Imagine Retail Market Imaging

Mark Vruno

Opportunities are ripe for printers to pick as retailers turn their attention back to the physical platform of the store. And as some retailers become more localized, it opens up even more avenues for profit for savvy PSPs.

If John Lennon was a capitalist (which he wasn’t, was he?), we can almost hear him singing, “Imagine all the profits … .” In the printing business these days, you never know from whence your next dollar may come. As print shops add services and value to buoy profits, sales can be generated from products unconsidered just a few short years ago. As an example, one Midwestern digital print firm is using Xeikon presses to output “shelf talker” labels for a US pharmacy chain. There also is big opportunity in wide-format print.

“Quick print providers … are taking aim at a market that has historically been dominated by sign franchises,” said InfoTrends’ Scott Harr. This trend is due primarily to the vast array of wide-format media now available for a range of applications, Harr noted.

Opportunities are ripe for printers to pick, according to Carol Spieckerman, CEO of retail strategy firm newmarketbuilders, particularly since retailers “are returning their attention to the physical platform of the store. There are unique benefits of having a brick-and-mortar presence,” she noted, adding that in-store and online need to coexist much like print and online. “When we talk about [retail] enhancements such as electronic signage, we can’t think in terms of obsolescence – that print is going away. It’s not. Instead, think of it as a complimentary strategy,” urged Spieckerman, an internationally recognized retail and brand thought leader, speaker, strategist, and author.

Thorough marketers in the second decade of the 21st century take an integrated, multichannel approach, and retail is no exception. Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets are not enemies of the print medium. It’s merely another way for retailers to reach consumers. “There’s a digital-physical interplay” between Internet websites, catalog orders, and actual stores, Spieckerman explained. Remember when once short-sighted JCPenney found out the hard way after temporarily shunning print and watching its sales nosedive?

Go for It!

“Stores may be smaller and more efficient, perhaps,” she said, “but they relate with customers” like nothing else; hence, the creative “showrooming” trend, Spieckerman explained. The pendulum of change has swung back, she insisted, and stores once again are being viewed as much more than merely a drain on financial and human resources. “Trust me, they’re not in an over-managed, cost-cutting mode anymore,” she emphasized. In fact, many retailers have a refreshed attitude, becoming more localized, even hyper-local. “They’re changing products by store, by region, even down to neighborhoods,” she added.

With localization comes an inherent sustainability advantage for printers as well. “The retailers are using local sourcing and lowering transportation costs,” so it’s a win-win scenario for them and for local printers, she noted.

Spieckerman encourages local print firm owners and sales reps not to shy away from large retail prospects, despite what may have happened in the past. “I understand that many people are used to being said ‘no’ to,” she explained, “but there has been a core-business shift over the past one to two years; a realization that they [retailers] can’t do everything themselves organically. There has been a rush to partner with agile firms that are proactive and innovative.” However, if print firm management doesn’t open its collective mind to new possibilities, she warned, they risk missing such shifts and swings in the marketplace.

Another twist is the new blood in retail, as more people are brought in from outside the industry in a push to think outside the proverbial box and “bring back the excitement in store,” as Spieckerman put it. This, too, poses an opportunity for printers whose pitches can be presented to new decision-makers rather than falling on the same, old deaf ears.

There’s also another interesting dynamic to consider: The visual power of print can boost in-store shopper awareness of online offers, driving them to store websites that are rich with promotions. “They’re offering a heck of a lot more online [these days],” pointed out Spieckerman. “There are much broader selections with an ‘endless-aisle’ approach.” But people need to surf the website to see it all, and some shoppers need to be lured online. 

Investing in POP

Envisioning the promise of point of purchase (POP), in March of this year $90 million direct mail firm Specialty Print Communications (SPC), Niles, IL, acquired a 49 percent interest in MOTR (Media on the Run) Graphics, a POP and large-format signage business. MOTR now is situated within SPC’s 73,000-square-foot lettershop, which opened three years ago in suburban Chicago.

