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Increasing Consumer Engagement

While digital retail signs are an up and coming trend—market research firm iSuppi Corp., in its report "Economic Downturn Impacts Growth of Signage and Professional Market", projects global shipments of retail digital signs are set to rise to 2.5 million units by 2013, a 26.8 percent CAGR from 2008—the word on the street is that the printed POP is alive and well in retail environments worldwide.

"Printed retail signage is absolutely not suffering," proclaims Ken Hanulec, vice president marketing Inkjet Solutions, EFI. "There is more print than ever. Perhaps in select locations, like Times Square in New York City, you clearly see a majority of LED-based signage, but print is alive and doing well and growing worldwide."

In its most recent Market Trends Survey Report, published in 2011, SGIA cites retail stores and corporate branding (which can also be a part of the retail environment) as two of the five top markets for graphics producers, on the rise since 2007 and still growing. Leading forecaster IT Strategies projects that the worldwide retail value of wide-format inkjet output, in the 2010-2015 period, will increase at a CAGR of eight percent, from $36 billion to $51 billion, with POP signage accounting for about 40 percent of all wide-format volume.

A Big Trend

One of the biggest trends to hit the retail signage market—and helping to drive its growth in the print market—is the proliferation of digital wide-format devices, particularly inkjet and LED-based technologies. "While there is still a lot of retail signage produced via offset or screen presses, we are in the midst of a massive analog to digital conversion," says Hanulec.

"Wide-format inkjet, in particular for retail signage, continues to show amazing growth," states Deborah Hutcheson, director of marketing for Agfa Graphics, North America. "As traditional printers migrate to digital inkjet, they realize they are capable of providing customers with practically every printing application. Our objective is to educate our customers and help them become more efficient and profitable. For retail signage printers specifically, the quality, speed and ROI benefits they are looking for can be found in digital inkjet technology."

Digital wide-format devices are nearly immune to fast turnaround times, make print more cost effective for shorter run lengths, and allow for more relevant, targeted displays coveted by retail chains and brands alike.

"In today's retail market, it's all about creating an engaging environment for shoppers," says Thomas Rizzi, chief sales officer at WorkflowOne, a Dayton, OH-based provider of print management, production, and distribution services for the retail market. "POP materials that are customized for a local area and in sync with other marketing efforts can help drive shoppers' buying habits. Consumer preferences change by geographic location, seasons of the year, and their lifestyles, for example, and customized signage allow retail chains and brands to cost-effectively take advantage of the variety of possibilities."

UniGraphic Inc., a Woburn, MA full-service marketing fulfillment shop, brought in an EFI Vutek GS3250LX and an Inca Onset S40 to meet clients' requests to produce higher quality images at faster speeds for the national launch of retail marketing campaigns. The GS3250LX, featuring EFI's LED "Cool Cure" curing technology, gives UniGraphic the fast production speed and 1,000 dpi capability necessary to meet retailers' requirements.

UniGraphic's newest wide-format devices join a Vutek 5330 and Vutek QS3200, more than quadrupling the shop's capacity when delivering simultaneous campaign materials to national retail chains.

In the spring of 2011, Vertis Communications expanded its creative and production services with the installation of a HP Scitex FB700 inkjet printer for large-format POP/POS displays and in-store signage. Vertis, which has two other HP Scitex printers, a LX800 and a FB7500, is leveraging the technology to help clients maximize the appeal of their marketing campaigns.

Building Awareness

"Digital large-format printing is providing retailers with new ways to build store/brand awareness through new applications or cost effective short runs of conventional applications," says Randy Paar, Display Graphics Marketing Manager, Océ North America, a Canon Group Company. "Shops can now cost effectively 'localize' graphics to promote what drives sales in that region or to a particular demographic."

Elmhurst, IL-based Tree Towns Reprographics installed an Océ ColorWave 600 printer to tap into the retail business. Focusing on small businesses in the local area that required up-to-the-minute pricing, special promotions and limited-time offers to drive customer sales, Tree Towns was able to significantly increase its business. The ColorWave 600 is an integral part of the sell to retailers making it easy for the print provider to produce appealing, customized short-term signage, while minimizing turnaround time.

"Digital print is a big thing in retail signage," acknowledges Bill Schober, editorial director, Path to Purchase Institute, formerly the In-Store Marketing Institute. "Now, whether you're a three-store chain or a retail chain with 5,000 stores, you can target your signage hyper-locally. At the mega-store level, brands like Nestlés can do things they would only dream of 10 years ago. Before, you could do change-outs on a high-volume run, but it would add a lot of cost. Now, because of digital, Nestlé can customize its signage campaigns for Pure Life water and print 25 different runs of 1,000, changing out a t-shirt on a hiker, for example, depending on which college is located nearby or which vacation spot is near. These are ideas that have been percolating in the industry for awhile, but now POP printers have the equipment to do it in an efficient way.

Of course, the quality of the output available from digital wide-format printers has also contributed to their popularity "The wide-format POP display graphic market is moving from screen and offset to high speed inkjet due to demand for shorter runs, faster turnaround and lower cost," says Terry Mitchell, Director of Marketing, Fujifilm Sericol. "Inkjet quality has also improved with the advent of more accurate drop placement, nozzle mapping software, full width array printing and choice of finish from satin to gloss."

At UniGraphic, the Inca Onset S40, distributed exclusively by Fujifilm, will print large format point of purchase displays that could easily have required 40 hours of offset press time, tying up production time for a week and causing the shop to turn away other work. The S40 has the ability to run six colors (four plus light magenta and light cyan), allowing UniGraphic to match PMS and brand colors.

"The increasingly better image quality available with large-format inkjet plus the ability to print with white ink is broadening the range of retail POP applications for which inkjet is suited," says Océ North America's Parr. "For example, backlit images were always done photographically but now can be produced on a large-format inkjet just as well and at less cost than before."

Dallas-based Superior Graphics, an all-digital provider of retail POP graphics for local and national customers, installed Agfa's :Jeti 3020 Titan, a high-speed UV flatbed inkjet, in November. Superior works with companies of all sizes; some are local convenience chains with 20-80 stores in their operations, while some are large brands that place displays in 200 different locations.

The Titan joins a wide-format arsenal that includes Espon and Océ printers. In addition to using the Titan for its oversized graphics, Superior received an extra benefit from the printer.

"The Titan's fine dot—it's an eight picoliter drop size—lets us run a lot of smaller graphics with clean graphics and text," says John Ehrenberger, president of the 40-year old company. "We used it a lot for large banners and wall graphics, but we can also use it for small promotions and shelf strips—we can print register trademarks and legalese and they'll look good, even from close up. With the previous generation of wide-formats, you couldn't pull that off; it would be too fuzzy. The Titan is also extremely fast; with a typical print speed we can run a 4x8 Styrene in 2-1/2 minutes and cut out 200 pieces; we can knock out a lot promotions in a day."

The upcoming International Sign Association (ISA) expo, March 22-24 in Orlando, is a great opportunity for print providers looking to expand or upgrade their offerings in the digital wide-format retail signage market.