These days, nothing is too big to be shrink-wrapped.

  • Image about Mike Enos

It all began with the ducks, really. Back in the late 1990s, Mike Enos, a serial entrepreneur and professional taxidermist, didn’t know what to do with his duck-hunting boat during the offseason. He only used it a couple of months per year for hunting trips, and the rest of the time it sat on his driveway getting trashed by the extremes of the Reno, Nev., weather. Rather than pay for storage, he bought some plastic wrap, rented heating tools and shrink-wrapped the vessel for the winter.

“I had so many people coming to my house and asking how I did [it] that I had to move the boat to a remote lot,” Enos says. “And then I started to wonder, ‘If all these folks need this done, maybe there’s some money to be made.’ ”

Thus, a business was born.

Now, repossessed antique cars sit in a warehouse in Los Angeles, shrink-wrapped in plastic, awaiting buyers. Dozens of pallets of construction materials, hermetically sealed against the Las Vegas desert, lie ready for a turnaround in the building trade. Plastic-covered foreclosed homes, half-finished hotels and even a church stand as silent indicators of a global recession.

But one person’s recession is another’s reward. This rash of foreclosures and mothballed construction projects has launched a boom in the business of mega-shrink-wrapping.

Enos’ Fast Wrap USA has signed up 63 franchisees in the last year alone. The company’s Las Vegas franchisee, Garth Harris, says that in 2009 nearly two-thirds of his $150,000 wrapping revenue came from contracts to cover unused buildings, equipment and supplies in that hard-hit town. Global Wrap, a Florida-based company that invented a boat-wrapping process in the late 1970s, says more than 30 percent of its business is based on sealing halted construction projects. Dr. Shrink, a $15 million wholesale distributor of wrapping materials, is enjoying a 25 percent annual growth rate. And a dozen other large wrapping manufacturers, distributors and service companies are also experiencing brisk business.

More than a decade after Enos’ lightbulb moment with his boat, large-scale shrink-wrapping as a business has won over initial doubters. “When I first heard the business idea, I was skeptical,” says Scott Jewett, a senior adviser at I-Franchise Group, a franchising consulting firm based in Homewood, Ill. “But then we looked at the numbers, saw the fragmented nature of the market [and] the increasing demand, and it just made good economic sense. Once we launched, demand exceeded even our optimistic expectations.”

THE WRAPPING INDUSTRY really began in the late 1970s, after James Talbot patented his process of shrink-wrapping boats. As more marinas, private owners and manufacturers entered the boat-wrapping business, Talbot and his son-in-law, Anthony Seraphin, added a new service to their wrapping repertoire: disaster recovery. From the earthquake in Armenia to hurricanes Andrew and Katrina, their Global Wrap business protected damaged structures from the elements and created temporary roofs and shelters.