“It’s a good complement to their business,” said Delia Saboya, who partnered with LeFebvre brothers Adam, Dustin, and Ryan on the venture. “POP ties in with the gift cards and mailings that SPC does. We can wrap the whole project, including signage in stores and [other] retail business,” explained Seboya, a 25-year industry veteran. SPC produced some 100 million pieces of direct mail over the 2011 holiday season, housing a Kodak Prosper S10 inkjet web imprinting press along with a Versamark CS410 as well as half- and full-web presses. The G7-certified shop won a PIA Premier Print Benny award last year for a dimensional business-to-business campaign produced for mobile phone service provider Sprint.

MOTR has decided on a wide-format flatbed printer: HP/Scitex makes the most sense, Seboya explained, because they already have an Indigo press on the production floor.

Last summer, Toronto’s TI Group pursued the POP market by installing a large-format Durst Rho 1000 printer at its SCL facility in Scarborough. “This total investment of $2 million ... solidifies our position as a market leader for POP solutions and positions our company for additional growth in the coming years,” said partner Domenic Rubino.

Peter Spring, TI Group’s sales VP, explained that the Rho 1000 fills a production gap within the firm’s large-format lithography capabilities, which produces up to 73-inch work on a six-color manroland press. (The firm also added a six-color, 40-inch Heidelberg Speedmaster CD 102-6+LX with UV capabilities and Prinect Image Control in late 2008.) The Rho 1000 is a continuous UV-based inkjet system, employing Durst’s Quadro Array printhead technology, with a maximum output of up to 200 4x8-foot boards per hour. “This press also adds significant capacity to our SCL facility, where we have … expanded our scope of services to offer product design, creative support, and kitting,” Spring added.

The stakes are high in the retail space. Retailers and wholesalers such as JCPenney, Lowes, and Walmart are assertive with their price-transparent value propositions, refusing to play high-low pricing games with competitors. The ROI bottom line, said Spieckerman of newmarketbuilders, is that retailers “cannot afford to have customers leave their stores without [making] a purchase.” And that, friends of print, bodes well for presses of all types churning out content in an evolving, ever-changing medium.

Shapely, Dimensional Print

One growing POP trend is cut-out shapes and dimensional printing, said Mike Sherkey, business development director for Cushing, a wide-format printer in Chicago. “We’re getting more cutting requests,” Sherkey noted. The increasing demand made cutting by hand cost-prohibitive, so in February Cushing took delivery of a G3 L2500 cutter from Swiss manufacturer Zund.

Sherkey added that printing on thinner materials also is growing in popularity. Over the holidays, high-impact “.020-inch Styrene is used for POP on racks with Christmas tree clips, for example,” he said. Depending on the application, Cushing’s output comes from one of eight large-format printers it uses. With some 40 full-time employees, the 10,000-square-foot firm houses: two 60-inch Canon imagePROGRAF iPF 9100 12-color inkjets, two 60-inch HP Designjet 5500 models featuring outdoor UV ink, one 98-inch HP Designjet 10000 roll-to-roll banner printer, one 4x8-foot Océ Arizona 550 GT UV flatbed printer, one 42-inch Océ ColorWave 600 plotter (for inexpensive retail, Sherkey pointed out), and one 54-inch Roland DG CammJet for printing and cutting vinyls.

The PSP added a Canon imagePRESS 7010 about a year ago to increase capacity for small-format jobs such as brochures, mailers, booklets, counter card, and table tents. The upgrade joins an imagePRESS 7000 model installed two years ago. Making the decision to invest in new equipment is not easy for small print firms like Cushing (annual sales are over $5 million), which is why it, along with some 300 peer companies, networks through the ReproMAX association. Before writing a check for a down payment, Cushing management consults with fellow members about similar equipment purchases. “There are email forums, information exchanges, and idea sharing,” Sherkey explained. “It’s invaluable to get input from other people before you make a bad decision.”

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