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Wide-Format Digital Printing : A New Game Plan Pays Off

September 2012 By Michael Robertson

The lithographic market is super competitive. Commoditization has almost eliminated customer loyalty. The print quality bar is set higher than ever and margins are beyond tight. It used to be about price, quality and speed. But now it's all about price, price, price. If you are determined to follow the traditional lithographic business model, you should get hazardous duty pay because it will be ugly in the trenches.

Rethink Your Business Playbook

There are many ways for lithographers to change their business model to promote growth, but there's one proven approach that is working well in several print sectors. The approach is based on the premise that it's easier to sell additional services to an existing customer than it is to sell core services to the unknown.

Many lithographic companies have added digital document printing to their traditional technologies, which is a major step toward expanding services for existing clients. Supporting customers' short-run printing needs not only strengthened existing customer relationships, but also opened doors to new customers.

Adding wide-format digital imaging is another way to add value for existing customers and gain entry to new markets. For those companies that have digital document capability, the addition of wide-format is an easy process. They've moved past conventional "print think" where a successful print run has to be in the tens of thousands, and have incorporated a short-run business model with value-added services such as customization and managed distribution.

Companies new to digital imaging that are adding wide-format before digital document printing will have an easy time managing the technology. Their challenge will be refocusing the organization's business model, and the sales staff is usually the hardest group to convert. When introduced to digital imaging, salespeople see small jobs equating to small commissions. But, in reality, expanded support of the customers' printing needs results in increased use of all available technologies. And, like it or not, customers are benefiting from short-run, customized, well-managed solutions. They aren't going back to big inventories of print materials.

Support Your Digital Imaging Team

A well-informed digital wide-format salesperson will be able to interpret the interests of your customers and find beneficial applications. With a clear understanding of customer needs, they will be better prepared to select the most suitable wide-format technologies. Your salesperson will help target new markets where digital wide-format capability is the ticket for admission. He/she will play a critical role as you move your corporate culture past conventional "print think" to embrace a new way of working with your customers.

Play Your Markets Right

PI0912 Wide Format segments
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The Specialty Graphic Imaging Association (SGIA) conducts a series of annual surveys to help members understand the changes in the community and surrounding markets. SGIA's "2011 Market Trends and Product Specialties Benchmarking Report" revealed which specialty imaging market segments are growing, shrinking or holding steady.

New markets are continually being developed and new uses for the technology are being discovered. Being early to the right markets can generate new business and the margins are better when emerging technologies are needed.

Win Big with Wide-Format

As with any new endeavor, it's better to start slowly by employing the technology required to do some work in-house and outsource the balance, at least for a while. An in-house effort is needed to truly make the commitment to changing your business model. By combining your in-house efforts with outsourcing you continue to learn and fine-tune your market development strategy. You can add additional technology as it fits your business model.

With the rapid development of wide-format printing, we're seeing more outsourcing and multi-business partnerships. Companies will continue partnering to gain access to technology on a limited basis.

And, there's no better way to find that crucial digital imaging partner than aligning yourself with the SGIA community. Take advantage of SGIA's Wide-Format Output Device list and Digital Equipment Evaluations to see an up-to-date listing of output devices currently available and to compare top-ranked digital imaging equipment on the market. You also will not want to miss the opportunity to network with the specialty imaging community at the 2012 SGIA Expo held in Las Vegas, Oct. 18-20, which will feature a broad range of digital imaging solutions that are driving the industry.

Cross the Finishing Line

In today's competitive marketplace you compete on what you do before and after the print. There are numerous finishing technologies that change a printed image into a finished product. Digital cutting and laminating are two operations that add value.

Laminates provide a wide range of characteristics to a printed image. Images can be made nonslip for floor graphics, non-glare, graffiti resistant, textured and more. Products are often defined by their durability or finish characteristics.

With the increased diversity of substrates that can be imaged using digital technologies, cutting to create custom shapes has generated value in many markets. Computer numerical control cutters are a natural match for digital flatbed devices. New products created with these technologies are being brought to market every day.

Time Out for Sustainability

Remaining profitable while having a positive impact on society and the planet is a short definition of sustainability. The three P's—people, planet and profit—sum up the main elements of a sustainability plan quite well. Meeting self-defined sustainability goals is increasingly important to all types of businesses today. Businesses want vendors with a shared commitment that can contribute to their sustainability goals. In some cases, your sustainability audit is as important as your price in a competitive bid.

Employing wide-format digital imaging has proven to be an effective way for commercial printers to help customers meet their sustainability goals. Waste is minimized, while customization is maximized. The same concept holds true for other forms of digital printing. Again, keeping the customer by meeting or exceeding their needs is a very important piece to the puzzle.

One way to promote your company's sustainability efforts is to seek certification from the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership (SGP). This certification program is highly sought after by wide-format imaging companies because it verifies their commitment to a sustainable business ethic.

UV Ink Systems in the Lead

There are numerous ink systems in use today, such as aqueous, solvent and UV. Solvent ink systems are most widely used today, but UV tops the "planned purchase" list of graphics producers. UV ink systems contribute to sustainability goals by reducing solvent usage and energy consumption. They also typically take less floor space than solvent systems. Much of the R&D being conducted today is focused on UV systems and maximizing their efficiencies.

Sales Team Pep Talk

Ironically, managing the technology is the easy part. What can be difficult is getting the sales staff on board with a new way of defining success for your company. When screen printers went through the process of adopting digital imaging, getting "buy-in" from the sales staff was one of the primary challenges. Understandably, salespeople were hesitant to offer established customers digital-based products and services. They weren't comfortable selling their customers digital solutions instead of traditional solutions because they had limited experience and knowledge of this new system.

Additionally, salespeople expected lower commissions and, with the added need to educate customers, the sale would require additional effort. Initially, many printers thought the best option was to add new sales staff specific for digital. This approach, however, didn't work well. In time, it became apparent that providing a wider range of products and services led to more work on all levels. Small jobs led to big jobs and big jobs led to a series of small jobs.

Get the Ball Rolling

Looking to the not-so-distant future, digital imaging will be the primary technology for commercial printers. Those companies with other technologies such as offset lithography will have a competitive advantage because they can offer a wider range of solutions due to diverse technology.

Companies will, however, compete less and less on the actual printing. The print process will be commoditized and the competition points will be before and after the print. Solutions will be built around creative services, managed distribution, project management, data management and a host of other valued services.

Now is the time to break from the huddle and start investing in new business opportunities. Those companies who utilize multiple technologies like offset litho and wide-format digital will be in a better position to meet customers' increasing demands and rise above the competition. PI

About the Author
Michael Robertson serves as president and CEO of the Specialty Graphic Imaging Association (SGIA).



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