Who am I? Where am I? Where am I going? Those are some of the most fundamental and basic questions we ask ourselves as we go through our lives. In a way, business isn’t any different. From time to time we need to step back and evaluate the state of our businesses, answering those ever-present questions of who we are, where are we, and where are we going? In times of economic and financial uncertainty, these kinds of thoughts—and discussions—are even more important because the answers will shape the fabric of our businesses for the upcoming years.
The wide- and grand-format industry has been converging for the past decade. Wide-format printing technology has enabled the transformation of the graphic arts industry into a different entity. No longer are shops only printers, they’re partners and facilitators, assisting corporations large and small with their marketing programs and critical projects. And by the time this recession rebounds, the industry be very different and every company will look very different than it did back in 2008.
While many financial pundits have officially announced the end of the recession with the recovery already underway, I think most in the wide- and grand-format industry agree that it still seems like we’re at the bottom—and a very bumpy bottom at that. No one segment of the industry has been immune from the recession. The entire industry has been hit regardless of ink technology or application specialty. We’ve heard about companies closing, about companies merging and consolidating to stay alive and afloat, about business being off, and not by a few percentage points.
According to Joseph N. Masters, graphic display marketing manager and sustainability manager, Alcan Composites USA, within the overall graphic display industry, “our fabricators tell us that their business is down on average 30 to 50 percent, depending on the shop, and business hunger is driving aggressive sales approaches. We’ve certainly seen some shops close in this economy.”
“We have seen market declines related to this economic downturn in the range of 15 to 20 percent in terms of volume and I think perhaps greater in terms of revenue because of the discounting and ‘mix’ changes that drive revenue downward,” said Tim Greene, director, Wide Format & Jetting Technologies, InfoTrends.
The New Normal
In some instances, the double-digit growth we’d seen in previous years made this crisis even more painful, as companies had to adjust to the new economic realities. “The industry has been used to double digit growth in large format graphics market overall for a number of years now,” commented Christopher Howard, senior vice president, sales and marketing, Durst Image Technology US, LLC, “so the slowdown has certainly been a bit of a difficult environment.”
“The industry as a whole is struggling,” said Angie Mohni, vice president marketing, Neschen Americas. “We are seeing some stabilization within the economy, but we are not quite out of the woods yet.”
“I think the wide-format industry, redefined expectations for growth due to current economic conditions, but I also believe it has been resilient. Challenging times are what help an industry adjust, realign and thrive,” said Rick Moore, marketing director, MACtac Graphic Products.
But as Moore also pointed out, the wide-format industry is changing—for better or worse. With its close ties to the advertising industry, the industry many times reflects the moods and trends from the corporate marketing world—and things there have changed dramatically. “Marketers are challenged to find ways for their products and services to remain top of mind with customers, and fortunately, customers have more and more creative platforms to choose from to gain that mind share, including the Internet, where they are increasingly allocating their spending. Most marketers have indicated that their print advertising spending, as well as spending on other traditional advertising outlets like radio, is not their priority right now. That is an indicator to our industry that we must be more creative, showing these decision makers we offer new and creative solutions that can help them achieve their goals,” said Moore.