Commercial Printers Share Tips on Expanding Into Wide-Format Printing
For many commercial printers, finding new growth opportunities has been key to their success. Over the last decade, wide-format inkjet technology has continued to evolve, providing a solid revenue stream for savvy commercial print shops.
With that said, the thought of implementing a new range of services - complete with new equipment - can be overwhelming. There’s a bevy of questions that immediately come to mind. What applications will I be able to realistically create with this new equipment? How much space does wide-format equipment take up? How much emphasis do I need to place on finishing equipment? Can I sell these services to my existing clientele and new customers alike?
Wide-format printing has been a key part of the growing service mix for DOME and Hatteras for five years or more. As two of commercial printing’s early wide-format adopters, both businesses have experienced the full range of success and learning experiences during their wide-format implementations.
Some Formidable Print Creds
Before we get into the how’s and why’s, let’s set the stage and establish our experts’ credentials.
Sacramento, Calif.-based DOME is a one-stop operation with more than 40 years of experience in the commercial printing space. The company - coming in No. 130 on the 2017 Printing Impressions 400 - serves various markets and has the capability to produce a broad array of commercial printing products. Using its web and sheetfed presses, complemented with an extensive finishing and mailing facility - there is very little that they can’t do. Dome has become much more than just a printing company, providing everything from creative services and digital printing, to fulfillment and integrated business solutions. Sales in 2017 topped out at $38.1 million, and roughly 23% of its revenues come from wide-format products, which the firm started offering approximately five years ago.
DOME recently acquired an EFI VUTEk FabriVU 340 to meet the demands for textile soft signage and an EFI VUTEk 5r. The printer also added an extra-large-format sheet size to its pressroom with the installation of a five-color, 81˝ KBA Rapida 205 UV offset press. DOME has found the 81˝ print format to be perfect for POP displays. DOME’s focus is primarily on retail markets and includes POP of all varieties, product displays and complete window display concepts.
On the other coast, Tinton Falls, N.J.-based Hatteras Press - ranked No. 105 on the 2017 PI 400 - first opened its doors in 1983. A commercial printer with wide-ranging capabilities, Hatteras provides offset, digital and wide-format printing for direct mail, marketing collateral, point-of-sale signage, branded environments and cross-media marketing campaigns. The company predominantly services the pharmaceutical market, churning out everything from marketing collateral, sales kits, visual aids and leave behinds, as well as the retail space (automotive, cosmetics, luxury and fashion). This $50 million company reports that approximately 20% of its total revenue is generated through wide-format applications, a department they started in 2012.
Hatteras has a full complement of wide-format equipment, including an EFI VUTEk HS125, an EFI VUTEk GS5500LXr, an EFI VUTEk GS3250 LX Pro, a 104˝ HP L28500, a 60˝ HP L25500 Latex, a 60˝ HP Z6200 and two 60˝ HP Z6100 printers.
Hatteras’ focus is predominately on retail and helping its customers elevate their brands and drive more business. Additionally, the company creates a lot of event graphics, environmental graphics, some vehicle wraps and some non-traditional OOH.
It’s obvious these two companies have been very successful in implementing wide-format printing into their businesses. We can distill their experience into five “lessons learned,” which will benefit other commercial printers on a similar path.
With Wide-Format, Size Matters
When we talk about wide- and grand-format, the size of the equipment plays a very large role. With so many different models available on the market, it can be difficult to decide which one to buy. You have roll-to-roll units, flatbed-only and hybrid machines that can be used for both rolls and sheets.
But even before you decide on the specific model, a close examination of your current plant is essential. Is your building capable of housing a wide-format department?
You might be able to fit the printing equipment itself, but you also need to be able to load and offload the media, as well as transport the materials around the shop. These materials are probably larger than what you’re currently accustomed to dealing with. Wide- and grand-format equipment prints on rolls up to 16-ft. wide and sheets up to 8x10 ft.
And that’s just the printing press itself. Have you accounted for the changes you will need in your finishing and shipping departments? If you’re kitting jobs together, you will need space to store jobs before they are shipped out the door.
When the executive team at Hatteras was looking into wide-format equipment, they realized they needed more space and expanded into a second building. “The size of the equipment is one thing, and the ability to navigate materials to and from the equipment is something that needs to be thoroughly thought out,” says Bill Duerr, president, Hatteras.
DOME, at the beginning, was able to incorporate its new wide-format equipment within the walls of its shop. Later, they ended up purchasing a Bay-area company that specialized in grand-format printing. “Currently, we are consolidating all of our locations into a single ‘super facility,’” says Bob Poole, DOME’s partner and CMO. DOME just completed a move into a newly renovated 320,000-sq.-ft. facility in Sacramento.
