Is Wide-Format Right for My Commercial Printing Business?
“Wide-format seems nice, but it’s not right for my business.” You may have said that to yourself a few times when looking at new ways to grow your commercial printing business.
Maybe you’ve looked at the numbers thrown around — double-digit growth this and net-new business that — but you’re still skeptical. You’ve seen the market change on a dime and you don’t want to be the one holding what could be a very expensive bag.
It’s easy to understand. Moving into new market segments and a new business is a leap of faith. And, as many commercial printers can attest who have been through the ups and downs of a tumultuous economy, what seems too good to be true often is.
Dan Foster, president of DataPrint Initiatives (DPI) based in Fort Wayne, Ind., was one such skeptic. DPI was purpose built from the ground up in 2004 as a digital printing service provider. In the beginning, the company specialized in digital printing of all types with a focus on variable data products. It even offered offset printing services.
So why did DPI start looking more seriously at the wide-format market?
One of DPI's long-time customers inquired about producing industrial safety signs for them, but the company's current capabilities didn’t allow for that kind of application. In order to provide this service, Foster realized that would have to invest in digital wide-format inkjet equipment.
“We had virtually no wide-format [printing] experience. The only experience we had was with our Epson proofer,” admitted Foster. “While visiting Graph Expo, we saw the wide-format market gaining momentum, but while it was interesting, it wasn’t for us.”
With 30 years of printing industry behind him, Foster had seen the market come and wane, so he wasn’t ready to invest in wide-format — especially because there was already competition in the local area. “We needed to make sure this was the real deal. Didn’t want to destroy what we had already built,” said Foster. “And we didn’t know where the new business would come from.” The whole thought of moving into wide-format was daunting.
Foster started with extensive market research. If he was going to move into a new market, he wanted to make sure he knew as much as he could about the technology, the pitfalls and the opportunities. He met with his current equipment vendors and paper providers; they were able to educate DPI on what the differences were in inkjet wide-format in terms of ink and the different types of presses that could be purchased — from roll-to-roll to flatbed to hybrid machines. “We spoke to anyone and everyone who knew anything good, bad or indifferent about wide-format,” he noted.
And then he headed to ISA in Orlando.
“The first thing I realized when I walked onto the ISA show floor was that I had no idea how large this business was. It started to scare me,” admitted Foster.
Once all of the research was done, he decided to invest in an EFI H1625 LED hybrid UV printer running CMYK and two channels of white ink.
“The learning curve is real if you have no wide-format experience,” according to Foster. “While the equipment is easy to run, it will still take 9 to 12 months to ramp up the entire staff — sales, operators, management. And be sure to engage the sales staff early on.”
At the time of the printer purchase Foster was still trying to figure out what the output device could do and where DPI could find more work. “We had an ‘ah-ha’ moment once the printer was installed. We had no idea there was this much business to capture with our current client list. As we started to share the knowledge ... one thing led to another,” said Foster. “Our fears and worries evaporated within months and our [existing] customer base became our best resource for work.”
Do you want to learn more about how DPI transitioned from a service business that put ink/toner on paper to a service provider that puts images on anything? Sign up to view the Printing Impressions' “Wide-Format Graphics Printing Capabilities Can Propel Your Business” webinar. Adding wide-format graphics printing capabilities to your operation is a great way for your business to remain competitive and profitable.
Denise Gustavson is the Editorial Director and Special Projects Editor for the Printing & Packaging Group, which includes Printing Impressions, packagePRINTING, In-plant Graphics and Wide-Format Impressions magazines, among other brands. She is also the Editor-in-Chief of Wide-Format Impressions.