Go into wide-format with open eyes

Barney Cox
Monday, April 16, 2007

Fespas Directors Summit, which took place in Geneva at the end of March, heard that in the massive marketing shake-up, print was likely to be one of the media that benefited, rather than lost out, as brands sought to get closer to customers on the high street.

This suggests that brand owners will be spending more on point-of-sale displays and posters, with the outdoor sector set to grow.

At this year’s Northprint, wide-format digital products designed for this sector are being shown alongside the more usual litho and cutsheet digital presses. And some suppliers exhibiting at Northprint will, for the first time, be at Sign UK the following week.

It’s not yet clear to me what this blurring of boundaries between two separate sectors means. The multi-process printer serving the point-of-sale and poster market is now a common format, with several firms successfully operating with a mixture of screen, litho and digital kit. But these firms were already in that market and have invested in technology that solves customer needs. There is a danger that if other printers see a cash cow in wide-format and don’t do adequate market research before investing in kit, the overcapacity and low profitability we may just be countering in one sector, will just spread to another.

One thing that round table discussions at the Fespa Directors’ Summit identified was the challenge of surviving in what was once a profitable niche when it becomes a price-driven volume market. One suggestion was to keep on finding the niches and leave the volume market well alone. It’s certainly an option, but it’s not for everyone, and certainly not one that lends itself to an in-depth understanding of your client’s requirements, the market or the potential for innovation with the materials and machinery you use.

The most sensible response I heard was from Christian Duckyaert, general manager of Belgian firm Print & Display, who said it was necessary to define your target markets, create or work to existing standards to maximise the efficiency of production and then to invest in research and development in materials, machinery and techniques to be able to offer customers creative solutions.

He added that understanding the different requirements of clients was important, as was building a client base that mixed different types of customer and, therefore, different revenue models. Some customers – probably a dying breed that have a high level of specialist production expertise themselves – are always going to demand what he termed a cost-effective production house. Other, more general marketing clients, are going to want the benefit of suppliers’ ideas and expertise, and a more consultative sale.

If you’re considering wide-format as a potentially lucrative market to offset your worries in offset, then beware. It could be more valuable to take lessons from wide-format printers like Duckyaert in how to develop your market and how to market your business, than to attempt a quick switch into an unknown sector.

TWO-MINUTE TAKEAWAY ON WINNING IN WIDE-FORMAT
• Outdoor and point-of-sale are tipped to be growth markets for print, according to a presentation at Fespa’s Directors’ Summit as a result of the fragmentation of the media market and the desire for brands to reach customers while they are out and about
• Commercial printers are seeing these sectors as increasingly attractive and, as a result, they are also attractive to suppliers of equipment to commercial printers, with products making a showing at Northprint, and suppliers exhibiting at Sign UK
• Before commercial printers make the leap into these markets, they should do their homework if the market isn’t to fall prey to overcapacity and low margins
• Success stories in this market already, such as Belgian firm Print & Display, suggest understanding the market and targeting clients with a mixture of requirements, improves the chance of success
• Heeding their advice and applying it to your existing market may pay off better than rushing headlong into an unfamiliar sector

Barney Cox is editor of Printing World

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