Justin Garcia's sales presentations sound a bit like weather reports. He's the co-owner and CEO of Protek Cargo, in Napa, California, which makes aluminum-based insulation products to protect temperature-sensitive items from heat, cold, and moisture so they don't have to be hauled by trucks with climate control. Typically, he uses PowerPoint and fabric swatches to describe how Protek's bulky container blankets, pallet covers, and shipping-container liners represent superior technology and reduced transport costs. "I'm a visual person and I know graphic illustrations on handouts leave a lot to be desired," says Garcia. That's all about to change.

In 2014, he hired Arash Malek, a designer fluent in computer animation and 3-D modeling, to oversee product development and marketing. After Malek started toying with virtual reality technology to sell the goods, Garcia previewed VR imagery that Malek had created--on a smartphone through Google Cardboard. And he was blown away. "Suddenly, I was standing in and looking around a huge shipping container," he says. The content's 3-D image clearly demonstrated the phenomenon of heat transfer, showing how infrared rays damage unprotected products. And, of course, it showcased Protek's solution. With his VR tool to woo trade-show leads, Garcia figures he can grow sales about 40 percent in 2016, versus 14 percent without. "Virtual reality eliminates the need to explain sophisticated technology," he says. "You put goggles on people and they immediately get it."

1. What to look for

One important aspect of what you see in virtual reality is photorealism: Does that VR metallic surface look real-life metallic or like a poor, shiny-gray imitation? A  Pixar animated movie, for instance, emphasizes graphic quality over photorealism. (It is, after all, a cartoon.) But in some categories, photorealism can pay, especially, say, for a retailer creating a  VR product catalog and wanting the virtual item to look identical to the real thing. You need to find the most cost-effective spot on the continuum for your product or service. The more precise you want the content to be, the more time and money it will take to produce it.

2. What you should expect to pay

John Shulters, owner of Ascension Studios, a 3-D-design-visualization and VR content company, in Placerville, California, has several treehouse builders as clients. Generating content for them typically costs from $4,000 to $6,000, and creating the interactive component-- depending on the level of immersion--can run from $6,000 to $16,000. For more basic projects, the fee might be $4,000 to $12,000. VR content creators abroad can be much cheaper--but be very careful in the vetting.

3. Immersiveness is everything

Besides photorealism, or visual fidelity, the other variable to think about is inter­activity. "Right now, the overwhelming experience of VR creators is that inter­activity trumps visual fidelity," says Shulters. Adds Beck Besecker, co-founder and CEO of Marxent Labs, in Dayton, Ohio, whose clientele includes retailers such as Lowe's, "Immersiveness is the entire goal of VR. You get to the point where you forget you're not in a real kitchen except that now you've got super­powers to tel­e­port and see things from new physical perspectives."