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Re-thinking the Business of Output

The Signage and Graphics Summit helps attendees find the road to profits.



Re-think, re-energize, and research were key themes running throughout the Sign-age and Graphics Summit held in January. Building on the success of its inaugural event (held in Tampa, FL in 2006), this year’s Summit featured presentations and discussions focusing on analyzing, strategizing, and exploring new avenues for business growth and profitability.

Designed to facilitate education and an open dialog between peers, the event (presented by ST Media Group, parent company of The Big Picture), brought together 125 leading print providers from the digital, sign, and screen-printing markets. For 3 days, shop owners looked into the future of output, discussed how to increase sales and bolster their profits, explored new print technologies, and networked with colleagues.

Entrepreneur and keynote speaker Jack Daly set the tone for the summit, energizing the crowd on day one with his “Developing a Winning Corporate Culture” presentation. A founder of several successful businesses, Daly asked participants to evaluate their company’s vision and culture. In analyzing day-to-day challenges, he observed that most business owners “rush to the urgent at the expense of the important.” To combat this, businesses should put in place systems and processes, such as a daily “huddle” of all employees and instant recognition of employees “caught in the act of greatness.” Daly also shared tips and hints designed to empower participants to develop a motivated sales force and grow their customer base. Daly’s energy and drive were contagious, and participants left his presentation revved up and ready to better their business.

Examining what’s in store
Predicting future trends is a large part of the job of shop owners-from what application is hot to which technology to invest in next. The “What’s in Store for Your Business?” general session specifically addressed these subject areas. Peering into their crystal balls were: Stephen Freitas, chief marketing officer for the Outdoor Advertising Association of America (OAAA); Dr. Joe Webb, market forecaster and commentator; and Michael Flippin, president of Web Consulting

Out-of-home advertising expert Freitas demonstrated the power of outdoor advertising and the growing desire by companies to market products to consumers in all possible venues. The variety of non-traditional marketing opportunities he showcased ranged from bus/vehicle wraps, bus shelters, and taxi toppers to ads on blimps and sailboats, messages that change based on location (using GPS technology), and interactive signs that incorporate text messages from passing consumers. In short, his message was, “Get ready, outdoor advertising is not just billboards anymore.”

Webb offered a study of global and market economics and presented participants with his analysis-without the usual financial mumbo-jumbo. His presentation included economic myths and limiting factors for business; business demographics, technologies, and social trends and their impact on the marketplace; an examination of the sign industry; and up-and-coming market opportunities.


Market consultant Flippin, meanwhile, offered a glimpse into the state of wide-format inkjet printing in 2010. Through data collected via Web Consulting surveys and market research, he predicted the increase in UV-curable printer sales-with a 65% CAGR by 2010 versus only a 3% CAGR for solvent and -9% for aqueous printer sales; print revenues follow closely behind printer sales numbers. In addition, he forecasted continued market consolidation (manufacturers and print shops), an influx of traditional printing suppliers entering the wide-format market, and that increased capital and interest in inkjet will lead to decreased manufacturing costs and more productive printer pricing, especially for UV-curable systems.

Back again this year was the popular “Buyer’s Panel.” Here, a trio of print buyers from large companies shared how they made signage and buying decisions. Participants included: Harry Steen, creative design supervisor for SuperValu, which owns grocery chains nationwide, including the recently purchased Albertsons; Jay Higashi, senior design account specialist for Best Buy with mega-stores around the globe, including a recent store opening in China; and Ben Tsai from Cramer-Krasselt Advertising, which handles ad and marketing campaigns for local, regional, and national accounts, including the likes of Heinz and Toyota.

Each company buys huge chunks of printing and signage every year. Summit participants were eager to know how these companies make buying decisions and any tips/hints they could offer to help them break into the “big time.” Questions from audience members focused in on what qualities each company looked for in a print provider, how companies could win a job, what to expect in terms of turnaround times, and-looking toward the future-what signage they thought was on the rise.

Colors, vendors, run length, and more
The Summit also offered 16 panel sessions and dozens of more intimate roundtable discussions. Topics ranged from sales and company profitability to purchasing new technologies and marketing strategies. The year’s highlights included:

* “Hitting the Colors your Clients Demand”-Panelists discussed how they brought color management under control in their shops. Most had problems meeting color demands in the past-causing reprinting of jobs, wasted time, and inconsistency. Each panelist explained how they educated themselves and their employees on accurate color, how it has changed their workflow, their newfound confidence when it comes to matching color, and how it has positively impacted their bottom line.

* “Selecting Vendors and Measuring their Performance”-Print shops explained the factors involved with choosing a vendor, including product knowledge and tech support, inventory (to allow just-in-time stocking), on-time delivery, service, carrying media compatible with all inksets used by a shop, product quality, and price. While most agreed that price was certainly an important criterion when deciding to buy from a distributor, most also concurred that it is often customer service (in its many guises) that allows suppliers to earn their long-term business.


* “Run-length Considerations Between Screen and Digital Printing”-Two print companies shared how they determine which technology and hardware runs a specific job. It is not always as simple as run length; other key considerations included color and quality demands of the job, waste, sq ft/hr, and the availability of the equipment. In addition, the shops stressed that, generally, they are not selling a specific technology-most customers don’t care how a job is printed, so long as it is up to their quality specifications and is delivered on time.

* “International Marketplace: Threat or Opportunity”-While many in this roundtable discussion saw the emerging print markets in China and India as a looming threat, others felt that it could provide an opportunity. Advantages that local companies have that overseas print providers cannot compete against include: service, on-time delivery, product quality, and quick turnaround times. In addition, smaller print shops can be proactive against this off-shore threat by joining a strategic network of print partners and specializing in printing for a market niche.

* “The Changing Face of Electronic Digital Signage”-Panelists discussed all types of electronic signage, from the digital billboards found near some freeways, to the smaller screens found in retail environments. Currently, approximately 400 digital billboards are installed across the US, says OAAA’s Stephen Freitas; in addition, many retail arenas also are sporting smaller plasma, LED, LCD, and even 3-D displays that broadcast static or changing advertising messages.

* “What is Lean Manufacturing and How Can You Implement It?”-In a nutshell, lean manufacturing emphasizes the elimination of waste through changes in processes-and mindsets-throughout the company. In this session, three companies that are in the midst of implementing lean manufacturing explained how the process started, where the glitches are, and how their company is overcoming these challenges.

Next year, shop owners and executives from high-volume digital-printing, sign, and screen-printing companies will gather again at the Signage and Graphics Summit. The three days of education and networking-with a round or two of golf thrown in-will be held January 16-18, 2008, in Palm Beach Gardens, FL, at the PGA National Resort & Spa.





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