Wide-Format is Wide Open for Small Commercial Printers

The idea seems logical and the subject has been talked about for years, but the addition of wide-format offerings to existing commercial printing operations has been much more talk than action. In fact, the 2012 QP Top 100 survey found that only 5.79 percent of group sales came from wide-format. With digital workflow the norm, increasing interest in becoming marketing service providers, and decreasing price points, why aren’t more printers jumping on the wide-format bandwagon?

We asked that question of three major wide-format vendors and solicited their advice on the potential benefits and pitfalls of getting into the wide-format game. (Their answers have been edited for space.)

QP: Are you seeing increased interest in adding wide-format capabilities to existing commercial printing operations?

Randy Paar, senior marketing specialist, Canon Solutions America (www.myprintresource.com/10006967): Yes, still largely investigative on the whole, but some early adopters have already become successful, which causes others to explore wide-format as a potential new opportunity.

Eric Zimmerman, product manager, Roland DGA Corp. (www.myprintresource.com/10007761): Like so many industries, quick printers live and breathe in a digital environment. And since the introduction of digital presses, the quick printing industry has changed dramatically. Quick printers, to date, have been somewhat under-represented in the wide-format market. But they actually are very well positioned for it.

Terry Mitchell, vice president marketing for Fujifilm North America (www.myprintresource.com/10013800): Yes, in fact, Fujifilm has made a concerted effort to respond to this interest during the last year by holding Tech Summits on wide-format printing specifically for commercial print operators. We have presented statistics on the wide-format market including market size, market growth, and profit opportunities.

QP: What is the typical starting point?

Fujifilm: The starting point for a commercial printer really depends on the individual business. As a general rule, most commercial printers start with a 64-inch roll press or a 4x8-foot UV flatbed press. Many show interest in hybrid platforms that can print both flexible roll materials and rigid stocks.

The choice depends on what segment of the wide-format business is being served and the type of materials that will be printed. Once we know the customers’ needs, we can offer the appropriate recommendation to meet those business needs.

Canon: First, ask yourself questions about your business, as well as learn about wide-format printing technology and the marketplace. What’s the most popular, versatile device? What sort of budget should be considered? What will it take in training and staffing to make it work? How do you market these new services? Where do you find the business? Can I leverage my existing client base? How much business do I need to make my ROI?

Being thorough and constructing a solid plan based on good information is very important.

Roland: Most businesses looking at a significant capital expenditure start by analyzing their market and then by identifying how they expect to benefit from the investment. For example, they take inventory of their existing business with questions like “Who are my customers?” and “What are they asking for?” From there, most look at the types of products they want to sell and at their budget for the equipment. This type of analysis can take a quick printer in a number of different directions. Once they have made the investment in a print device, the most successful shops make sure they have plenty of samples on hand to show what their new device can do.

QP: How vital are finishing capabilities to profitable wide-format printing?

Roland: Any printed material that is going to be outdoors or have contact with people needs lamination. For example, trade show graphics are wrapped, packed, and thrown into vehicles, where they are subject to abrasion. Your local school district or municipality may fold up your banners when storing them. Lamination will help protect these and other types of graphics from being damaged. In addition, you need to know how to trim, mount, hem, and grommet graphics. The good news here is that finishing is another line item you can add to the sale to further increase your margins.

Canon: Many shops start out with just the printer to first build their wide-format business and then add a digital cutter once the workload increases. Those shops that have both printing and finishing can produce a higher quality and volume of work in a given amount of time and with less labor costs.

Fujifilm: At Fujifilm, we feel that finishing is significant. Finishing capabilities can enable print providers to produce uniquely shaped and sized signage as well as 3D point of purchase displays. Print buyers are looking for these unique executions, and uniquely finished graphic displays often generate higher margins compared with simple square or rectangular shaped graphics.

QP: Is the wide-format sales cycle different than that for traditional commercial printing?

Canon: It’s all relative to what you consider normal, but in a nutshell, you are still selling printing and print-related services. The biggest difference is wide-format presents new applications and services (such as installation) that you may first need to educate your customers about so that the proper expectations are set between customer and print service provider (PSP).

Roland: Customers for wide-format vary widely, from the sports team that needs a banner and jerseys to the small retail business that needs banners, posters, POP displays, a vehicle wrap, or menu boards.

Not only is the sales cycle shorter, but your customers can expect a shorter turnaround time for wide-format work. Wide-format jobs are very high margin, though, compared to traditional quick printing applications, making what might appear at first to be a rush job well worth the effort.

Fujifilm: Both are short and getting shorter, so I would not suggest that they are that much different. Digital inkjet has changed print buyer expectations for fast turnaround.Some wide-format work such as store remodels, large regional or national promotions, and events have longer sales cycles, but most promotional signage has a very short cycle. Print buyers want to see the impact of a campaign, and quickly change if the campaign is not generating results.

QP: As commercial printers turn more to providing marketing services, where does wide-format fit in the mix?

Roland: What customers are finding is that digitally customized products, packaging, and branding materials are more effective and yield a better return on investment. Digital wide-format technology has allowed end users to have high quality, customized output in short runs, and is the best technology for customizing a graphic for a specific consumer. So it fits well in today’s marketing mix.

Canon: As a commercial printer, rather than just printing brochures and direct mail, etc. for your customers, now you can offer POP, displays, and a wide variety of other offerings through expanding into wide-format printing. There is a very good chance those customers are already sourcing their wide-format printing elsewhere. Offering wide-format printing allows the PSP to become a one-stop provider.

Fujifilm: There has been a lot of talk about printers moving from being print service providers to marketing service providers. Fujifilm sees this as an opportunity for growth and expansion into new areas of production and profitability, and that’s where wide-format comes into play. Wide-format is just one of the elements of a marketing campaign that may involve multiple printed pieces. We are also seeing more use of QR codes and integration with mobile marketing.

QP: Any other thoughts on the future of wide-format in the commercial printing industry segment?

Roland: One constant in this industry is change. The key to survival is to differentiate your business and to sell your capabilities well. The right digital wide-format device can help you capture new revenues, serve your customers better, and build solid profit centers to take your business to the next level.

Fujifilm: Wide-format print is growing at seven to eight percent annually and is projected to continue to grow at that pace for the next several years. In contrast, commercial print is in decline, so wide-format offers significant opportunity for commercial printers to diversify and grow their business.

Canon: The convergence of technology and resulting consolidation of business will continue. Like any evolving industry, early adopters see the greatest opportunity in the long run. So, as a commercial printer still debating entering into wide-format, remember you don’t want to be the last one to the party!