Embracing Wide-Format

A 2013 study by InfoTrends, Wide Format Printing: A Critical Element in the Communications Mix, reports that 39.4 percent of wide-format print buyers buy their work from general commercial printing firms.

The study furnishes good news for providers of wide-format print. Surveying key decision-makers on both sides of the process, it reports that the number of buyers expecting to increase their wide-format graphics purchases through 2014 was 6.5 times higher than those expecting to reduce it.

InfoTrends cites strong and ongoing growth opportunity, with wide-format printing reaching a 7.9 percent compound annual growth rate through 2016.

EFI, in its own report on the wide-format market, notes that less than 10 percent of commercial printers currently offer the service.

“Implementing a wide-format strategy is simpler than one might expect,” said the EFI report. “It might start with a printing company working to expand its existing customers’ marketing into signage applications. Then there are also opportunities to bring in new customers, using relatively turnkey UV printing systems that offer high quality and fast turnaround times.”

Offering the right mix of wide-format print products can offer commercial printers “an escape route from commoditized, low-margin work.”

While some of the more common wide-format substrates, such as Sintra PVC foam board, do not carry as much pricing flexibility, using a digital wide-format device to output a wider variety of substrates, such as metals and woods, brings in the higher margin work.

Higher value jobs are typically output on a UV, eco-solvent, or solvent wide-format printer running inks that last several years. In addition, these jobs may also have finishing requirements, such as laminating, mounting, cutting, grommeting, and installations of in-store graphics and window or vehicle wraps.


Finding Opportunities

“There are a lot of opportunities in wide-format, it is an area that is growing pretty nicely,” acknowledged Mitch Evans, Managing Director, NAQP, and a consultant. Evans also owns Sign D’Sign in the Hilton Head area of South Carolina, and is a former quick print shop owner. One service he offers is to put printers looking to move into wide format in his sign shop for two days to train them.

While it’s not growing leaps and bounds, says Evans, wide-format has been doing better than other segments of the industry. “As a whole, the printing industry has been in decline since the turn of the century. The recession hit, and some worked through it, while others didn’t.”

Evans’ sign shop survived the recession—“we went flat, but not down,” he said. “The last two years, however, have been marvelous—we are up 35 percent. In 2012 we were up 10 percent after being flat for a few years, and 2013 was even better.”

The ebb and flow of the sign shop’s revenues are the direct result of what is happening within the construction industry. “During the recession, construction stopped in Hilton Head. The sign industry is very dependent on construction—new buildings, new homes, new shopping centers—all need signs. The customers you have in the sign business are in the trades. They need vehicle letters, and signs put in front of projects they are doing or for the building itself.”

Added Evans, “Most printers are interested in producing what customers come into the shop and ask for—posters, banners, etc. But the equipment today can do so much more than that. A smart commercial printer can develop a pretty large business in the wide-format area, adding $200,000 in sales, not just $50,000.”

The secret, said Evans, is to offer wide-format products that are not easily shipped. Banners and posters can be shipped from around the world; a 4x5-foot sign is bought locally.


Marketing Services Brings Success

Take Mojave Copy & Printing in Victorville, CA. Now in its 27th year of operation, the business began as a quick print shop located in the high desert, moving to an industrial area in 1998 and evolving its focus into business-to-business commercial jobs. Today, in addition to traditional printing and copying, a big part of its package is specialty variable data printing for web-based interactions and cross-channel campaigns, run on its Konica C8000.

The year 2007 marked the shop’s first foray into wide-format printing, with the purchase of a dye ink printer. That part of the business wasn’t growing at all, says Sam Pulice, owner. “We neglected that area until a few months ago. We weren’t marketing it correctly—we were trying to only sell posters and banners, and weren’t talking to our current customers correctly about what we could do.”

All of that changed beginning October 2013, when business started booming, a perfect storm of an underserved client base requiring specific services, and “a light bulb going off,” resulting in Pulice understanding how to take his business to the next level.

“We had customers asking us for things they had never asked for before, and this time around, instead of saying ‘No, we don’t do that,’ we said ‘yes,’” said Pulice.

Mohave upped the shop’s service offerings, from posters and banners to specializing in full graphic window wraps and vinyl lettering for signs for businesses in need of creating visibility for their firms.

Staff also changed the way it talked about the shop’s service offerings.

“We started talking to our customers about how our capability was going to help them establish more visibility,” said Pulice. “We let them know we could help them become more visible to their customers.”

Added Pulice, “Instead of selling a product, we stared selling a solution. Everyone has the problem of ‘how do we get customers to see us?’ Signs and window wraps are the perfect solution.”

The light bulb going off wasn’t pure chance. Pulice belongs to a peer group of business people that “work together to help each other be successful. We share ideas, exchange marketing strategies, talk about finances,” explains Pulice. “I attribute a lot of the marketing ideas to that, as well as to what I learned at the NAQP owners conference.”

One such idea was working with two local Chamber of Commerce organizations. Pulice, who is a member in both, offered to do their windows graphics for free if they would promote his shop. Both said yes, and it “really mushroomed for us,” Pulice notes.

For calendar year 2013, Mohave Copy & Printing’s wide-format business increased quite a bit, but not quite double—it’s only been since October that business really started taking off, Pulice

points out. “But we plan to double or triple that department this year.”

To handle the increased capacity, Mohave recently added two pieces of equipment—a vinyl cutter and a used eco-solvent printer for outdoor graphics. “It’s amazing what you can do with a 24-inch vinyl cutter,” said Pulice. The plan is to add another printing device in 2014 to handle the increased capacity.


Expanding Through Co-Branding

Prestige Printing in Columbus, IN, a client of Evans’, went a different route. After researching the wide-format business, the company decided to move into the arena by co-branding with the FastSigns franchise.

Soon after Donna Booth purchased Prestige Printing in late 2007, the recession hit, and Booth realized to keep the business profitable, she would have to expand its service offerings and become a one-stop, small-business resource. She started by offering web development and email marketing, and then wanted to bring in signage services. Booth joined up with the FastSigns co-branding program, believing that added support from the signage and visual graphics franchise would be the best way to take her business to the next level.

“Bringing in wide-format has been great,” says Mark Richer, a designer with Prestige Printing/FastSigns. “We do something new every day,” he said. Becoming a FastSigns franchise, has made the company more global,” said Richer.

While the company, which has eight employees, looks to upsell wide-format services to current print customers, there are two separate storefronts for each side of the business.

“It’s been a win-win situation,” said Richer, speaking to the addition of wide-format services through its FastSigns franchise.