Wide-format Trends: A Wide-open OpportunityOctober 2013 By Tim Greene
Wide-format digital printing is one of the important growth areas within the overall printing industry. InfoTrends is projecting a 7.9 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR) in this business from 2012-2017. The growth of wide-format is drawing interest from a number of printing establishments that have not traditionally offered the service as part of their core offering. We see that wide-format digital printing is growing from two major areas: from the conversion of analog to digital printing, and from the organic growth of certain applications enabled by new ink and media products.
Recently, InfoTrends and NAPCO (publisher of Printing Impressions) surveyed 167 print service providers (PSPs)—72 of which were print-for-pay—and we were able to ask about their attitudes and expectations around wide-format digital printing. InfoTrends found that while initial investment price was not a major consideration, return on investment (ROI) is a critical part of the wide-format digital printing business for these shops. Close to 65 percent of the shops that reported they are interested in buying a new wide-format printer within the next 12 months indicated that they expected to break even within a year.
What does this mean? For shops that are only planning on spending a few thousand dollars on a low-end, wide-format printing system, they probably do not have to make any major changes or implement any big marketing pushes to break even. Many low-end systems are able to produce high-margin applications in small quantities to easily cover a minimal investment. Although, if we are being honest, we are only talking about a few thousand dollars that will not put anyone out of business if it does take a bit longer.
What's the most interesting is the print service providers that expect to break even within 12 months and are planning on a major expenditure. Consider that there was a high level of interest in wide-format, UV-curable inkjet printers and the fact that robust, UV-curable printers have a starting selling price of around $150K and up to more than $1 million.
In addition, it is very likely that a company which buys that type of solution will need additional finishing equipment, such as a cutting table and/or liquid laminator, and would need to have personnel trained to run it, as well as the space to put the equipment and materials for it in their facility. To deliver a six- to 12-month ROI when the capital expenditure is that high, a company must execute a well thought-out plan for wide-format digital printing services.
With football season now in full swing, the one thing that good coaches and teams do is self-scouting; asking "What are we good at? Where are we weak? What can we do that will help us win against this team?" InfoTrends believes this kind of self-analysis is critical in developing a good operational plan in the wide-format business, as well—especially as print service providers look at their target customers.
It is important for those developing the plan to remember that their customers are not in the printing business. In fact, our research indicates that most wide-format print customers really do not care which technologies are used to produce their signage and graphics; they care about the quality, the price and whether or not that piece communicates the messages they need to communicate.
As such, we find that many buyers of wide-format signage and graphics are increasingly using interactive media elements in their signage and graphics to elevate the messaging and try to develop some type of measurability on their marketing expenditures. The companies that are most profitable in wide-format are the ones that do not sell transactions, but rather services illustrating ways they can help their customers do more.
While there are similarities that are driving that analog to digital shift, the fact is that there are distinct differences between wide-format and other types of printing. Previous InfoTrends research completed this year indicates that up to 60 percent of wide-format digital print jobs need to be fulfilled within 48 hours from the time the order is placed. This fact alone means that wide-format print service providers have to be able to produce, as well as kit and ship, at a very rapid pace.
This is an another reason InfoTrends believes there has been so much interest in UV-curable inkjet printers that offer not only fast speeds, but also instant drying. This means that the prints can be taken right off the printer, cut, shaped, packed and shipped to the end-user locations without having to wait for the graphics to dry or "outgas," as we used to have to do with older print technologies. UV-curable also provides a unique ability to print directly onto rigid substrates, which further increases the speed of production because the mounting step that we used to have to execute can now be eliminated.
InfoTrends believes it is important for print service providers to look at every growth opportunity available to them. Essentially, there are four sources of growth for any business: 1) gaining market share in the markets in which you already participate, perhaps through an acquisition or capturing some of your competitors' customers; 2) taking advantage of the shift from analog to digital printing; 3) developing new markets and producing new applications; and 4) finding new customers by accessing new channels.
The exciting aspect of the wide-format digital printing market is that there are elements of all four of these possibilities within the wide-format business. The technology moves so fast that those with the "latest and greatest" have an advantage over competitors with older equipment because they can offer higher service levels, better image quality and can produce a wider range of applications than those with older equipment.
Digital wide-format printers also offer the ability to provide printing services with valuable characteristics, such as better inventory management through just-in-time production; variable data/versioning; and the application of interactive elements, such as QR codes and personalized URLs. These services help companies take advantage of that analog-to-digital shift.
The technology is also developing to enable the production of new applications. A few short years ago it was impossible to use a wide-format digital printer to print white, but that is now a standard feature on dozens of models. The ability to print white is critical to the ability to produce many window graphics, signs and package prototypes.
This leaves the last area, finding new customers, up to the print service provider. The best advice for any company in the wide-format business or that wants to get into the wide-format business is to develop a marketing plan that includes a rigorous and detailed assessment of your target market.
Finally, the respondents to this survey that are in the wide-format business reported that, on average, their wide-format digital print volume grew 10.9 percent in the last 12 months, and they expected their wide-format business to grow another 13.9 percent in the next 12 months. So, what we have done with this survey is confirm that, indeed, wide-format digital is a growth market.
We also spelled out the need for competitors in the wide-format digital printing business to attack this market with a plan. The plan should account for how technology can help PSPs meet changing customer demands, and requires owners to consider their shops' strengths and weaknesses, then match those up with their desired customers to create an effective marketing plan. PI
About the Author
Tim Greene is Wide Format Service Group Director at InfoTrends.