Day two of the Wide-Format Summit was held last Thursday, Oct. 15, bringing this series exploring the trends and opportunities in the large-format market to a close. For those who missed viewing the event live, it can be viewed in full here, and if you missed Day One, that can be viewed here, with a full recap of day one’s content available as well.
The event opened with an introduction and look ahead at what to expect from Steve Duccilli, vice president & brand director, Wide-format Impressions, and then moved straight into a schedule packed with content.
Finding Wide-Format Success
The first session of the day was hosted by Eric Zimmerman, director of wide-format printing, Keypoint Intelligence, taking a closer look at “The Successful Wide-format Implementation.” He was joined by Elaine Scrima, vice president of operations, GSP Companies; and Dave Brewer, chief technology officer, Image Options.
The panel focused on the implementation process of bringing wide-format into a shop, breaking it down into before the purchase, during installation, and then what happens next.
To start, before implementation of wide-format can begin, the panel noted that there are a few things to consider. What needs to be prepared? What is the environment like? What will the electrical needs be? Is there adequate ventilation? What staffing and personnel will be required? What media options will the shop need to keep in stock. And these are just a few of the questions that print service providers (PSPs) should ask long before installation happens.
“The other thing that we do,” said Scrima, “is we tape the footprint of the piece of equipment off, so we know that we’ve got good clearance space around the press for offloading or onloading. I think the other thing we really try to focus on is, in addition to the piece that’s going in, we plan for the next piece at that point in time too. What I mean is, if I put this press here, will I be able to add another piece of equipment next to it? And how much more electrical will that draw? Or how much more compressed air would that need? We try and plan those things out in advance so we’re not going through the same expenses every time we install a piece of equipment.”
Brewer agreed, noting that his company has had to move the entire facility before, and uses the exact same approach, whether bringing a single new piece of equipment in, or designing a whole new floorplan. Taping out each piece of equipment, strategizing workflow, and ensuring the building requirements are met before the expense of moving and installing the equipment itself — which can be a costly lesson if it has to be moved again later — is a critical component to consider. “Even with the best planning, something always changes,” he noted, but being more prepared is always preferable to going in and just hoping things will work out.
After all of the planning has been done, and plans for what happens when things don’t go to plan are in place, there are a few things to keep in mind, including what new product training the OEM or distributor is providing, the applications that will be targeted, making sure the software is tied into existing systems and working as expected, and finally making sure the appropriate team members understand how to maintain and service the equipment over time.
Scrima noted that before the equipment arrives, her company makes sure all of the operators who will be working on that piece have as much information about it in advance as possible. Any brochures, any training, YouTube videos — anything that can be obtained ahead of time. She said that part of the benefit of getting them familiar with the equipment in advance is that when the day does arrive and a trainer is on site, they tend to ask better questions, and have a better idea of what they need to spend time learning about, instead of jumping in blind.
“There are a couple things happening [on the day of the installation],” said Brewer. “You have an operational side of the busines, and you have a sales side of the business. In some sense, we pay a lot of attention when installing equipment to operations — that’s where we have training, we make sure we look at safety, we have the right PCP if it’s needed, and we’re learning how to run the machine. But one of the other things we try to do is also make sure the sales people know what the equipment is, what the capability of the equipment is, why are we buying this equipment, what is the advantage of this piece of equipment, etc. So, we’re kind of doing two things at once as the machine is coming in.”
Finally, after the new technology is up and running, some of the activities that need to happen include sales training — which the panel noted should actually start during the installation, to get the sales team up and running as quickly as possible — as well as marketing efforts to alert both current and potential customers to the new capabilities the shop now has available.
One way to help get the word out, that both Scrima and Brewer use, is to give the sales team examples of jobs that have been run on the new equipment, so they can then take those ideas and apply them to other accounts, rather than trying to sell specs. It’s not about sending them out to sell a piece of equipment to a customer, but rather using that equipment to illustrate how the shop can solve a problem that it couldn’t previously.
The ROI of Outdoor Advertising
The next session of the day saw Stephen Freitas, EVP of industry initiatives, Outdoor Advertising Association of America (OAAA) walking viewers through the opportunity that out-of-home (OOH) advertising presents to wide-format printers.
