The Wide-Format Summit — Looking Back at Day One
On October 8, the inaugural debut of the Wide-Format Summit Series took place, with six speakers touching on a wide range of topics relevant to the industry and the environment print service providers (PSPs) face today. The original Summit was planned as an in-person event, to be held last Spring in Austin, Texas; COVID-19 impacted those plans, just as it did for many other conferences across the country, but the team remained committed to bringing the speakers and content to the industry, moving to a virtual platform open to anyone who wishes to attend.
A full video of the entire day’s presentations, including a number of additional case studies, can be found here if you missed tuning in live.
After opening remarks and a welcome to attendees from Steve Duccilli, Vice President & Brand Director, Wide-format Impressions, Mark Hanley, President, I.T. Strategies, began his presentation on “The Wide-format Landscape in the New Normal.” “Wide-format has become a very important market and sector,” Hanley noted. “And despite COVID, it still is hot, and it is going to continue to be hot.”
While COVID-19 had major impacts across the entire print industry, Hanley noted that for wide-format in particular, which traditionally relies heavily on the retail and event spaces, PSPs took a huge hit earlier in the year, when the pandemic first started. That said, he predicts that wide-format digital revenue coming from retail spaces could be back to 90%+ of 2019 revenue by 2021 as a result of accelerated consumer spending once the economy fully re-opens. “Wide-format graphics is a strategic component of competitive success within the consumer industry, and very specifically the retail industry,” he noted.
Some of the specific areas Hanley sees as potential growth spaces for 2021 include retail and consumer — the buying patterns have changed, but consumers are still looking to spend money — the corporate gifting market, specialty packaging applications, and soft signage.
“That’s my view of where we’re going,” he said, wrapping up his session. “It’s complex — it’s never not complex — but to me it’s optimistic. It’s a strategically important business; strategic to everything that drives our consumer economy. While tough for some, we’re going to come through the other side.”
By the Numbers
Next up for the day was Nathan Safran, Vice President, NAPCO Research, with a session titled “Who Buys Wide-format” that explored the current key trends in buyer industries. He took a deep dive into who the buyers of wide-format actually are, what they are looking for, why they are buying it, and what they expect when they purchase print.
“Wide-format applications are everywhere,” Safran noted. He pointed out that recently the team visited more than 100 different retail locations to evaluate whether they were ready for COVID or not, and there was “a lot of signage,” he said. From social distancing guidelines, to floor graphics, and beyond, wide-format has a major part to play in the retail experience. “They’re everywhere, they’re growing, and there is an increasing amount of substrates that you can experiment on and try, and that’s why this is a relevant discussion.”
When it comes to the current environment, Safran showed current hard data from the Print Business Indicators report demonstrating that sales are moving “off the bottom.” In the last 30 days, he noted, sales declined just 4.9% overall — compared to a 52.3% decline in March/April when the pandemic first hit, and a 17.3% decline in the May/June timeframe.
“Are we out of the woods yet? Certainly not. Are we moving in the right direction as far as where it is we’re looking to go here? Yes, for sure,” Safran said. “What we hope to see,” he said, in the next update of the Print Business Indicators report that will come out later this fall, is that we’ll see sales drop “even less. There’s a lot more work to do, but we’re moving in the right direction.”
From there, he moved on to the data about wide-format print buyers. In general, the primary decision maker for sign and display graphics is:
- Marketing Staff — 45%
- CEO/President/Owner — 37%
- Purchasing Staff — 7%
- Committee — 5%
- Finance Staff — 2%
So, Safran said, first and foremost printers need to make sure they are targeting and talking to the right people within an organization. “The folks that you’re looking for ware either marketing based, or they’re at the executive management level. Those are the people you should be looking for when it comes to who you should be talking to.” A few of the job titles to watch for, specifically, include marketing director, marketing coordinator, marketing manager, and chief marketing officer, Safran noted.
In terms of how these people learn about new technologies and ways to spread their message, ironically, Safran said, they are heavily relying on digital channels such as social media and email newsletters. This means, he noted, that any PSP not allocating resources to creating and distributing digital marketing materials is likely missing out on a large amount of potential new business.
The data also shows that buyers are looking to PSPs to be the authority, with answers to their questions and with new ideas to bring to the table. They rely heavily on referrals, so PSPs should be asking every vendor and customer to give a testimonial or referral. Other ways to build that network is to join associations and organizations where PSPs can interact with print buyers.
“They’re looking for education. They’re looking for partnership. They’re looking for you to be a consultant and advisor,” Safran said. “If what you’re doing is selling to them, you’re not necessarily building the relationships they want that will allow for growth that will guarantee you their referrals. They should be tripping over their feet to refer you because you’re such a good partner. They’re looking for partners, not vendors.”
Finally, he left attendees with a tip sheet for getting in the door with buyers and cultivating the types of relationships that will lead to long-term, profitable business:
- Identify and validate all prospects.
- Actively seek referrals.
- Market both digitally and with direct mail using unique content.
- Build business relationships in the community.
- Participate in your customers’ (and potential customers’) industries.
