A Different Approach
Building a successful wide-format printing business doesn’t always have to mean posters or banners. Sometimes, it can mean a very large volume of stickers.
Toronto-based StickerYou’s story started online, when CEO Andrew Witkin, who was working in marketing, discovered and became enamored with diecut stickers. At the same time, he was discovering the power of personalization, and began to look for companies offering services that combined those two things in an online, web-to-print platform. When he realized no one was offering what he wanted, he decided to leave marketing and start a new business.
“The idea got me really excited,” Witkin says. “I started to research customization, wide-format printing, cutting, and the software that would allow people to go online, upload an image or create a design, and then get diecut stickers affordably. After a year of research and raising capital, we launched in February 2010.”
In addition to making it easy and inexpensive for both consumers and businesses to order stickers with not just custom artwork, but custom shapes as well, he also wanted to ensure they had the option to order them in whatever quantity they needed. His research and experience both found that even the sign shops that offered stickers at the time had minimums that could make it impractical to order stickers, even if it was technically feasible. So one of his bigger requirements for the initial launch was to ensure the platform was designed to make small orders — even orders of one — cost-effective and easy to produce.
“About a year after we got into it, we saw the demand wasn’t as big with consumers as we expected, despite having a front-facing website that was very consumer friendly,” Witkin notes. “But on the other side, there was a bigger uptake for businesses.” So, he notes, they refocused on that segment, growing the company by expanding and enhancing the products offered, such as adding new specialty substrate options, offering coatings in both glossy and matte varieties, and even offering different levels of stickiness, such as both permanent and removable backings.
“Then we started to innovate into other areas,” Witkin says. “We started to offer vinyl graphics, street decals, and floor decals. Then temporary tattoos. We were pioneers for things like custom iron-on patches and badges. We took our core technology and used it to produce other products where the manufacturing side made sense.”
Forging a New Path
Witkin notes that while what started out as a small custom diecut sticker business was growing, he always saw himself less as a printer and more as a unique brand, with an interface that allows people to create and celebrate something, getting exactly what they want at the moment they want it.
“In growing the marketing and the business, we realized over the last few years that, when you think of things like social media, a lot of the visuals are around how you do things,” he notes. “The marketing spend was around good paid ads, social media, influencers, etc., so we said, why don’t we do something bigger and bolder, make a big statement.”
That statement was to go in a direction that might surprise many: opening a retail location.
Witkin notes that when it comes to selling products like stickers and labels, when people can touch and feel them, it helps “convert them better than anything else.” It provides authenticity to the product, he says, on things like the quality of the sticker, the removability, even how waterproof it actually is in practice. “It really validates the product when they can touch and feel it,” he continues.
At the same time, he notes that while the larger portion of his volume comes from businesses, quite often those same business buyers are the ones coming back to him when they need something in their personal lives as well, buying for parties, weddings, birthdays, and other special events.
“We started to recognize that consumers and businesses were interchangeable,” Witkin says, and the need for authentic marketing and products they can feel good about was universal.
And that is where the storefront comes in, allowing Witkin and his team to show off the beauty and quality of their product line, and allow them to experience something new. When the store opened in Toronto, this summer, Witkin notes it was the world’s largest sticker store, offering a wide range of pre-created options on one side, but also bringing in the ability to order customized products right there as well.
“We are always creating beautiful imagery online to showcase, but you can’t touch it,” Witkin says. “We felt it was time for people to have a real 3D experience — they can touch, see, and feel the products, ask questions about them, buy instant-gratification stickers, and then give them a whole laboratory where they can see inspiring ideas and create their own.”
The store, he says, is an extension of what he has built online, with the kiosks offering stations where visitors simply access the website interface already in place to design and order their custom stickers. The difference is that they can experience the product through the pre-made options before deciding what they ultimately want, and staff members are on hand to answer questions and offer advice. And while those ordering at the store can still choose to have their stickers shipped to them, they can also choose to return in 24-48 hours to pick up their stickers in person, as well.
“If there’s an urgency, they can just come pick it up,” Witkin says. “Our manufacturing facility is not too far from the store.”
That space is 8,000 sq. ft., and houses the entirety of Witkin’s wide-format print operations for both the online business and the new storefront. While he is hesitant to reveal the exact number of printers he has, he does say it is around the 10 mark, with brands such as Mimaki and Seiko driving the print side, and brands such as Seal laminators on the finishing side. He uses flatbed cutting equipment to do the custom diecutting.
For Witkin, the storefront is less of a push to move into a new business model, and more of a new way to market what StickerYou is capable of, noting that traditional marketing vehicles such as bus shelters or billboards don’t allow them to tell as complete of a story, or interact with their potential customer base. “If we’re just focused on one city and want to make a splash in that local market, when we compared the costs to outdoor advertising, we realized this might be a better fit because we can demonstrate bold graphical ideas about our capabilities. The cost to operate a storefront was not much more than [a complete outdoor advertising blitz], it is permanent, and it is a chance to be more innovative.”
He notes that the instant gratification sticker choices will be what he sees as initially pulling people in the door. They can take selfies with displays, and he plans to set up a sticker museum in a downstairs area later this year to provide a destination for those who might not just enter a sticker store — basically, he notes, “anyone off the street will find something appealing here. The best thing about stickers is that I haven’t yet met a person who doesn’t at least like them — there is something everyone can relate to.”
Once he gets them in the door, he says, that is when the chance to convert them comes in. He can use their curiosity about designing custom stickers to tell them about the other products he provides, allowing him to connect the consumer experience with the corporate and brand needs that many of those visiting can relate to. It brings the entire concept full-circle and, Witkin hopes, will help propel StickerYou to the next level.
“We are more enablers than printers,” he says. “We reflect ourselves as being a bit of a label printer, but I don’t know if that’s how we define or position the company. The print is a platform to help get the best products to customers, and help them make what they need to stand out. We enable them to produce things that enhance their life or business.”
And that is a lesson that every wide-format printer can learn from. At the end of the day, StickerYou proves it’s not necessarily about having the best technology or the greatest new software innovation — it comes down to, as always, truly understanding what the end-user ultimately needs, and then using wide-format to find a way to make that dream a reality.