“The fundamentals of outdoor advertising are strong, despite what’s happened this year,” Freitas noted. OOH offers brands a powerful storytelling medium, in locations that can deliver “larger-than-life” impact. And especially when wide-format printing is combined with newer technologies like mobile advertising or digital screens, PSPs in this space can design creative and innovative ways to attract consumers and drive engagement.
“OOH remains relevant,” he continued. “Just as relevant as it always has been,” despite the changes the world has seen with the COVID-19 pandemic. It still delivers the right message, to the right audience, at the right time, and offers highly targeted, and highly relevant messaging that can be based on anything from location, to demographics, and even to consumer behaviors.
Looking at the forecast for 2020 and 2021, originally, the market was poised for a banner year in 2020, but like all industries, it took a massive hit when the shutdowns began to try and contain the pandemic. And while OOH was no exception, with a forecast of being down roughly 20% for the year, experts are actually predicting that it will come back strong in 2021, with 7% growth, compared to many other advertising mediums that will see less of a hit in 2021, but are still predicted to see losses or remain flat, rather than grow.
One interesting statistic Freitas noted is that “short term decisions to go dark put long term revenues at risk.” As brands have decided to cut back on marketing efforts, they will see a decline in revenue — people are still consuming goods, which means there is still a market, and those brands that have been consistent with spending advertising dollars are the ones seeing the long-term rewards. OOH advertising helps to keep those brands top-of-mind when consumers are getting out of the house, shopping for groceries, etc.
In particular, he noted that hyperlocal ad spending is a key factor — people are spending more time exploring their own neighborhoods and communities, rather than traveling, which means messaging geared toward a specific geographic location is going to be the most effective right now. And leveraging data to increase campaign effectiveness is even more important than ever before to ensure every dollar spent sees a return on the investment — and brands are aware of this.
For PSPs to help capture some of these OOH marketing dollars, there are a few things Freitas noted are key:
- Be flexible. 64% of advertisers want to work with PSPs who are willing to work with them on factors such as commitments, budgeting, timing and pricing.
- Be proactive. 40% of advertisers note that they are more willing to spend their dollars with PSPs who bring creative ideas and solutions to the table.
Other factors that can influence who a brand or advertiser chooses to spend limited dollars with include looking for shops that provide ongoing data and insights into a campaign that can help optimize the approach; transparency when it comes to communication; incentives for committing to ongoing campaigns, rather than one-offs; reach and/or frequency guarantees; and the ability to maintain strong brand safety controls. A full 82%, however, agree that PSPs willing to be flexible with cancelled or rescheduled budgets are being noticed, and will be the first to get the dollars when the marketing budgets return.
Opportunities Abound in Textiles
Next up for the day was Debbie McKeegan, CEO, TexIntel, with a session focusing on “New Opportunities for Printed Textile Production.” She said, “it’s such an exciting sector, that has witnessed incredible growth.”
The textile industry has been experiencing a “digitization,” she noted, which in turn offers a window of opportunity for PSPs willing to jump in. There are five basic marketplaces for textiles — sportswear, home décor, contract décor, events, and fashion. While the smallest, events was also the first to embrace digital technologies, and is now “saturated” with applications. On the other side, fashion is the single largest textile category, and “only a fraction” of that vertical has seen any push into digital. Only about 6%, total, of all textile applications are printed digitally today — it is a massive opportunity.
“My personal view,” McKeegan said, “is that if there are any upsides to the awful COVID crisis, it has definitely been that it is accelerating the digitization of the industry.” With the disruption of supply chains and the demand for goods to be produced closer to where they are sold, digital technologies have a real opportunity. When the market was forecast before the crisis, by 2023 it was expected the digital textile market would see roughly 6% growth — McKeegan expects that when those forecast numbers are next released, that number will be much higher as every vertical and segment that uses textiles is looking for new, faster, more efficient ways to produce their products — which means they are exploring the benefits of digital.
Beyond COVID, what else is driving that growth long term? McKeegan noted there are a range of factors all coming together. A few highlights:
- The development of new technologies for digital textile printing.
