An Industry Converges
Change is the only constant in life — or so it seems. I’ve been covering the print industry since 1998, and it’s hard sometimes to go back to those days when electrostatic and diazo prints were still considered state-of-the-art technology, and wide-format inkjet printers were just in their infancy. Digital print in the commercial market only got its start in the early 1990s with Benny Landa’s E-Print 1000 (the start of what is now the HP Indigo printer).
For as long as I can remember, business owners in every print segment have been looking for ways to grow profits and expand their companies. In the 2000s, it was all about diversification. Companies were specifically looking to diversify their services in order to grow, but in many cases didn’t stray too far from their core services or business strategy.
For example, a sign and graphics company producing banners, signs, and decals diversified by expanding into applications such as wallpaper, vehicle graphics, and retail signage. In many cases, they were even able to use the same equipment. Maybe they needed to add new finishing options, but their skills easily transferred, opening up new markets and gaining them new clients.
The same could be true of commercial printers. Many printers used their expertise in offset to move into digital, short-run print production, which opened up new avenues to expand into 1:1 marketing and personalized direct mail. It was a different technology that allowed them to diversify their services, but it wasn’t too far outside of their comfort zone, application-wise.
When I started, the printing market was easily divided into buckets based on the technology and the applications produced. We had commercial printers, screen printers, sign shops, reprographics shops, in-plants, package printers, garment printers, label printers, exhibit builders, architectural firms, functional printers, industrial printers, and wide-format digital printers, for example. It was easy for brands and print buyers to know who to go to for specific applications.
In more recent years, there has been an even greater shift in the market. The term “convergence” has been used to describe the industry changes we’ve seen and how the industry is converging on a level that hasn’t been seen before. It’s more than just diversification; it’s a true market shift where the lines between the types of providers — commercial printers, wide-format printers, apparel and garment, package printers, and industrial printers — are blurring. Providers are becoming “one-stop-shops” for brands and print buyers, offering any and all print services — even those not part of their core competencies.
Convergence in Action
We’ve seen wide-format providers install high-speed digital production inkjet devices and even purchase commercial presses, so they can offer direct mail and offset printing. What began as a blueprint shop in Dallas in 1956 is today Thomas Printworks, a network of production and partner facilities that aims to be “a large, yet nimble” provider of everything from traditional print, direct mail, and promotional products to supply chain management, digital signage, and managed print services, explains its Chief Revenue Officer, Trevor J. Hansen.
Thomas Printworks owes its extensive footprint to growth by acquisition. According to Hansen, the objective in aligning the resources it has acquired is to ensure that Thomas Printworks is perceived as “one company, and one offering for our customers” wherever it does business.
Garment/apparel printing, functional/industrial printing, and package printing are all market segments wide-format graphics providers are moving into. According to the 2019 SGIA Quarterly Industry Benchmarking Report (released in June 2019), in a typical wide-format shop, 26.9% of revenues are already being provided by commercial print applications. Functional printing represents, on average, another 20.5% of revenues. Garment printing (19.3%) and package printing (17%) round out the revenue numbers.
While it might seem normal to have commercial printers offering wide-format services, these same companies are also expanding into functional/industrial printing (21%), package printing (19.8%), and garment decoration (14.8%).
D’Andrea Graphic Communications was founded in 2005 as a premier lithographic printer in Cypress, Calif. David D’Andrea, CEO, said he realized the time had come to seize some of those opportunities during the recessionary years of 2008-2010, when “a ridiculous amount of work stopped” industrywide, and a change of strategy was needed.
It was then that he expanded into grand-format output and custom fabrication, a move that led to new markets, higher-margin applications, and the growth of the company from 22 employees to 110. Today, D’Andrea Visual Communications provides experiential marketing services, trade show and retail installations, wall coverings, and other offerings that complement its litho and grand-format printing.
Portland, Ore.-based Premier Press embraced the concept of convergence long before it became an industry buzzword, evolving during the past 45 years from a small shop with a single pressman, to a 170,000-sq.-ft. facility with more than 140 team members. Starting out in commercial sheetfed offset printing, the shop added digital printing, and then direct mail and program work, expanding the range of options it could offer its clientele. Recently, it has also begun offering services such as custom or influencer packaging — shorter runs where brands want to prototype a new design or want to create something innovative for a small group of targeted consumers.
This convergence is coming from all directions. Package printers are moving into the wide-format graphics space and even commercial print — whatever their clients need to communicate, these companies are determined to provide.
Corrugated packaging and display printer Sutherland Packaging, of Andover, N.J., was interested in learning more about the digital printing opportunities in the corrugated segment, so Tom Quigley, design department manager, attended the SGIA Expo in New Orleans in 2017. While he was able to accomplish his mission of researching digital corrugated printing opportunities, the vastness of the digital and wide-format segments far exceeded his expectations.
“It really opened my eyes to the industry as a whole, seeing what’s going on for print with every type of substrate and type of printing,” he says.
The Next Evolution
Sutherland’s Quigley really hit the nail on the head, so to speak, when he talked about the SGIA Expo. The next iteration of the SGIA Expo — PRINTING United — is bringing the entire printing industry together under one roof. It is a strategic response to the market forces we are already seeing. While print providers are becoming “one-stop,” likewise there is a need for a single industry exhibition that provides “one-roof” access to all printing technologies, as well as a wealth of educational and networking opportunities.
As the industry continues to evolve, and printers consider growth opportunities both within their own segment, as well as adjacent segments, they need to stay abreast of industry changes, evaluate new technologies, and gain insight into their colleagues’ strategies.
According to the SGIA and NAPCO Research study “Convergence in the Print Industry: Understanding Growth Opportunities and Competition,” there was a strong interest among printers in a consolidated event, with 80% saying it would be “Better Overall” for the industry than separate, segment-only events. Forty-two percent indicated that it would be “Significantly Better” for the printing industry.
I’ve always believed the industry would find its own level, especially in terms of trade shows. We’ve seen shows in the print space decline, and some vanish altogether — who remembers The Gutenberg Show, the Charlotte Show, On Demand, Seybold, and others? Everyone is pressed each day to do more with their time, with fewer resources. Because of the opportunity to see multiple new technologies under one roof, the ability to learn about new opportunities across segments in one place, and the travel savings realized from attending a single show versus multiple events, I believe PRINTING United solves many issues.
I, personally, am excited at the breadth of products, applications, and knowledge that will be under one roof in Dallas in October. Even as I start preparations for our coverage — both in our publications and with the official PRINTING United Daily — I know I’ll need every bit of the three days to see and experience everything PRINTING United has to offer. From the applications in the Experience Zone, to the learning amphitheaters on the show floor, to close to 100 educational sessions and more than 600 exhibitors, PRINTING United is the place to be for anyone who puts ink on anything.
Denise Gustavson is the Editorial Director and Special Projects Editor for the Printing & Packaging Group, which includes Printing Impressions, packagePRINTING, In-plant Graphics and Wide-Format Impressions magazines, among other brands. She is also the Editor-in-Chief of Wide-Format Impressions.