Secrets from a PSP: Creating Custom Interiors

“We do things people wouldn’t dare to do,” said Aaron Kirsch, owner of Astek Inc. Kirsch and his team have been working in the wall covering industry for three decades and have seen tremendous changes in the industry. Astek creates custom design items for the television series Extreme Home Makeover as well as for various programs on HGTV.

“We started as a distributor 27 years ago,” said Kirsch. “In the last 12 to 13 years we got into the digital world. It’s fun to see the progress of where things are going in the digital world.”

Breaking into the interior décor market is not always easy. There are still many misconceptions. Many clients believe custom items are costly, must come in large quantities, and take a long time to produce. With digital technology, those things are no longer true. Printers need to educate their clients on what is possible with new technology. However, it may be easy to recruit interior designers as clients once they learn about the minimal set up, economy, and variety of choices regarding printed materials.

Educating Clients

As with many types of printing, it is the printers’ responsibility to educate their clients regarding the processes if they wish to streamline the process and save the design team many headaches. The designers that work outside the industry may have great ideas and concepts but must be taught how the printing process works, particularly when it comes to repeats and scale.

Marty Feldman of Light-Works, Inc. noted the importance of the education. “When we begin to talk to interior designers we get really excited because the door is wide open for creativity but we have to bring it back down to Earth.”

Bringing a client “back down to Earth” typically involves explaining what is or is not possible with digital printing. While the industry has come a long way, there are still limitations.

“We’ve seen a lot of designers who think what they have is a great idea,” said Kirsch. “We lend support to make those things a reality.”

John Kim, a partner in Brea, CA’s Gamut Media, takes some of the confusion out of trying to educate clients on scale and repeats. “We will actually take a picture of the wall and create it to scale so the client can see it.”


A Step Above

One service that printers are embracing more is creating a brand for their clients. This can be as important for interior designers and design houses as it is for the printers themselves. Creating a brand for a client is beneficial for all involved. It helps the client to market his work and to keep presence of mind with the end customer. On the printers’ side, better client marketing means more repeat business. In the end, everyone wins.

“We talk to the client about their company—try to customize the work to find out about their sense of style and work. We want to brand them. Everything’s trying to go with a corporate look,” said Kim.

The challenge of working with designers gives printers the opportunity to explore new avenues and allows them to receive insight into new ideas. Keeping on top of new ideas is an important aspect for in-house design teams. Kirsch has developed a plan to ensure that his team is always on the cutting edge. He sends members of his design team to all major shows all over the world. “They always come back with new ideas, new colors.”


Trends and Profit

Last year was a big year for the textile industry when it came to producing custom printed textiles. The items were used for everything from garments to shower curtains. Some industry experts expected a decline in the trend but custom digitally printed items seem to be more popular than ever, especially considering that the options and applications are myriad. For printers to get the most value out of the custom printed furniture aspect of the industry, it is recommended that they choose to focus on one area that can be applied in many different ways, such as printed fabrics or laminates that can be applied to hardwood furniture, laminated items, and exhibition furniture.

Clients’ needs will always determine the range of products offered by a printer, but branching out into the custom printed field opens the doors for new and exciting opportunities and the thrill of creating something that has never been done before.

But no business will truly succeed without a solid business model. Feldman believes that his company’s success is due in part to a business model that is personal to the company and focused on specific needs.

It’s business 101. “It does matter what type of business model; you have to sit down and find out what will work best for you,” said Feldman. “It’s a personal thing. You need to know the metrics of business.”

In any type of industry, the metrics should include good strategy, bookkeeping, and cost knowledge. Feldman stressed that knowing all of the costs in a business is the key to making profit. This includes knowing the cost of substrate waste, inks, solvents, and the like in addition to standard overhead.

In relation to the client, he said, “We just tend to work very closely with our clients to come up with a better business model. We tend to customize what that client needs.”