Imagine this. Place five ordinary white toy building blocks on a table. Then add a single red and blue polka dotted one to the pile. Bring some kids into the room and have them take a look. They'll be drawn like a magnet to the colored one. They will pick it up, turn it over, look at all sides and ask questions about it. If invited to take one of the blocks home, the red and blue one will be the one they pick - the only one in the group with the high-impact visual difference.

That same psychology applies to an array of merchandise in today's competitive marketing arena: products such as office equipment, consumer electronics, housewares, home appliances, sporting goods and transportation specialties. The difference in a product's appearance can make a world of difference in a customer's buying decision. Yet, thousands of these items -whole product categories - are still being vended to their potential markets as faceless look-alikes. They carry no discernable identity, no "brand outreach," no visual differentiation between one manufacturer or the other. With all other aspects of quality and value being equal, such items fall into the common commodity classification.

Herein lies a gold mine of opportunity that manufacturers are coming to realize: the opportunity to build a solid image of superior quality and a heightened degree of consumer appeal for their products through the addition of a unique surface decoration. Manufacturers are now placing greater emphasis on the final appearance of their products. As the final step in the manufacturing process - and a relatively easy one - an eye-exciting decorative coating is the company's final opportunity to trigger a purchase decision for its product at the point of sale.

Higher visibility. Added value. Greater consumer appeal. Visual dominance over competing brands in side-by-side comparisons. These are but a few of the many benefits that the manufacturer or marketer can reap from this stronger emphasis on the product's final appearance. This emphasis is achieved either as an integral step on the manufacturer's assembly line, or through an alliance with a third-party finishing specialist.

One such specialist in this growing field is four-year-old Conversion Technologies Inc., Birmingham, AL. With increasing emphasis on this "first impression" marketing, the company has, since its inception, enjoyed double-digit growth with current annual sales of $4+ million. Founder/President Kelly Conklin credits much of his success both to savvy marketing segmentation and to Immersion Graphics Corp., Columbus, GA, his primary coating systems supplier and technical support partner.

Immersion Graphics is the domestic licenser for a unique state-of-the-art coating system known as Final Finish. Conversion Technologies ranks among its largest licensees and holds exclusive rights to the process for the specialty transportation field. With primary emphasis on the golf cart, all-terrain vehicle and related mobile markets, Conklin found the Final Finish technology to be the most adaptible to these manufacturers' requirements - converting their products from competitive look-alikes to such visually arresting exterior treatments as brushed aluminum, carbon-fiber, woodgrains, and camouflage. His customers include such prominent brands as Polaris, Yamaha, Kawasaki and EZ-GO/Textron.

The Final Finish technology is a relatively new image-transfer method that instantly and permanently affixes any design selected to non-porous, hard-surfaced items. Using a photo, a piece of art or a computer-generated visual of the design selected, the image is digitized and transferred to water-soluble rolls of film with the exact replication of the original. The film is then floated on the liquid surface of an immersion tank and sprayed with a chemical activator. Once the film is dissolved, the pattern remains intact in a gelatinous form. At this point, it is ready for transferral to the desired product through immersion, wherein the exact image wraps around all surfaces for total, equal coverage overall.

From the most complex multidimensional product, such as a golf cart cowling, to the very simplest ATV component, Final Finish covers every peak, dip, angle and curve in its construction. It adheres to steel, aluminum, wood or plastic, maintaining total integrity of the original design selected.

The Final Finish process provides Conversion Technologies' customers a technically superior image transfer (coating) that is long lasting and scuff resistant. With its final protective topcoat, Final Finish is resistant to sun rays and salt water. Environmentally safe in both its application process and end-usage, Final Finish gives the products a competitive edge by separating them from other brands. Manufacturers can select the finish best suited to the use and function of their products from Immersion Graphics' collection of patterns, colors and designs. Or they can create their own one-of-a-kind coating concepts. (It should be noted that the Final Finish technology has equal application to a large number of products in other fields, both consumer and industrial. For example, automotive dash panels can assume the look of rich wood graining. Personal computers can take on the appearance of hand-tooled leather.)

Conversion Technologies' Kelly Conklin notes that his company's relationship with Immersion Graphics is more of a partnership than just another customer/supplier link. "We think of them as an associate in our mutual business development as opposed to a mere source," he said. "Together, we treat each other as an extension of our own mutual business interests wherein each of us can leverage the success of the other. We lean on the company's management and technical staff for marketing guidance, technical updates, and issues of production efficiencies and quality control. Immersion Graphics continues to bring us new ideas, and new uses of materials and equipment. They even take their ideas to our prospects and sell them on our behalf. Those prospects then become our customers. It's a bit of a synergistic relationship in which both parties gain handsomely. Their support helps us keep the customers happy, and grow new business. Our satisfaction with Immersion Graphics and its Final Finish technology is shared with other non-competitive associates in the coating industry which, in turn, opens new business doors for them."

The Final Finish technology continues to unfold. Immersion Graphics has spent the better part of the past year perfecting a new high-definition coating system that gives greater depth, dimension and clarity to the images than ever before.

Experimentation and scientific testing of new coatings and adhesion is an ongoing company function. Close relationships with coating manufacturers are maintained to develop new formulas for optimum adhesion and durability. Field service is intensive, using in-depth maintenance and operational manuals, personal visits from the technical force, and updated seminars on new technical findings and production techniques. The firm also uses these facilities for developing imaginative new coating samples for existing customers and target prospects.

In a final comment, Conklin spoke of the three-point supply chain required for the smooth operation and customer satisfaction that Conversion Technologies has become noted for. "We stand directly between Immersion Graphics and our customer base as a seamless, evenly placed step in applying the Final Finish technology to their products. It's a 'Just-in-Time' (JIT) operation in which the customers' products and/or component parts come to us for coating in a phased and staged sequence of 'time release' deliveries as dictated by their own market demands," Conklin said. "There's little or no warehousing or stockpiling of materials or supplies from either customer or coating source. The JIT program depends upon tight scheduling of all incoming and outgoing production through our Birmingham plant. Our success with the JIT concept has depended heavily upon the diligence of Immersion Graphics in supplying the material, equipment and backup at the precise time needed. Not once," Conklin said, "has the company dropped the ball in this process."

Immersion Graphics Corp., Columbus, GA, assigns licensing contracts to both manufacturers and third-party finishers, providing both quality controlled production equipment and materials and in-depth technological support.

For more information, contact Sam Ruffner, Director of Sales and Marketing, Immersion Graphics Corp., 6106 Coca-Cola Blvd., Columbus, GA 31909; phone 706/568.4424; fax 706/561.2757; e-mail