Insight from the Big Picture Editorial Advisory Board:
Brian Adam, President/Owner, Olympus Group
Scott Crosby, VP Sales & Marketing, Holland & Crosby
Brian Hite, President, Image Options
Kerry King, VP, Spoonflower
Stan Lucas, Business Development Manager, Wide Format, DCG One
Nicole Piach, Co-Owner/VP, Digital Print Specialties
Gary Schellerer, VP/Partner, ER2 Image Group
Jon Sherman, Founder/Creative Director, Flavor Paper
What was the biggest surprise of 2019? If it was a challenge, how did you overcome it? If it was a huge success for your shop, explain.
GS 2019 was our first year in our new facility. We recently moved our three locations all into a new building. We now have everyone and everything under one roof. This is a huge adjustment, which required us to re-invent our whole process. After a full year of being in the building, we are now seeing the efficiencies of having everything and everyone together.
JS The challenge of fending off low-cost, cheap alternatives that are flooding the wallcovering market. Education is key! Convincing people that their negative experience with DIY peel and stick is not indicative of a professional experience and the vastly superior result. Unfortunately, cheap, poor-quality market proliferation is exactly what killed the market back in the ’90s!
BA We opened a new facility in Denver, with our partner Color Gamut Digital Imaging. Our biggest surprise was the success of this operation. The Denver market was very receptive to the opening, and our new print facility greatly exceeded our revenue forecasts and was able to generate a profit in under six months, despite the $500,000-plus investment in setting up the facility. The biggest surprise in the industry was the consolidation/M&A activity. Many have sold their businesses as PE firms continue to attempt to roll up some of the fragmented market segments in print.
NP Traditionally, our shop has always processed written work orders, with each department working independently of each other. However, as we add staff and become busier, I’ve found the process in which we manage day-to-day business is inefficient and not scalable. To test the waters, we’ve been tinkering with a free version of Trello, which is a project-management software. Almost immediately, I saw the benefit as it applies to processing orders by providing a comprehensive organization and scheduling tool. So with that, it was time to research different software products. In doing so, I found a few that touted “full company integration,” which I find extremely appealing, however, to some degree, very daunting. I would love to tie all aspects of the business together from web inquires, sales leads, estimates, proofing, work orders, vendor purchasing, installations, fulfillment, and complete and accurate accounting. I have now signed up with ShopVox. We will work on the back end, setting up the pricing aspect of the software soon and, with the addition of a new website, hope to be fully up and running by early 2020.Advertisement
SL Adopting several large programs and systemizing our approach to include online portals that allow multiple users to place orders for repeating business in addition to more custom, one-off store and corporate interiors projects.
What’s the most daunting thing you expect to face in 2020?
JS I feel the country is going to be destabilized due to the impeachment proceedings and impending elections, which will affect purchasing and development due to uncertainty.
BA Softening economic conditions – a mild recession. We believe we are on the back end of an economic cycle, and all indications show we will be in a recessionary environment (if we haven’t already entered one). We expect to see a decrease in marketing spend and expect this to impact our business and put downward pressure on pricing as excess print capacity will exist. We do believe the recession will be mild in nature, but economic cycles are something outside of our control and could have a big impact on our results in 2020.
BH Managing potential growth opportunities with the tight labor market for skilled staff in our region.
SL Within the industry, it will be to remain abreast of the multiple emerging materials, methods, and technologies. This will include digital cutting (CNC), newer hybrid flatbed printers, materials with less of a carbon footprint that will still perform, and evangelizing methods to our clients to reduce our overall carbon footprint.
Why is it important to attend industry events, tradeshows, and webinars throughout the year?
SC Our industry is changing at warp speed right now. The technology of print is evolving at every level of the process, from MIS through prepress to print production, finishing, and distribution. If you’re not keeping up with where the industry is heading at least on a semi-annual basis, you may miss out on an opportunity that could set you apart from the competition. Whether it’s a new product or service or an improvement in efficiency for an existing process, your customers are looking for you to provide solutions. Industry events such as tradeshows, conferences, and webinars are the best way to stay in touch with what’s new and what is on the horizon.Advertisement
The other big advantage to attending these events is the opportunity to network with your peers. Networking is the biggest benefit, as you get access to the people who have walked the same path you’re currently on, who have made decisions on equipment investments, software integrations, people development, and all of the other challenges we all face on a day-to-day basis. Their input and guidance can be so valuable, and it’s free for the asking. It’s difficult to work on your business if you spend all of your time in your business. You need to get out and get involved if you hope to remain successful.
BH Maintaining awareness of market, economic, and manufacturing trends. Networking with peers. Inspiration.
BA We have benefited greatly from knowledge-sharing within the industry. We have worked with, bounced ideas off of, and shared work in times of crises with friendly competitors in our space. Industry events and tradeshows are a wonderful opportunity to develop these relationships and share best practices. They’re also a great opportunity to step back from working in our business and to focus on working on our business. Our industry is fast-paced/intense, and it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day fires. Tradeshows, webinars, and educational events are a great opportunity to step back and focus on what we can do to improve our business and our value proposition, and to position ourselves for the future.
