taking aim not at the cold but at thick plastic sheeting draped over a small mountain of construction pipe.
Guns blazing, they practiced their technique â€” long, sweeping strokes â€” and quickly learned the consequences of less than fluid motions.
“Uh, oh,” said one woman as the sheeting melted into a small hole.
There would be more holes this day, but that didn’t puncture the enthusiasm of the new business owners, recruits of Fast Wrap, an upstart Reno company that has franchises in six other states â€” Nevada, California, Washington, Idaho, Florida and Colorado.
Though shrink wrap has been around for decades and used mostly to cover boats, Fast Wrap co-founder
Mike Enos said use of the plastic protectant is growing beyond marinas to disaster zones, construction sites and backyards.
A shrinking economy has created unexpected demand for wrapping products and has heated up interest in acquiring franchises by people looking for jobs or supplemental income, he said.
Enos and Fast Wrap co-founder Ken Cassas, who spent 20 years in excavating and construction, opened the flagship Fast Wrap in Reno in 2007. In 2008, the company had about $600,000 in sales.
Beyond the other six states, its goal is to have 30 locations by year’s end and 500 nationally within five years.
On this day, Cassas demonstrated technique to new franchise owners at a local plant, where acres of polyvinyl chloride pipe were piled in a back lot â€” a sign of the economic times.
“It’s like painting a car, only anyone can do it,” Cassas said.
That’s debatable, said Tony Seraphin, owner of Global Wrap based in St. Augustine, Fla. He has been in the shrink wrap business for nearly three decades and has traveled the world wrapping huge buildings and bridges for construction work and disaster relief efforts.
After Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, Global Wrap enclosed more than 400 buildings to protect whatever remained until repairs could begin.
“We get there right after the wind dies down,” Seraphin said. “It’s a very difficult business. When you’re talking about a giant bridge or steel structures … it takes a lot of know-how.”
Fast Wrap owners see the mobile, on-demand service as filling a local need and expanding shrink wrap uses.
Garth Harris, who owns a Line-X spray-on coating franchise in Las Vegas and has several casino accounts, sees Fast Wrap as an extension of the services he already provides, applying protective coatings to outdoor furnishings, among other things.
At the Reno plant where PVC pipe is manufactured, the wrapping will extend the life of its product.
“If you leave the pipe exposed, it will be sunburned,” said Cantex plant manager Andy Zimmer. “It makes the product unsellable.
“It’s not feasible to build a facility to store it inside,” Zimmer said. “That’s the reason we’re using shrink wrap. Wrapping the pipe extends our storage time.”
The huge sheets of polyethylene, manufactured by Dr. Shrink, are fire retardant and offer protection from the sun’s ultraviolet rays. When heat is applied with heat guns, the sheeting shrinks about 25 percent, forming a tight coating.
“The tighter you get it, the better,” Cassas said.
A few weeks earlier, he supervised as Fast Wrap workers sealed the top floors of an air traffic control tower being built at Reno-Tahoe International Airport.
Wrapping the outside scaffolding formed a protective cocoon, allowing the contractor to pump in heat to warm steel beams before applying required fireproofing. Under building codes, the steel must be at least 48 degrees for 48 hours before the coating is applied. It also created a safety barrier for construction workers in the otherwise open air hundreds of feet above the ground.
The same concept is used to make temporary buildings, equipped with zippered doors and windows that are marketed as “same day shade,” for special events.
The sheeting comes in rolls as large as 40 feet wide and 149 feet long. For simple wrap jobs, the company charges about $10 a linear foot. To wrap a 40-foot recreational vehicle, complete with ventilation and zippered access, costs about $400 â€” cheaper than monthly indoor storage rental fees.
Enos said Fast Wrap’s franchise sales have been enhanced by the down economy.
Robert McKay, a retired marine engineer from Dania Beach, Fla., is going into business with his sons, Kevin and Raymone.