As the country tries to emerge from one of the worst economic downturns in history, retailers are still feeling the effects. Consumers are being careful with their money and the retailers themselves have to be wise in their investments. They need to draw in customers and get them to spend once inside. One of the most effective—and relatively inexpensive—ways to do this is by using Point-of-Purchase (POP) signage.
Wide-Format Imaging recently spoke with representatives from POP manufacturers to find out how they are helping retailers in these tough times. New innovations, reduced costs, and quicker turnaround times are all hot topics. Digital printing, sustainable products, and new substrates are also key issues.
The experts interviewed for this story are: Jim Moore, The Special Projects Group, a Division of Art Laminating, LLC, Atlanta, GA; George Kern, Grafix Solutions Inc., Sayreville, NJ; Erik Landrowski, NGS Printing, Elgin, IL; Dan Kimmerly and Maureen Gumbert, KDM P.O.P. Solutions Group, Cincinnati, OH; Doug Mier, FastSigns, Louisville, KY; and Herm Kauls and Cathy Campbell, Graphic Systems, Minneapolis, MN.
How has the POP signage business changed in the last 12 months?
Kauls/Campbell: You could say that the print industry was a commodity, where people were just taking quotes. But that type of business doesn’t exist much anymore. You have to be more upstream working with a customer before it gets to the print buyer, and actually be working with a marketing team in providing solutions along the way. It’s all about being a solutions provider.
Kern: The POP displays/signage itself has grown tremendously over the past 12 months mainly because of the economic situation that the retail market has suffered through. The advertisers know that their clients brands need to be pushed hard during these times and they are looking for every creative outlet available to them. POP signage is one of the best mediums they have at their disposal.
Kimmerly/Gumbert: Obviously, the recession has been a large factor. While we have had an increase in the number of quote requests, the size of the average quote is down. The trend also continues to be shorter lead times. Thus, the amount of our digital printing has increased. That has allowed us to move forward with purchases such as our new digital flatbed HP Scitex FB7500, increasing our productivity and our customers’ speed to market.
Landrowski: We are seeing a much higher volume of short-run projects, an increased amount of customization in larger projects and a demand for litho-quality work, no matter what substrate was chosen. To meet this demand we recently purchased the Inca Onset. It is already changing the way our clients look at flatbed digital printing.
Mier: We’re doing a lot of digital printing. We’re working with a national grocery chain that has these metal deli cases, so we’re printing on magnetic media. We print the Boar’s Head logo and Boar’s Head type face onto a mag and it’s a perfect fit. The cool part about this is they don’t have to worry about blank shelf danglers or paper inserts. It’s an absolute full-color image that lays perfectly flat, and if they want to move the Boar’s Head to the other side of the deli case, the sign comes up and goes back down cleanly.
Moore: The type of quotes we are receiving has changed. We are getting quotes for much smaller quantities and quicker turnaround times. With the shift in the economy, customers are much more price conscience and are looking for more economical ways to produce jobs quickly.
What are the hot new trends regarding methods and materials available for POPs?
Kauls/Campbell: We’re doing a lot more floor and window graphics. Floor graphics are tending to be a little bit more of a trend that we’re seeing. Magnetic walls are something that we have been working on for a couple of years. Retailers can put their background environments in the back, and then three to five layers of magnets on top. It’s very inexpensive.
Kern: One of the biggest trends is the growing demand for eco-friendly and sustainable materials. More often than not, these displays are short term, so when the campaigns end, everything ends up going in the trash.
Kimmerly/Gumbert: Marketers are moving to more local, customized campaigns, and ordering just what they need. Digital print-on-demand and variable data printing methods are requested more. Many clients have also put their requests for green processes and green materials on the back burner. KDM has continued to increase our green commitments and product offerings, so we will be ready when the market requests green again.
Landrowski: Digital printing continues to expand into the screen-printing arena, and new “green” products emerge weekly, but the demand is not keeping pace.
Mier: What’s popular right now is that tattoo- and the retro-styled artwork—the stuff that has the images included. I think that’s important because the digital world has given us the ability to create artwork that can be encompassed with the designs. It’s given us the ability to attach a high-quality photograph into the displays, and I think that’s huge. I would certainly hate to hand paint or hand cut all of that stuff. That’s the most awesome part about this is that it gives us the opportunity to do things and create more engrossing pieces through the use of drop shadows and color effects for almost no cost to us. And that passes on to the customer.