- Demonstrate your abilities with case studies and social media, highlighting the work you do and the satisfied customers you did it for.
Build a Solid Marketing Plan
Tim Greene, Research Director, IDC, followed up with more data in his session, “The Key Elements of a Successful Sales and Marketing Plan” on how to get the ROI that you want from the investments you make in hardware and software for your business.
E-commerce, in particular, is a huge marketing area right now. “E-commerce is huge right now,” said Greene. “People are buying these signs and graphics, and they want to place those orders wherever they are, from wherever they are, and get them fulfilled super fast.”
He noted that, “it’s time to get creative,” and “develop a marketing plan that will help you be successful in the long term.” To do that, Greene said there are five parts of the marketing plan to think about:
- Targeting. Use data to identify who your target customers are. Ask questions such as what industry are they in? Who are the major players? Where are they located? How do they buy wide-format print?
- Positioning. Once you know who your target customer is, then determine what business objective or problem they are trying to address. What do they value in their vendor partners? What do you excel at in your business that you could bring to that customer?
- Promoting. Next is promotion — “how do you get it out there,” said Greene. A few options include content marketing via social media and websites, including case studies, success stories, and blog posts. Articles about your business in both local and industry publication highlighting what makes you unique is another great way to build word-of-mouth. Other ideas include hosting educational customer webinars, “lunch & learn” sessions, and participating in industry and customer groups.
- Pricing. For wide-format graphics, Greene noted, there tend to be three types of customers: off-the shelf customers, who calls and needs 50 banners tomorrow. These are low-margin, transactional jobs, and you want to have a set rate per piece for these types of products right from the start. Next is a project sale. It is a little more customized, they are looking for input from the PSP. They are a little higher margin, and the PSP is viewed as a specialist. And finally is the program sale. There is deep integration with the customer’s business. You already know what they want to do and the message they want to send, and they view the PSP as a strategic partner to help them achieve their goals. This is a medium/high margin business, that has gotten completely away from the commodity mindset.
- Selling. Wide-format is a highly competitive market, and buyers have a lot of choice when it comes to suppliers. To combat that, look for ways to package and bundle jobs, use data to support your sales efforts, and reward customers who commit to jobs with profitability, rather than those who just bring volume to the table.
Putting it All Together
Finally, the day ended with a small panel session, moderated by Duccilli, titled “Putting Smart Production Ideas into Action.” Hayes Holzhauer, EVP Operations, bluemedia; and Jason Ahart, Chief Operating Officer, Olympus Group, sat down to talk about smart production and lean manufacturing.
No matter the name used — lean manufacturing, Six Sigma, smart manufacturing, flexible manufacturing — the idea is generally the same: do more with less. Complete more jobs, with less effort, less equipment, less human interaction, less time, and less space.
“For us, lean has always been a reduction of waste,” noted Ahart. “We have this challenging environment, of high quality expectations, a moderate cost to a low cost depending on what they need is, and then on-time delivery. Getting it fast, getting it out there, requires our facility to be very lean. For us, it’s eliminating the waste to allow our employees to be able to produce… Lean keeps us nimble.”
Holzhauer noted that for his organization, “For us, it was more about re-organizing so we can find things. Not only do we have a high quality expectation, but the time frame in which we get to do things continues to shrink and shrink. The simple task of finding a tool you need, or knowing where supplies are and reliably going to that spot was a big adjustment for us. It started with almost we need to strip away everything, clean our shelves, reorganize all our tools, and make sure everything is where it is supposed to be, and Involving the employees in that process. And then overlapping into lean, and removing waste from our processes and being more nimble.”
A few ways to achieve lean manufacturing including first taking a hard look at the overall flow and design of the plant itself. Examine the floor plan, and find ways to rearrange equipment and workstations with a goal of reducing the distance materials need to travel as jobs move through the facility, as well as reducing the number of steps employees need to take to move between stations as they complete their work.
Another major component is having a detailed way to plan jobs, and communicate information about individual jobs, as well as the overall status of the plant as a whole. Detailed job boards can help keep the entire staff on track, and help keep all the relevant data in a single location for access. Other ways to help visually orient employees and reinforce the concepts of lean include signage and graphics throughout the facility directing employees how to move through the building, as well as banners or other graphics putting the lean concepts front and center at all times.
For PSPs looking to get started with some form of lean manufacturing, Holzhauer and Ahart had a few key recommendations:
- Get started. You have to start somewhere, so even just making small changes to start is better than doing nothing.
- Develop a company-wide culture of continuous improvement.
- Establish key metrics for the facility — and then track and monitor them.
- Identify obstacles as early as possible, and find creative ways to address them before they become long-term problems.
- Communication — keep employees informed and engaged about not just the process or layout, but be proactive in addressing problems and finding solutions that work for everyone. Also keeping clear lines of communication on a daily basis on things like status of jobs will make a difference in the success or failure of the business.
Day 2 of the Wide-format Summit Series will be Thursday, Oct. 15. Don’t miss another jam-packed day with new content exclusive to the Wide-format Summit Series. Register today at https://www.wideformatimpressions.com/vresource/wide-format-summit-series-october-15-2020/?src=social