Process & Workflow: More than Just Brick and Mortar

Web-to-print is widely used in the commercial print market, where it is deemed an accepted way of doing business. But in the wide-format market, that’s not the case. Web-to-print software and platforms supporting wide- and grand-format printing projects are few and far between. But more and more, manufacturers are starting to provide software for this growing market segment.

Doug Ballinger can’t give a definitive answer as to why web-to-print software and platforms supporting wide-format aren’t seen in greater numbers. But Ballinger, president of San Mateo, CA-based PageDNA, whose software is used to create online storefronts, does have a few educated guesses.

“I’m guessing part of it is that a lot of wide-format printing is sold in fewer pieces,” he said. “There’s no reason wide-format guys can’t use our software, but they may not have enough business from a given customer to justify it, or may not see the value other printers do in having an online storefront. The value people find in our storefront relates to products ordered routinely, even daily.”

In other words, a big issue in justifying the use of an online storefront has to do with order frequency, as well as with products Ballinger calls “versioned.”

If the purchasing frequency is high, and if the product is of the type that begins with a template and lets clients retain most of the template’s repeatable elements while ordering customized versions that make it their own, online storefronts provide more value, Ballinger reports. An example of a versioned product, he said, might be a poster for a national retail chain that can be ordered by each of the chain‘s stores, customized with each store’s names and hours.

Michael Rottenborn, president and CEO of Philadelphia’s Hybrid Integration, a four-year-old maker of GoPrint and GoSign, believes a different factor was involved in delaying wide-format imaging companies’ entry into web-to-print. “We think web-to-print is very well suited to wide-format, as long as the portal can accept very large graphic files from a variety of sources,” he said.

“I think file size was a big driver [of the delay in adoption to web-to-print]. When you’re talking about huge graphics, files get very, very large. We needed networks and portals that could manage those very large files. The technology has been evolving over the years, and it’s finally here.”

At Foster City, CA-based EFI, meantime, Digital StoreFront product manager Dave Minnick sees the delay as one that reflects a slower adoption of digital technology in the wide-format segment. “It was once an analog market, and now is fully embracing digital,” he said. “It’s a natural progression [to web-to-print], and one we saw in the commercial printing market as well.”


Many Advantages

What can web-to-print do for wide-format print providers? Well, first of all, it can take products directly to the buyer, Minnick said. “It allows direct contact with the customer, and it allows for automation of the order process, which can save the printer money, while also adding value,” he reported.

Added Gerald Walsh, market development director for EFI’s Advanced Professional Print Software (APPS) division: “The printer can now provide the buyer with a catalog, which can be customized to that buyer.”

Let’s say a wide-format provider is working with client ABC Auto Parts, which needs display graphics for all eight of its stores. The individual locations can access the website and order those graphics. Let’s say the ABC store in South Minneapolis wants its graphic to bear its address as well. An online storefront like EFI Digital StoreFront can handle that, Walsh said. “We can set up catalogs for ABC Auto, and make it easy for them to do their buying, and for corporate to track buying from multiple locations,” he said. “And because it’s not a manual handoff, it’s going from Digital StoreFront to the management system and on into production, which can be a touch-less workflow throughout.”

The result is more corporate visibility and control for the wide-format print provider’s corporate customer, he added. If corporate spends a lot of money on an ad campaign, it wants to make sure the printed portion of the campaign is in place, and Digital StoreFront can do that. “The control part if huge,” Walsh said.

“They’re going to know what the spend is for each location. They can control that from corporate. They can proof it for one location, and know every other location will have the same quality. It gives back a lot of time to the print buyer. And if you make it easy for the buyer, that’s what builds relationships.”

Increasingly, web-to-print software is handling more sophisticated tasks than simply printing. “We also store budgets,” PageDNA’s Ballinger said. “In the case of a national retailer, each store’s given a budget by corporate, and every time a retailer orders a poster off this storefront, we take some out of their budget. That’s a new functionality wide-format printers may find appealing.

“They can sell this to their customer, telling the customer, ‘Not only can we handle this versioned product and allow individual stores to customize to their own individual needs, but we can help you people in the corporate offices ensure these stores stay within the budgets allocated to them by corporate.’”

Another intriguing function web-to-print facilitates is couponing, he added. In franchised operations, franchisees could be given coupons that allow them to visit the online store, buy posters, banners, logo-emblazoned wallpaper, and other needed products. The coupon, affixed with an expiration date, serves as a limited-time incentive to get franchisees to try the idea, Ballinger said.

“You could also have a bifurcated site, where we detect if you’re coming from corporate and are allowed to pay from the corporate budget, or if you’re a franchisee and have to pay with your own credit card,” he added. “The overall point is you can use incentives to induce them to try this. If they like it, they can buy from this central repository [containing] many things they need.”

Yet one more advantage is soft proofing. Rottenborn notes Hybrid Integration’s GoPrint allows users to preview a graphic through their web browsers, as opposed to downloading the entire graphic to the screen. “This has matured as a technology until it’s now very well accepted,” he said.


Piggybacking on Others’ Storefronts

Even wide-format imaging shops that don’t set up online storefronts can benefit from the technology. “They should be partnering with printing companies that have online storefronts, don’t usually get wide-format printing orders, but occasionally do have those requests,” Ballinger said.

The growing preference among many large corporations is to deal with fewer rather than more online storefronts, he pointed out. If only five percent of a potential corporate client’s spending is on wide-format printing, it makes sense for wide-format shops to be represented among the providers on a general print company’s online storefront, where they can pick up those wide-format projects. After all, Ballinger noted, the corporation doesn’t want to go searching for a wide-format storefront, but wants instead to visit a one-stop shopping site.

“This requires the wide-format guys to get a better understanding of the lay of the land, who’s selling what to whom, and how to partner with the people who have the major storefronts,” he said.

“Their appeal to those major storefronts should be, ‘The more products you put in the storefront, the more appeal you will have to that corporate client who wants to limit the number of storefronts they deal with.’”        


Who Benefits

Those who are most likely to leverage the benefits of web-to-print view it as an indispensable tool, EFI’s Walsh says. He notes some printers still see an Internet presence as a webpage where some kind of form is filled out.

“They don’t see this as a productivity tool,” he observed. “The printers who are really successful see this as a productivity tool upfront, and they have their salespeople out there not just selling printing, but selling web-to-print as a service with the printing. Web-to-print can establish a relationship so you don‘t have to sell it again and again. The business just comes in.”

Minnick phrases the thought another way, noting that the technology is a complement to the business and sales process of the printing company. “It provides a contractual relationship between the customer and the print provider, bringing additional value to the business plan. It’s not just working sale to sale.”

Added Ballinger: “We find our best customers are thinking about making convenience available to their customers. They’re not just selling widgets . . . In a business that is generally considered a mature industry, printing, there’s still a lot of opportunity. You have to go out there, network and sell like crazy.”