Moore: As the word gets out about direct-to-board printing, we are seeing more demand for it. We are also getting more requests for contour-cut graphics that we can produce by printing direct to board, then contour cutting on an automated cutter/router.
What do you consider your company’s best practices when it comes to POPs?
Kauls/Campbell: We’re problem solvers. A lot of our customers will talk about things they want to do, and then we recommend different materials, do test samples, and then they decide if they want to move forward.
Kern: One of the things we do is site surveys to better assess the stores on an individual basis. Instead of sending out 100 of the same displays, we like to see what the locations can provide us with from the start. Retractable banner systems are another winner when it comes to POP displays. These are great for stores who don’t have huge budgets, yet still need to push certain items harder than others. They are affordable, re-usable, and store easy...not to mention repeat business when it comes time for a new promotion, which can lead to sales of your company’s other services as well.
Kimmerly/Gumbert: Our POP solutions provide the speed to market that our customers demand. Beginning with concept and design to plastic distribution with eco-friendly options to our manufacturing flexibility via 37 printing presses to finishing, custom display and plastic fabrication to kitting and assembly our fulfillment division and a national distribution network on to our own INTELLiTRAK: online procurement including project management.
Landrowski: In the rapid pace POP world, where job specs change up to the last minute, honesty is always the best policy. Changes invariably cause price increases or delays. When confronted with changes, we layout the causes, work-up a game plan and execute it. Fortunately NGS Printing was built with the idea of always having excess capacity, so we rarely have to confront clients with bad news. We’re usually the company that pulls the rabbit from the hat!
Mier: We do an awful lot of the signs that you see on countertops. We’ve done a bunch of acrylic and easel signs with solvent decals. For those products, we are solvent printing. We have in house a Seiko 64S color painter. We print on vinyl laminate, apply to the mags, and then just slice it. With the mag it’s just a score line and then it snaps apart. And with the solvent decals, they’re clean, they’re easy to maintain, and the colors are so rich on them. That’s a big plus.
Moore: We consult with the customers regarding how the finished pieces are being used so we can recommend the best use of materials/processes for the job. Many times we are able to direct them in a different direction using our flatbed printer to print directly to a substrate instead of printing to paper, then laminating, then mounting to a substrate. It saves us time and labor costs and is a more affordable.
What’s next for the POP market?
Kauls/Campbell: People are going back to substrates that we haven’t been using for a while, like a clear acrylic material. We’re seeing a lot more things come back from the 1970s that were effective. But now the equipment can do so much more with those substrates. And the printing quality in the last five years has just improved so much it’s phenomenal.
Kern: In the not too distant future we can definitely see the POP displays becoming more interactive with consumers. They are already integrating Bluetooth equipped displays with downloadable ads to stream on your phone. If you choose to allow this service to integrate on your phone let’s say, while you are in the supermarket and you walk by your favorite energy drink...you look on your phone...the Bluetooth POP display sent you a coupon for 50 cents off your next purchase. These are things already in development and out there, they are just waiting to breakthrough on mass-scale campaigns. Displays like this, combined with augmented reality, will give these brands new areas of advertising never before available. The cheaper the technology gets the more of this we will see.
Kimmerly/Gumbert: Customized print campaigns, along with the return of “green” requests. We also expect the continued decline of traditional screen-printing. The large-format digital presses get faster and faster and the digital inks become more affordable every year. We are confident that marketers will continue to realize the effectiveness of in-store POP especially with all the supporting data that shows as much as 60 percent of shoppers will make their buying decision while in the store, regardless of their shopping lists.
Mier: I’ve been hearing for the last eight years that dynamic digital signage is the next big wave, but I just don’t think that anybody is going to use $25,000 worth of TV equipment to advertise a $2 pound of cheese.
Moore: Retailers utilizing POP graphics are becoming more budget and time sensitive. It seems that our customers are waiting longer to start projects, which has reduced the amount of time that we have to produce them. I see a segment of this market continuing to move more toward flatbed printing instead of screen-printing for mid-size runs of POP graphics.