- The reduction in costs per unit of textiles printed digitally.
- The rising demand for more sustainable products.
- The search for greater efficiencies, especially energy and ink cost savings.
- The push to reduce water usage and waste.
- An increased range of printable materials.
- Greater demand for faster turn-around times, shorter runs, and more personalization.
“There’s another huge factor here that shows us all the incredible opportunity that’s out there,” McKeegan continued. “And that is the global population is currently 7 billion, but that’s about to shift, just in the next few years, up to 9 billion. And that’s a really key point, because all of those extra people have much greater affluence.” In other words, the world’s population is increasing dramatically, right alongside the growth of income levels across the board. This means not only are there more people needing everything from clothing to home furnishings and everything in between, they have more to spend, and are looking for higher-end, more personalized options.
And the population isn’t just getting bigger — it is also getting more eco-conscious. “This is not a trend,” McKeegan said. “It is here to stay.” Consumers all over the world are increasingly looking to give their business to brands with “eco credentials” that can certify that products are made with as little environmental impact as possible. Some of the things they look for are the types of inks used, that safe methods of manufacture have been used from end to end, and that all the components in the process can be recycled or reused as much as possible. The traditional production methods of textiles are widely considered one of the most polluting manufacturing processes in the world; this push toward supply chains that are environmentally friendly will accelerate the need for digital adoption.
Beyond fashion, which is a huge growth area, McKeegan noted that home décor, in particular, is a massive opportunity. In 2020, the current worldwide market is work roughly $664 billion, and right now only a fraction of that is produced digitally. Furniture makes up the largest chunk of the market, at 36%, followed by bedding at 14% and drapes at 12%. Other textile segments within this category include rugs and carpets, kitchen and dining, and bath products such as towels.
Part of what is holding digital back from penetrating into the home décor market, McKeegan noted, is the substrates. Wide-format and wallpaper, the two textile applications most likely to be digital, use just a fraction of the substrates the home décor market pulls from. As both the ink technologies and substrates themselves improve, that will be one of the driving factors to digital adoption in this space.
Digital addresses many of the challenges facing brands and companies that use textiles. Compared to analog, traditional methods, digital:
- Doesn’t require overstocks, wasting materials.
- Uses less energy.
- Has zero water pollution.
- Is certified to be more environmentally friendly.
“Digital printing is a very small piece of a huge supply chain,” McKeegan noted. But it is already starting to make inroads into the various segments, and that will only accelerate as print head and ink technologies continue to improve, and substrate ranges continue to increase. PSPs are at the forefront of digital technologies — and those who recognize the opportunities and find creative ways to push the boundaries will be the ones to see the most benefit in the years to come.
Profiling the Successful Pivot
The final session of the day was moderated by Denise M. Gustavson, editor-in-chief, Wide-format Impressions and Editorial Director for the Impressions Group at NAPCO Media. She was joined by Brian Hite, principal and co-founder of Image Options; and Trevor Hansen, chief revenue officer at Thomas Printworks, to talk about “The Successful Pivot: Tackling New Marketing Opportunities.”
“We all know the sign and graphics segment is well known for its product diversity, its innovation, and its ability to be nimble. That being said, the COVID-19 pandemic has turned businesses completely upside down,” Gustavson said. But that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been success stories. Image Options and Thomas Printworks both successfully pivoted their companies into new markets, and found success in unconventional ways.
When 2020 started, both companies had ambitious goals, and were on track for strong growth for the year. “It was going to be a great year for us,” Hite said. That all changed when the pandemic impacted businesses across the globe. He went on to note that as the end of February approached, he and his business partners started to watch it more closely. By the end of March, they had started losing jobs worth millions, as shelter-in-place orders forced business closers across the country.
“We had been focused on the types of industries that typically have large gatherings of people,” Hite said. “Large events, retail with shopping malls, locations like that. All those industries got hit hard when we could no longer attend shows, you couldn’t go to malls, you couldn’t shop. It had a pretty severe impact on us.”
