Best of the Best: 2010 Top Wide-Format Print Providers

No matter what industry you were in, 2009 was one of the most difficult years in recent history. We saw record numbers of unemployment, the bottoming out of consumer confidence, and cost-cutting measures within both businesses and families. But despite the difficulties, some businesses survived and even thrived. While the majority of the Top Shops saw a distinct impact on their 2009 revenue figures, many—if not all—remain optimistic about the future of the industry and their business.

While we see a number of the same shops from previous years, this year we have expanded the list to include 40 shops. They come from all walks of life—digital color shops, reprographic shops, photo labs, service bureaus, production facilities—and from all over the U.S. Some have a single location, while others do business out of multiple locations over a wide geography. Some are focused primarily on black-and-white or color images, while others do a little bit of everything.

The shops offer a range of capabilities and services—depending on what their customers need. As an average, 51.98 percent of their output is wide-format (36-96 inches in width) up from 49.40 percent in 2008. Grand-format (96-inches plus) grabs the next largest share with 22.30 percent, down from 23.36 percent the previous year. Medium-format (24-35 inches) runs closely behind with 17.38 percent, up a few ticks from 16.44 percent. The remaining 8.35 percent is in small-format (14-inches and smaller) up from 7.8 percent.

Much like last year, banners and signs (19.65 percent) make up the largest application, with retail and POP displays (17.07 percent) pulling in a close second. Exhibit and trade-show graphics (11.10 percent) and fleet and vehicle wraps (10.09 percent) pull in the next largest segment of business. Posters (7.43 percent), fabric and textile printing (6.04), backlit graphics (5.84), engineering drawings (5.76 percent), billboards (4.68 percent), specialty graphics (3.82), fine art and museum graphics (3.57 percent), décor (2.81 percent) and other applications (2.15 percent) round out the applications.

Economically Speaking
Like last year, the economy is foremost on everyone’s minds and nearly all of our top shops said it would be the biggest challenge for them through the next 12 months. But even though things look grim, many have a positive outlook for the future and are planning on investing in their businesses this year.

New equipment—in the form of flatbed printers, dye-sublimation printers, and digital cutting and routing systems—are considerations for many of the top shops within the next 12 months. Electronic signage also came up more and more. Some shops are looking at expanding into this market segment and combine it with the digital print portion of their business to offer a more complete package—especially for retail environments. Additionally, shops are still looking for ways to automate processes with Web-to-print applications, CRM systems, and workflow management systems.

“The economy will continue to be a challenge in the year ahead,” said Paul Anstett, president/owner of Fargo, ND-based Mathison’s. “Companies will expect their limited marketing dollars to produce results. Many have down-sized their in-house advertising and marketing departments to reduce costs. Printers who can help fill those gaps by providing top quality design services will be invaluable. It will be important to work in an increasingly consultative way, staying on top of new products and bringing information and solutions to the table. Helping customers get the most for their marketing dollar will be crucial. Being able to produce quality results at every stage of a project from design through finishing and installation will continue to be essential.”

“Our biggest immediate challenge is increasing our order volumes while driving cost out of our business,” said Kevin Huseman, president of Hobart, IN-based Point Imaging. “With the very challenging business environment we are currently navigating, we have worked diligently at reducing all unnecessary expenses. Additionally, we have performed a comprehensive review of our complete staff. Our performers have stepped up to increased authority and accountability, non-performers are no longer with us. We will continue to stay focused on delighting our clients with every opportunity and selling into our core competencies.”

“Our biggest challenge moving forward this year, as most would probably say these days, is working within such a challenging economy. More specifically, companies are now much more risk-averse, and less willing to take on big projects without an even higher reassurance of ROI,” said Matthew Doniger, president of Graphix Connection based in Oldsmar, FL. “Another issue related to this is the lack of inventory suppliers are keeping on hand. Supplies that once arrived same or next day when ordered, now arrive three days later. This can cause a domino effect for us. When we have to wait on supplies, it has potential of lengthening our turn-around times, from which our customers have come to expect very high standards.”

“Changing the way we sell print is our biggest challenge,” said Zach Sharpe, vice president of sales and marketing, Sharpe Images, Winston-Salem, NC. “Printing is such a commodity and there is so much competition out there that we have to start identifying the customers that can really make a difference to our bottom line. Once we research and identify those clients then we try and approach them with ideas or solutions that are measurable, produce a ROI, and just happen to include printing. A packaged solution yields much higher margins than printing alone.”

“Price erosion from struggling competitors seems to be a significant issue for all high-value companies. We see companies that are struggling willing to produce work—most often inferior quality—at never before seen low prices. They are doing this in a desperate attempt to keep the machines busy, but it has a negative effect on the perceived value of all graphic output,” said Barry Polan, vice president of sales for Burbank, CA-based Crush Creative. “Our challenge is to continually educate and demonstrate the added value and differentiation of service by working with a company such as Crush. This is not usually a difficult challenge, but it is something we need to keep stressing.”

“As the delivery model for projects shift in design and build, so must our delivery method change in the reprographics industry," said Tito Taing, president, reproHAUS. “The technological contention and pricing erosion that the industry had experienced throughout the past decade must be replaced with innovations in profitable services as well as a fundamental focus to work together as a cohesive industry. In such a depressed economic environment, I believe Darwinian rules will apply to the weaker players, especially those that constantly erode price for the sake of survival, while the profitable companies will come out of this troubled economy well poised to dominate their respective local market share.”