One of the most important things we have to do at InfoTrends is try to monitor the business activity levels across the gamut of stakeholders in the wide-format signage and graphics market. It is vital to understand the outlook on the wide-format business from print buyers, print service providers, equipment and supplies distributors, and manufacturers.
In a recent survey issued by InfoTrends and Wide-Format Imaging with more than 400 PSPs in North America, we learned what some of the hot markets and applications trends are here at the end of 2011. One of the questions we asked in the survey was about which print buying industries are growing and which are declining. Figure 1 illustrates especially that retail is a critical industry in the wide-format signage and graphics market—indicated by 76 percent of respondents that it is growing. Manufacturing, entertainment, and healthcare were the other top industries. While construction was cited by over 62 percent of the respondents, construction was also one of the only segments that printers reported seeing a significant decline in, along with real estate.
The data illustrates which vertical segments are “hot”—but what are the application areas that are hot? InfoTrends believes the best way to illustrate which are the hot applications is to show the percentage of PSPs that report they produce this application and map that to the percentage that are seeing a growing demand for this application from their customers. There are several interesting findings within this data. For example, the banner market seems to be very hot—with nearly 70 percent of the respondents already producing banners and indicating that they are seeing a growing demand from their customers.
Interestingly, the respondents reported that billboards are one of the hottest applications, cited as “growing” by more than 70 percent of the respondents. We find it interesting because the regulations against billboards get a lot of press, so many might think this is a market that would not see a lot of growth. However, the Outdoor Advertising Association of America does indicate that the outdoor advertising sector has seen steady growth since the second quarter of 2010.
Another one of the other hot applications is commercial/domestic interiors. This is one that InfoTrends has been a pretty big believer in because it seems like an excellent opportunity for advertisers and brand marketers to make greater use of the space inside retail or professional environments. At the same time it seems like many new ink and media products have become available that enable this application from both an economic and environmental standpoint.
POP signs and displays were cited as the fourth hottest application by the PSPs. InfoTrends believes that POP is one of the backbones of the wide-format digital graphics market because for a long time retailers and brand manufacturers have recognized that there is a strong opportunity to influence purchase decisions within the retail location.
Other hot application areas cited by the respondents include flags, fine art work, floor graphics, proofing and packaging samples. It is important to recognize that what we have charted in this article are just the applications that the highest numbers of respondents indicated are growing. So some of the hot applications from past studies, such as vehicle wraps and decals, are still hot but are seeing more stable demand. So we asked PSPs if they are seeing demand increase, decrease, or stay the same for these applications and 95 percent of the respondents reported they are seeing demand increase or stay the same for many of these key applications. In fact, the only application that appears to be seeing a significant decline, approaching 10 percent, is backlit signs and graphics. However, even with backlit signs and graphics, the companies that reported growth outnumber the companies reporting a decline by a 4:1 ratio. In fact, InfoTrends believes it is a good sign for the overall market that there were no applications that PSPs reported seeing higher levels of decline than growth.
Buyer Demand Trends
While the mix of applications is one of the most interesting and important things about the wide-format market—driving innovation in the production hardware to accommodate the amazing variety of substrates that are required to produce this wide range of applications—the nature of these applications is also extremely important. That is, it is important for print service providers to recognize the trends that are driving changes within the applications and within the buying environment.
What this data shows is that the demand for many of the characteristics of print that lead to digital workflows and production are increasing. PSPs are reporting higher demand for personalization, higher demand for shorter runs, higher demand for delivery to the point of need, higher demand for more integration with other marketing collateral, more demand for online ordering, more demand for complex logistics, more demand for faster turnaround, and more demand for just-in-time production.
Figure 3 also compares these demand trends for all of the PSPs that responded to the survey with those that get more than 50 percent of their revenue from wide-format printing services. Thirty-six percent of the survey respondents get more than 50 percent of their revenue from wide-format printing services. So when we compare these groups it is interesting to see the companies that are very into wide-format are reporting that demand for many of these services is even higher than the average respondent.
One More Thing ...
The last topic we’ll cover is about additional services. InfoTrends believes that one of the critical success factors for PSPs is to be able to provide real value-add services to customers not as a last-minute upcharge, but as part of a consultative selling approach. In this survey we asked PSPs if they provide QR codes or some other interactive elements into their signage and graphics printing. Sixty percent of the respondents reported that they offer these kinds of services. Of those, 73 percent reported that they offer these services proactively. The companies that are more into wide-format bring these averages way up. For example more than 73 percent of the companies that get most of their revenue from wide-format printing reported that they offer these kinds of services, and of those more than 80 percent reported that they offer these services proactively.
The wide-format signage and graphics business is undergoing a constant change placing ever greater demands on print service providers. The data shows that wide-format printing is a tough business to “dabble in” as the heightening demand from print buyers necessitates comprehensive understanding of the markets and applications as well as high degrees of operational effectiveness.