Brian Hite: Providing Services Beyond the Print
For wide-format businesses, value-added services are key factor toward meeting needs, increasing value to customers, and achieving differentiation. Following up on an illuminating panel discussion at the 2022 Wide-Format Summit, I reached out to Brian Hite CSO, principal, and founder of Image Options, to learn more about how he views value-adds.
How do you describe Image Options to a potential customer who doesn’t know what you offer?
The description varies and is determined by the customer and their market. For example, if a customer calls us looking for print, we focus on our imaging technologies. If customer is interested in environments or exhibits, we may focus on our fabrication capabilities.
In general, though, a description for the company would be: Founded in 1999, Image Options is a leader in the printing, surface imaging, display, and visual communications industry. From initial conception to production, from design and fabrication to installation, we deliver provocative and effective visual communication solutions for retail, trade shows, events, corporate environments and more.
Let’s take wide-format out of the discussion for a moment. If we blot that out, what does Image Options look like, and what technologies or services rise to the top?
Image Option’s unique approach to partnerships with our clients allows us to produce creative visual solutions for virtually any type of surface: paper, metal, wood, floors, walls, ceilings, and fabrication. We cover it all.
Technology continually changes and adapts to the new demands of the market. The state-of-the-art printers, equipment, and technologies used today may not be the same in a year, or two, or three. As new services get added to the portfolio, sometimes that requires investments in technologies or processes to make delivery possible.
Project management and pre-construction, design, EGD are all services at the top in our business, and let’s not forget sales. Without sales, sales processes, and salespersons experienced in the various markets none of us would have business.
From the standpoint of your company, can you give me a couple of examples of ways it differentiates itself from the broader wide-format segment?
It’s our creativity, subject matter expertise, cutting-edge technology, and a partnership approach that delivers exceptional customer care. We always strive to deliver more than is expected and we do what we say we are going to do. We answer the phone, respond to requests promptly, and provide helpful and courteous service.
For us, it’s important to resolve any issues that arise in the complexity of projects first, and determine responsibility after. Too many companies approach issues as "not my fault" but the reality is our customer or our customers customer has a need we committed to fill and that completion comes first.
Thanks to our extensive capabilities and an excellent team of the best and brightest minds in the business, we successfully serve some of the largest and most-recognizable brands on the planet.
Can you give me an example of knowledge, skills, or expertise your company holds that makes it difficult for others to compete for specific jobs?
Again, it comes down to the people. Anyone can buy the equipment and technology, lease or buy a facility, and start a wide-format business. That being said, what differentiates Image Options is an extensive and diverse background of knowledge on all aspects of projects, and the “how to” required for any customer request or design challenge.
This includes everything from master color management, pre-construction, project management, engineering, fabrication with wood and metal, to value-engineering concepts and designs to make sure they excel and provide clients an ROI. This kind of deep understanding of the elements to be managed is not something you can buy. It can only be achieved through many years of experience working in the industries served.
Do you view value-added services as a method for staying ahead of the competition, to seek less crowded areas of opportunity, or something else? And does providing value-adds mean constant reinvention?
To Image Options, value-add – at the base level – means delivering more than what was promised. A better product, a better experience, a better result for the task. It means continually anticipating trends and customer needs – many times ahead of the customer’s realization of those needs, which creates opportunity to add value. Evolution of thought, technology, and business processes are always happening, and are necessary to keep us relevant in the marketplace.
For business, value-add are the improvements and additional revenue opportunities on a project suggested to provide a better product or service that can increase profitability.
Regarding value-adds, what are some ways you think many wide-format focused companies are leaving money on the table. What is it that many companies aren’t doing, but should?
Overall, there are three main areas I consistently hear of that result in lost opportunity. Some are choices related to business philosophy, fear of losing a client, fear of losing a sale, or attempting to gain market share or compete.
First area, not charging for additional work required as the result of poorly-prepared customer print files, changes made after the production process has begun, or delays to scheduled times on installations. I'm not suggesting everyone should, or needs to, up-charge customers for every little deviation or change. I’m saying that if there is a significant impact to margin or profitability due to the client not adequately managing their end of the process, then compensation for those impacts should be requested.
Second area, I see a lack of consistency in the pricing models used by some companies, and a general assumption of what they believe their cost of production will be. Many companies don’t have a process in place to continually update their cost of goods sold. For example, with the supply chain issues and continued shortage of materials, the increased costs of materials likely have not been updated. Some companies don’t recall the last time they really looked at department rates for costs and labor.
A third area, I see is not charging "market" rates for products and services. For example, vehicle wrap film is used for both vehicle wraps and for environmental graphic wall applications. The price point for printed vehicle wrap film averages a few dollars less per square foot than the wall graphics, even though it’s the same product. So, in a cost-plus pricing scenario, money is left on the table by those more familiar with vehicle wrap pricing than with wall graphics. This eventually changes the price point on both, reducing the possible profitability of jobs.