Five Things We Learned at ISA 2021
Last week ISA held its annual International Sign Expo as a virtual event, bringing together people from every facet of the sign and graphics space, from screens around the world. The event featured 75 education sessions, a “Titan Talks” series with major executives who lead the trends across the industry, and a wide range of networking opportunities designed to replicate the in-person connections that make a live event so dynamic.
There was something for everyone, with nuggets of information and takeaways that will benefit attendees no matter what job title they hold, what segment they work in, or what vertical they serve. That said, here are five things that we learned from this fast-paced event.
The Role of Women in Sign & Graphics
Across several sessions, it was clear that women, in particular, are playing a greater role in the sign and graphics industry today — and they are poised to continue to play increasingly important roles in the industry in the years to come. In one of the first Titan Talks, Guayente Sanmartin, general manager for HP’s Large Format Business, covered a wide range of topics, among them her work supporting women in the industry.
“At first I think we need to acknowledge that this pandemic is not helping women continuing in the workplace,” said Sanmartin during her session. “There are signs this is going in the wrong direction. But we have to see the great things, and how many women are now in powerful places to make the world change.”
She went on to note that to see real change, we all need to make a personal commitment to effect permanent change. She shared some of her personal commitments that she’s made for this year:
- If she is asked to be part of panels, forums, communities, etc., she is taking the opportunity to put herself out there and be part of the conversation.
- She noted that she has committed to helping the women at HP find and participate in development programs, giving them opportunities to learn and grow in their own personal careers.
- Especially once schools start to open up, she notes that she — along with other women in HP — are dedicated to going into schools to talk about not just careers at HP, but also to show girls that they can have the same successful careers as their male counterparts, so “they can see that science is an extraordinary place to be.”
Retail Is Going Strong
In another Titan Talk, this time with Matt Shay, the president and CEO of the National Retail Federation (NRF), ISA’s Lori Anderson, president and CEO, had a frank discussion about the state of retail.
“Even in the face of the pandemic, when so many of us were doing things online, the overwhelming majority of retail sales still happened in stores and physical locations, and nobody could find those locations if it weren’t for the work that [sign shops] do,” Shay said. “It’s been a really challenging year, and it’s hard — for all of us as individuals, and as professionals — to reconcile the really tragic experiences that some individuals and families and communities have faced, against the backdrop of overall economic conditions that are actually pretty healthy.”
He went on to note that in 2020, despite the challenges, retail sales overall grew by 6%, which is the most robust growth of the segment in almost 20 years. “It seems contrarian to the environment we were in,” he said, “but consumers had money, and they spent it.”
Looking forward, he noted it’s all based on the strength of the economy, and the strength of individual households to continue to spend their wealth. Everything from wages, to jobs, to the fact that millions of Americans should be vaccinated over the course of the next several months all contribute to what Shay believes will be a strong 2021 for retail as well. Even with the growth that happened last year, he went on to note, there is a large amount of pent-up demand from consumers who want to get out and shop in person again, so it’s going to drive strong sales as we get into the latter half of 2021, especially.
This is all good news for shops that serve the retail vertical in any way — as consumers begin to return to in-person shopping, stores of all sizes and types will need new signage and graphics to welcome them back.
Tips & Tricks for Recruitment
In a panel that featured four panelists from around the industry with experience in recruiting and hiring — and moderated by Anderson — the group shared tips and tricks for recruiting and maintaining top talent in a world that is getting increasingly competitive. Finding qualified candidates for jobs in print and graphics has been steadily getting harder over the past several years — a trend that isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. So, for sign and graphics shops to not only attract the best people to work for them, but then keep them, there are a wide range of things that can be done. A few highlights:
- Social media is critical. In today’s world, the panel noted, it’s not enough to just put a sign in a window. Post your job online in job boards, post it in social media groups, put it on LinkedIn. Get the word out to a wide digital audience, because that is where today’s candidates are actually looking.
- Benefits can’t be overlooked. A competitive salary is almost expected by today’s job seekers. If you want to attract and retain the best talent, you have to give them a reason to want to work for you. This can include benefits such as 401k plans, but it also includes things like flexible scheduling, great working environments, a good company culture, and continuous learning opportunities, just to name a few.
- Your employer brand is just as important as your company brand. At the same time you’re vetting potential candidates on whether or not they would be a good fit for your organization, those candidates are researching your company, and trying to decide if you would be a good fit for them. Pay attention to your reputation as an employer, and take steps to gain control of how your organization is perceived in the local community. That can go a long way toward making you a more attractive place to work.
Marketing Is the New Sales
In the first of his two sales-oriented sessions, Aspire For founder and Printing impressions columnist Bill Farquharson shared 10 sales actions PSPs should be taking right now coming out of COVID-19. Among those tips was being anecdotal in your approach and thinking beyond the sales call.
“Marketing is the new sales,” he said. “My clients say to me ‘I can’t find anybody. They’re not returning calls. They’re not in their office.’ Sales is no longer the best way to get in touch with someone. Now you’ve got to get the phone ringing.”
And it’s easy to do, he said. While he cited examples of pushing information out — such as regularly sharing email tips and blog posts that make it known what you do — he also emphasized the power of videos. He shared the example of his “Sales Vault” interview with Amanda Bronowski, sales executive at Heeter, who said 85% of her business has come from the 25 or so videos she has posted, which mainly consist of her simply looking at the camera discussing print and mail.
“Put together a four-slide PowerPoint Presentation ... in those four slides, tell a success story of what you’ve done in the past,” Farquharson added. This should address a problem your client had, the solution you provided and the outcome, and describe your company. Upload this story to YouTube and share it on various channels so that your customers — and even your competition — sees it.
Soft Signage Is Worth a Hard Look
Two sessions moderated by Big Picture and Screen Printing magazines editor-in-chief Adrienne Palmer took a look at soft signage opportunities and considerations.
In “To SEG or Not to SEG,” Palmer spoke with TexSmart founder Mike Horsten about the development of silicone edge graphics (SEGs) and why they present a valuable market for graphics producers. According to Horsten, SEGs were spurred by retail, and he specifically noted the Mexx chain that wanted two to three new images a month in its 1,200 stores across Europe. “We came up with the idea, ‘Why don’t we put it into an aluminum frame, put the aluminum frames in the stores, and get a way to get this stuff easily placed so that any staff, any store, without any graphic knowledge or mounting knowledge could basically put it in?’”
In addition to exploring the equipment and processes needed, he noted three ways the SEG can be added to the graphic. The first is to sew it, he said, noting different automatic machine capabilities. But if that is not an option, there are edges that have a sticky glue side, that you can stick on the fabric, or there is an aluminum frame that has the silicone edge inside that you can place your graphic in, Horsten noted, by simply using a credit card.
This latter method was also demonstrated by Pam Richards, owner, Color Gamut when she joined Palmer and Brian Hite, president and founding partner, Image Options, for the session, “From the Shop Floor: Why You Should Consider Soft Signage.” Richards and Hite both noted that SEGs are among the top applications requested by their clients. Richards also noted how, since COVID, Color Gamut’s shipments to customers have included a QR code to a video instructing them how to hang the graphics, in addition to the instructions being printed on the card they can utilize to set their SEG in place.
When it comes to tapping into SEGs or other soft signage applications, both participants agreed there is a learning curve and different equipment and tools to consider, but Richards says don’t give up. “If you’re going to get into the business, reach out to the manufacturers that you’re considering based on the budget, but realizing that what you think you’re going to spend, you’re probably going to spend more, just because of those other aspects (finishing aspects, sewing aspects); fabric has a life of its own,” added Hite.