What Retail Brands Want
If there is one thing no one can deny, it’s that the past several years — filled with a pandemic, social unrest, and more — have irreversibly changed the retail landscape. But it’s one thing to be an outsider looking in; it’s another thing entirely to hear about the real challenges retailers are facing from the brands themselves.
When it comes to the trends affecting retailers, ranging from small local businesses to major international chains, there is no better source than those who are living it daily. David Milne, director, Architecture & Design, for Inspire Brands’ Dunkin’ and Baskin-Robbins brands, notes that technology, in particular, is one that he sees as having a lasting impression.
“Technology advanced 10 years in one year,” says Milne. “The technology was there, but there was never an excuse to use it. Now, brands are leveraging it to make the retail options very different.” The restaurant space, for example, has seen a swift development and implementation of technologies for online ordering and delivery, which has really reshaped how brands interact with consumers.
Another trend of note, says Harry Steen, creative director, Store Design & Equipment — Professional Services for UNFI — an organization that specializes in helping brands create eye-catching interior spaces — has been the rise of printed graphical elements. “Over the last 25 years,” he says, “interiors have gone from [no printed elements] to that’s almost all there is. The early stuff was all materials and paints, with a few pictures on the walls if you were lucky. Now it’s all wallcoverings and printed wood, and large interior graphics of some form or another.”
For Kraig Kessel, co-founder of Kraido, which specializes in helping create branded environments and innovative customer experiences, the changes in retail have differed based on the type of store — restaurants and outlet stores, for example, have different sets of challenges. That said, he notes, one big trend has been the rise of being able to buy something online and then pick it up in the store. “It is expanding the way customers have access to goods, and that is not going away — that is here to stay,” he says.
The Devil in the Details
So, with those trends in the background, what are brands looking for when it comes to their print provider?
Especially for brands that have strong color identities, one detail that absolutely can’t be missed is ensuring that color matches on every piece of printed material, no matter what substrate it is, or where it is going. Libra Balian, the director of marketing procurement for high-end jewelry chain Tiffany & Co., notes that for her brand, “Tiffany blue is beyond critical — it has to be perfect.” She notes that the printers the brand has built relationships with tend to have “strong production managers supervising the proofs.” In fact, she notes, Tiffany considers it so important, they don’t do business with shops that haven’t proven themselves for several years with other high-value brands. “We rely on the vendors because they’re the last ones to see everything. We really train our printers to be our eyes and ears, and they value that relationship with us.”
Dana Brown, VP customer experience for sportswear company Schneiders, notes that perhaps the biggest thing she looks for is the ability to deliver on the small details. “I expect great quality, and that it will look great,” she says, “but the make-it-or-break-it is the price and delivery.” She notes that one thing that drives her crazy is when she gets banners from the printer folded, instead of rolled, so it has wrinkles. Paying attention to details like that will help move a shop up to partner status, instead of just another vendor, and she notes she will be more likely to return to the same shop and not get additional bids the next time a job comes up.
Overall, says Steen, when it comes to retail graphics, “they have to be high quality. And when I say that, I mean it’s not only execution of the graphics and what it’s printed on — it’s also how they’re installed. Over the last decade or more, retailers, small chains, and ‘brand police’ have gotten all about the fit and finish.”
Going Above and Beyond
In fact, brands are increasingly looking to their PSPs to do more than just be print providers — they want, and need, to work with providers who can take charge of the project from beginning to end. In a perfect world, says Kessel, print providers would “be able to move beyond print and put it all together. Some do a good job of this already, but many fall short of complete follow through.”
And it’s not just installation services, or end-of-life plans for the graphics that brands want PSPs to take control of — they are also relying on printers to be experts on the types of graphics they can use in the first place. “Signage on the buildings has always been problematic,” says Milne, “with different states and cities all having different codes around the size or square footage allowed, and what is or isn’t perceived as a sign.” Having a partner who stays up-to-date on those laws and regulations, and can advise the brand on ways to create a cohesive campaign that works for every retail location is a valuable service they are willing to pay premium prices for.
Brown stresses that going above and beyond also means taking the time to know the brand’s business before ever trying to pitch new products. “I get a lot of solicitations from printers. I know it’s easier to send a blind email, but go on our website at least — just know the business. In addition, if you really want me as a client, then you have to be persistent, but in a nice way. Don’t be obnoxious about it.”
“Always come with ideas,” says Balian. She notes that having a portfolio of previous jobs that demonstrates the PSP’s ability to live up to what it promises is critical, but at the same time, that portfolio alone isn’t enough. Coming to the table with ideas for things like short-run packaging options or special promotions is something they look for, and a shop with ideas for new ways to help them use print to highlight their products would stand out from the crowd.
One point many of the brands brought up is the fact that, like PSPs, they are feeling the pressure when it comes to substrates and the general supply chain. They acknowledge that these delays aren’t their printers’ fault, but they are a pain point, nevertheless. “Right now,” Steen says, one of the biggest challenges he is facing is “supply chain. And you’re going to hear that everywhere — delays because of this and that, and everything I hear is that it will continue for another year, at least. So, a lot of it is ‘Radar O’Reilly’, and finding different ways to do things. It’s about scrappiness, and if you can’t do it this way, then get a different substrate.” PSPs that come to him with solutions and ideas instead of just problems are going to be far more likely to earn his business long-term.
What it all boils down to is that brands aren’t interested in working with printers — they are seeking partnerships with solutions providers who can step in and advise them, give them new ideas, and offer interesting new technologies and ways to capture the attention of their customers. They are looking for shops that will not just manage the project until the printed item goes out the door but will be on hand — or at least take the lead on managing — the delivery and installation of those graphics, and then taking them down and storing or recycling them afterward. Retail brands want partners, not printers, and the shops that ultimately earn their business will be the ones who embrace that mentality.
Related story: Four Views on Serving the Retail Segment
Toni McQuilken is the senior editor for the printing and packaging group.