THE RETAIL AND P-O-P space is no stranger to adapting due to changing consumer needs around the planet. The industry has been evolving for years due to the rise of ecommerce, but the pandemic has caused an even larger shift for those in the business as they shut (and open and then shut again) their doors, seek clever ways to keep their customers socially distanced, and create even more unique online shopping experiences. In turn, PSPs are now tasked with not only potentially losing clients who no longer have brick-and-mortars, but also having to offer applications that help their customers stand out, be safe, and stay in business.
How did COVID-19 affect your business, specifically related to your retail clients?
LP: Like many businesses, I’m sure, we experienced a slow down at first as retailers had to adjust to the new normal i.e., BOPIS [an additional shipping option that appears at online checkout], delivery, and even lock down in some cases. But by fall, retail became more aware of what existed (in terms of business/revenues) and where they needed to go. Subsequently, by fourth quarter, as our clients’ businesses began to pick up, ours did too. To the point where now, with the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel being visible, business looks a lot more like 2019 than 2020, which is great. Credit goes to those retailers that hung in there, were smart about what needed to be done, then executed. All that is a lot easier said than done, but again, many elements of retail, whether brand-new or about to be brand-new, played a key role in retailers’ 2021 success stories so, here’s to the movers!
MS: When the pinnacle of COVID hit last spring, all of our production came to a complete stop. As states were going into lockdown, so were the retail doors within those states. Fifty percent of our client base is retail, the other 50 percent is tradeshows, casinos, and museums. All divisions were hit pretty hard.Advertisement
How did the communication change between your business and your retail clients during this time?
LP: Communication with our clients increased dramatically for obvious reasons: us wondering what next steps would be, but also, our clients being as transparent as possible. To their credit, there were no surprises and many well communicated logical steps forward, whether that was cutting back on projects or increasing them. I have to say, I think communication and the tools available are/were better than ever.
MS: We always kept the communication open by keeping in touch by email, telephone, or text messages. Much of our communication was already virtual so we were able to keep lines open with our customers even through the hardest times like last spring/early summer. Many of our in-person meetings now are done via Zoom or Teams rather than traveling. It has worked out well to be able to keep that personal connection with our clients.
What types of print applications should print providers offer their retail customers to help revitalize this market?
MS: Start with safety and COVID-related signs. This is the first print product we can provide for windows and floors for retailers to give their customers peace-of-mind when entering their establishments.
Did any out-of-the box ideas stem from the pandemic?
LP: For the most part, the pandemic accelerated existing trends, like BOPIS, ecommerce, delivery, and even less footfalls, but the one out-of-the-box element that has taken hold way more now than anyone could’ve predicted is the idea of “dark” stores and micro-fulfillment centers, including using the back or new areas of physical retail. Given the fact that ecom and delivery are high on the consumer demand list, but can strain profits, figuring out how fulfillment works best is a work in progress, but definitely a “must solve” going forward. Those who do will be way ahead in the race for customers in the very dynamic world of 21st century retail.
MS: From May of 2020 and most of last summer, we printed a vast amount of social distancing signage. Whether it was for the windows, floors, or wall, retailers were looking for more creative and durable ways to convey safety precautions in their facilities that would endure the long haul of the pandemic.
Where do you see retail in the next year, five years?
LP: We like to say, “smaller, better” in that retailers realize now that the customer is in charge, and the new ways in which they choose to purchase are challenges they must meet. That means less physical space for showing product, more space for fulfillment, and over-the-top ecommerce. So again, smaller in showroom space and total amount of units is better for the customer in every modern way conceivable.Advertisement
MS: When everything shut down, most consumers turned to online ordering. Amazon, Walmart, and Chewy all made it so convenient to never to leave your house. I think this trend will continue and more large brick-and-mortar stores will close. This is a good time to close down all the retail store locations that are not profitable and keep the ones in high-traffic areas open. QR codes seem to be everywhere. Some of our retail clients are now having us print them on their signage. Customers like the option of being able to leave their home but still have the social distancing option in place to order their products.
Retail is evolving, not dying, but this past year was definitely tough for clients with brick-and-mortar stores. We asked our Brain Squad members: What types of print projects are you offering to help revitalize this market?
- Now, more than ever, retail needs to cut costs. We continue to promote fabric and SEG as the best vehicle for in-store promotions. — Dan Plomin Westamerica Communications, Irvine, California
- Most of our brick-and-mortar clients are looking for outdoor signage, such as A-Frames and entry graphics. When official reopening happens, we are preparing templates of the most commonly requested items. We also have a catalog they can easily order from and see what else we offer. — Linda Fong, Justipher Inc, DBA FastSigns, Oakland and Hayward, California
- The only area of traction we are seeing is backlit SEG. The large retailers have the frames in place and seem willing to update the graphics as the season changes. Budgets for in-store P-O-P have been drastically cut, and we have not received word budgets will be restored anywhere near previous levels in the next quarter. — Cain Goettelman, FLS Banners, Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin
- We still support the apparel industry as best as we can as they adjust to getting their products online. The printing requests are the same for their sampling needs, so it didn’t change much for us there. We are doing our best to speed up turnaround times as ecommerce business is a bit more speed-to-market vs. store retail schedules. — Carol Yeager, MY Prints, Los Angeles
- We are encouraging and assisting our clients to get serious about non brick and mortar options. If we all have learned anything over the last year-plus, it’s that the virtual world has to be a part of our strategies… Not just for our own companies, but also for our clients’ operations. — Jim Dittmer, JDA Creative Color, Gresham, Oregon
- More and more customers are being educated on P-O-P displays and marketing pieces. We’ve produced several such products as customers reopen. — David Kaiser, Digitype Design, Tualatin, Oregon
- We regularly advertise wall, floor, and general adhesive-backed applications. The marketplace is still “in the woods” when it comes to these categories. — Malcom Gieske, IDWraps.com/Identity Group, Slatington, Pennsylvania
- Image Options is offering fabrication and design services in addition to custom and traditional P-O-P signage. We’re experiencing a slow increase in demand as well as new opportunities in store-in-store concepts and retail specialization. — Brian Hite, Image Options, Foothill Ranch, California
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