Listen and Learn from Your Clients
The lifeblood of your business is your customers. They make sure you can pay the bills and keep the lights on. But are you listening to your clients when they discuss their pain points? Do you know the full extent of their marketing programs? Have you examined all aspects of their marketing campaigns - or have you only looked at the pieces you can currently provide? Are you really a partner to them?
Hearing and listening are two very different things. You may hear your customer talking about their go-to-market strategies, but do you listen closely enough to determine their underlying challenges and issues, and then offer solutions to help solve them? Or, when you have an opportunity to expand your business and offer new services, do you discuss your plans with your customers? Don’t make the decision to add wide-format services in a vacuum just because other commercial print shops are doing it. Make sure your existing customers and top prospects want and need those services from you.
“Our clients drive most of our decisions,” Poole says. “On many occasions over the years our customers have asked us to provide services and products that they need. They value our exemplary service and quality and know we will provide that in everything we do.”
Duerr agrees. “We saw an opportunity within our existing customer base to provide additional services and add value by driving brand consistency across offset, digital and wide-format products,” he notes.
When it comes time to invest in wide-format equipment, take the time to do your research. In addition to attending trade shows such as the SGIA Expo and reading trade journals like Printing Impressions, talk with the OEMs. While their goal is to sell you a piece of equipment, they are very knowledgeable about the exact capabilities of their equipment, how it has been implemented in various companies around the world and what you can expect in terms of an ROI.
Also, ask the OEMS to introduce you to some of their customers who have made a similar transition. Talking to a digital print shop with no experience in the offset or commercial printing market provides limited value to you because their business is likely very different than yours.
“As we do with all new equipment and/or services, our executive team researches what’s available, taking into consideration what will be the most efficient and offer the highest quality to meet the needs of our clientele,” Poole says. “Our clients offer the best research and drive much of our final decisions.”
And when you do purchase a piece of equipment, don’t automatically think you’re finished. Be sure to continually reevaluate your current equipment to ensure you’re getting the best quality at speeds you need.
According to Duerr, early on, Hatteras had some slower flatbed equipment that produced great quality, but “really hand-cuffed us when it came to production. Right now, we feel like we have a great balance between quality, productivity and redundancy, which gives us the burst capacity we need when we experience a significant influx of work.”
Consider the Whole System
One of the biggest missteps when moving into the wide-format printing market is neglecting to look beyond the initial investment in the printer. While the output device itself is an essential piece of a wide- or grand-format workflow, software and finishing equipment are just as necessary.
“Proper fulfillment is a necessary part of embracing grand-format,” Poole says. “This is a significant part of being successful. You can produce quality product, but it needs to be distributed.”
For DOME, an Esko Kongsberg cutting table equipped with i-cut software was a key piece to its wide-format workflow. The cutting table and software allow signs and displays to be custom-shaped on the finishing table. “The i-script software is a streamlined digital production component that enhances our finishing productivity,” Poole explains.
Hatteras also invested in various laminating, cutting and mounting devices. “The major difference makers for us is our Zünd G3 3XL-3200 digital cutting system, our Caldera RIP software and our Packsize on-demand corrugated packaging solution,” Duerr reveals.
Don’t Forget Staffing Needs
Creativity and wide-format output go hand-in-hand. But that creativity is not limited to just the output. It also needs to be reflected in your staff. Don’t limit yourself to current staff, especially if their talents don’t mesh with the new technology. Their skillset might not be right for your new wide-format business - and that’s okay.
“Finding the right people and adapting our traditional processes to accommodate the needs of our client base were essential,” Duerr reports. “Our shop has grown out of a traditional sheetfed litho mindset. Wide-format is a completely different business and it needs to be treated that way from the get-go.”
The Big Finish
Wide-format technology can open up huge revenue opportunities for commercial printers, but there is certainly more involved than simply installing a press. Careful attention needs to be paid to the full wide-format workflow and how it integrates with your current workflow - and your shop’s floor space.
But wide-format can be one of the most rewarding services you can offer your clients as it affords you the opportunity to grow.
“Meeting the needs of our existing customers and bringing on new clients in different verticals has been very rewarding,” Poole says. “Expanding our reach is always exciting, but what DOME is doing with new equipment and a new facility is a game-changer, and we are able to serve the markets that use wide-format better than anyone.”
“Adding wide-format has led us to be more diverse and more dynamic as a company,” Duerr says. “It has opened new doors and helped us to strengthen relationships within existing customer [organizations].”