GS Often it takes stepping outside your business in order to see it more clearly. We try to attend multiple industry events throughout the year and have found them to be invaluable. Almost always, we come back with a better understanding of what we need to do next as a company. Understanding industry trends by networking with professionals within our industry has always given us a clearer understanding of our future goals.
JS To source new materials, techniques, and equipment we might not know we need yet!
SL Those events make us better than the company or representative who does not attend. The wide-format industry is still very young and growing. Evidence: wide-format digital processes didn’t even exist 20-25 years ago. Attending events and webinars in a sort of “continuing education” manner allows us to see the next great thing and adopt it into our practices both as a thought leader and an advanced supplier to our clients.Advertisement
What application had the highest demand/growth in the past year at your shop, and do you see that continuing into 2020?
BH Environments for events, activations, retail, corporate, and public spaces.
GS We are finding the interior décor/A&D market to be one of our biggest areas of growth.
BA SEGs (silicone-edged fabric graphics) that fit into modular frame systems continue to explode. We have seen significantly increased demand for the ability to nail fit and finish on these complex fabric graphics. The modular frame systems allow for the structures to be reused over and over again with new configurations by using different designs and then reskinning the frames with new fabric graphics. We expect this market to continue to grow, but I would expect it to soften in 2020 with the weakening economic conditions and as the number of printers entering this space continues to grow.
SL Adhesive-backed films for retail interiors (walls and windows). I suspect it will level off for our shop this year, primarily because that was a need from a couple of new programs. Overall (excluding a couple of programs), I think 10-foot-wide UV hybrid-flatbed printing will continue to grow as there are a number of good, rigid panels at 10-foot widths of which clients will take advantage.
JS Custom is growing like mad and will continue to do so. Digital production is moving into further reaches of hotel developments, which is a big change that will only increase.
What are you hearing from your customers? Is there a trend in what they are requesting? Has the way they’ve requested projects changed?
JS Response and delivery times are accelerating by demand. Social media communication is definitely growing but is not something we like or recommend. People feel like they are reaching out to the brand directly, but half the time it is going to a PR team and not someone within the organization.
BH Demand for creative ideas and presentations to engage their customer base on a more meaningful level.
SL Online ordering at standard sizes is just beginning to emerge in the conversation, but it isn’t big with our clients yet. Corporate mandates dictating to their buyers that “green solutions” should be favored are gaining momentum. Scheduled due dates to minimize shipping by air (instead of ground/truck) are also entering the conversation as a means by which to reduce a carbon footprint for any given project (because air shipment compared to ground shipment creates a much larger carbon footprint).
If you could change one thing in our industry (technology, education, adaptation to change, communication and partnerships among shops, etc.), what would it be?
BA One change? Much, much higher profit margins. … In all seriousness, there’s very little I’d change about our industry. I really like our industry. We make highly visible graphics often used for high-profile events. It’s fun to see your work decorating a sports stadium, concert, or tradeshow hall. I feel in general our industry is very supportive and collaborative, and the print market is so large that we don’t have many (if any) “direct” competitors.
JS Partnerships between shops would certainly be great for us as we are so specific in our area of expertise. We get requests for other products so often and then have to price them out among other shops, which requires a lot of time and effort. A centralized way to source that work would be very beneficial.
BH Recognition among producers that what they do has value and they should charge for it. Don’t chase prices to the bottom to win business. Elimination of large-scale procurement companies acting as print brokers to save clients money that, in the end, make the whole market unhealthy. Companies cannot make the necessary investments in their business to remain viable. The price for products and services becomes so low that cuts have to be made in quality and service levels to the point that products provided cease to be able to perform the function intended.
SL 1. Inclusion of universities, colleges, and their research. We need their intelligence and science now more than ever given the approaching climate crisis. Our industry uses a number of toxic materials and processes in that regard. We’ve made improvements in recent years such as latex and UV print technologies, but we also use lots of materials like styrene and PVC that, while providing inexpensive and functional purposes, are also environmentally unfriendly.
2. Continuing education filtered down to even the smallest shops. Smart and educated people can help make smart and educated choices, evangelizing those choices to their clients.
What are you looking forward to in 2020 (in the industry or for your business)?
BH Continued growth and expansion in key lines of business as well as organic and inorganic growth through acquisition.
SL Our business: continued expansion into SEG options. We have a lot of smart people here (more than 300-plus) so it wouldn’t surprise me if we are even able to make some improvements to typical SEG challenges.
Industry: elevated conversation to further the “Greta Thunberg paradigm” I mentioned earlier. This really needs to become the number-one topic for conscientious, competitive, and growing suppliers.
GS Using technology to improve efficiencies will be our focus moving into 2020. We need to automate as much as humanly possible to become more efficient and improve our throughput and accuracy. Automation in workflow has already proven to be very valuable at ER2. As an example, for the first time in 28 years we have a paper-free workflow. Using dashboards at our production stations instead of paper work orders communicates to our operators the most current information. This has proven to be an important advancement in accuracy and efficiency in our workflow.
JS Implementation of our new ERP and CRM systems!
BA We are looking forward to expanding geographically. In the event/tradeshow space, lead times have gone from weeks to days to hours. We have some plans to open in new market areas, allowing us to be even more responsive and to support more geographic markets offering same-day turns in more locations.
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