Hansen noted that his company experienced much the same. While he did start to see an impact in February, he said the markets he serves, such as Arizona, Texas, and Florida, really started to see the largest impact in mid-March. “So, we had a little time to plan,” he said. In fact, he continued that his company applied lessons learned from 2008 to what they were experiencing in 2020 — he said that then, they waited a little too long to act and take more drastic action, so this time, as the bigger events started to cancel, “we started to make moves pretty quick to implement changes to help us be in the best position possible through what has been a not very fun time.”
Short term, some of those quick actions included reducing hours for employees, and then when the pandemic still hadn’t let up weeks later, to reduce salaries as well. Hansen noted that Thomas Printworks also implemented ways to help keep salespeople informed of potential opportunities, like helping restaurants shift to curbside dining. “It was shifting our focus to where the revenue opportunities were, and putting our focus on that,” he said. “Those first couple months were pretty tiring, as I imagine they were for everybody.”
At Image Options, Hite noted that the first change was moving the weekly meeting to discuss the business to a daily meeting, and the content “changed dramatically,” he said. One of the first steps was to ensure the business was recognized as essential to keep the doors open, reworked the forecast, planned shift reductions and furloughs, and ways to reduce expenses, among other topics.
“It’s a constant process,” Hite continued. “We evaluated our existing market verticals to determine those that would not be impacted as significantly as others by the shutdowns, and worked with sales to expand the focus on those. We anticipated services and products needs that would come up as a result of COVID to support the communities, pivoting our normal day-to-day production to products like PPE.”
Speaking of PPE, Hite noted that was a “pretty fast pivot” for his company, with production of face shields as early as mid-March. One of his employees had a daughter working at a hospital that couldn’t get PPE in stock, so it was easy for the company to see that this was a need it could address. From face shields, the company transitioned to transaction shields for businesses such as grocery chains to protect essential employees at businesses that remained open, and later into sanitation stations that could be deployed in key locations, to name just a few new products. “It’s about identifying what’s possible with what you have, and the people you have, and is there a market for it, and can you sell it,” Hite said.
At Thomas Printworks, one early pivot was to start a weekly webinar for the sales team, that expanded to include anyone who had customer-facing positions, such as CSRs. He noted that one thing those were used for was to get staff up to speed on things like new substrates or new technologies — things that got set aside when things were busy, but with both his team and the suppliers facing more downtime than expected, he used the opportunity to educate his staff. “It opened their eyes to a lot of new solutions and new things,” he said.
Beyond that, Hansen noted one thing his company did was create reopening guides for industries they served, such as restaurants, corporate offices, and retail spaces. In addition, his team designed custom signage, such as wayfinding and social distancing, that could easily be branded, and included catalogs of those items as part of the reopening guides. The goal, he said, was to “help us do more than just sell them another sign, but to go in and be a consultant, and help them figure out how you’re going to move the flow through your building and facility, and how you’re going to help customers and employees feel comfortable in the new environment they’re in. A lot of good things came out of that.”
Longer term, there is opportunity out there, especially as the world tries to find the next normal. “I don’t think it’s ever going back to what it once was,” Hansen said, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of people finding new ways to connect to each other — and in many cases that means using print in new and creative ways. “I’m a big believer in ‘fail forward fast,’” he continued. He noted that rather than get stuck in “analysis paralysis,” he would much rather try something fast, fail at it, learn from it, and then try something different. That, he noted, allows him and his company to stay nimble and grow, rather than getting stuck and not being able to pivot fast enough as the market continues to shift. “We can’t let this kick us and keep us down.”
Hite noted that one thing that has come out of the pandemic that he is happy about is that it “created a much more team-oriented environment.” Even in businesses that already had a great culture and people who got along, the pandemic and shared experience has increased the familiarity. “Everybody is helping everybody,” he said. And that is a long-term impact that isn’t likely to fade anytime soon, if at all.
And with that, the inaugural Wide-Format Summit wrapped up, with Duccilli announcing that it will return next year as a live event, July 29-31, 2021, at the Hyatt Lost Pines in Austin, Texas. Visit www.wideformatsummit.com for more information about that event to come, and to register for a spot.