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New game plan

Aug 1, 2010 12:00 AM

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How can you change your business model to promote growth? Many are finding it easier to sell additional services to existing customers vs. selling core services to unknown clients.

Some commercial printers have added digital document printing to their traditional technologies, which is a major step toward expanding services for existing customers. Supporting customers' short-run printing needs not only strengthens existing customer relationships, but also opens doors to new customers.

For companies that have digital document capability, the addition of wide-format digital 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 usually is the hardest group to convert. When introduced to digital imaging, sales people 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

If you want to learn to paddle like a duck, spend some time with ducks. The Specialty Graphic Imaging Association (SGIA) and the SGIA Expo (Las Vegas, October 13-15, 2010) are all about wide-format printing. Your wide-format digital champions need to be part of the SGIA community. They need to see and experience the full range of wide-format options and learn from others employing wide-format printing technologies.

A well informed wide-format printing champion 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 champion also will help target new markets where wide-format digital capability is the ticket for admission.

Your wide-format champion 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. In fact, without a digital champion, your chances of getting buy-in throughout the organization aren't very good. It takes commitment.

Play your markets right

SGIA conducts a series of annual surveys to help members understand the changes in the community and surrounding markets. SGIA's “2009 Market Trends Survey” report revealed which specialty imaging market segments are growing, shrinking or holding steady. In Figure 1, the markets predicting growth include government agencies, health care services, corporate branding and retail.

Wide-format digital printing still is an emerging technology. New markets are being developed continually and new uses for the technology are being discovered. There is a lot to be said for adopting a technology during its emergence phase. 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 digital

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 change 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 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.

Next Page: Cross the finishing line

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 non-slip for floor graphics, non-glare, graffiti resistant, textured and more. Products often are 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 (CNC) 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 Ps” — 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; customization is maximized. The same concept holds true for other forms of digital printing. Again, keeping customers by meeting or exceeding their needs is a very important piece of the puzzle.

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

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 research and development 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, sales people we're hesitant to offer established customers digital-based products and services. Sales people weren't comfortable selling their customers digital solutions instead of traditional solutions because they had limited experience and knowledge of this new system. Basically, they weren't confident.

Additionally, sales people expected lower commissions, and with the added need to educate customers, the sale requires additional effort. Initially, many screen 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. They quickly realized that successful results meant a happy customer.

A positive customer relationship is critical to continued success. Having designated sales staff representing different solutions and basically competing for the work created all kinds of confusion and did nothing for the customer relationship. Instead, with training and progressive success, the screen print sector evolved to become a multi-technology sector and benefitted from the advantages each system provides.

Get the ball rolling

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

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

Now is the time to break from the huddle and start investing in new business opportunities. Companies that utilize multiple print technologies like offset litho and wide-format digital will be in a better position to meet customer's increasing demands and rise above the competition.

Michael Robertson is president and CEO of The Specialty Graphic Imaging Association (SGIA). Contact him at

Next Page: Getting started

Getting started

Through SGIA's extensive Information Network, your digital champions will have access to a broad range of resources to excel in the wide-format imaging marketplace.

Technical Help: Troubleshooting and advice to resolve any wide-format challenges.

SGIA Journal: Extensive articles offer insight into the specialty imaging industry.

Networking: Unparalleled access to a large group of imaging companies and suppliers.

Surveys & Statistics: Objective industry information to make the right business decisions.

Webinars: Industry experts presenting the latest market trends in 60 minutes.

Sustainability Tools: Strategic programs to help you implement sustainable business practices.

Learn about all of the benefits SGIA offers by visiting (keyword: join).

Sustainable partnership program celebrates second anniversary

BLOG KOB on Commercial Printing

Excerpt | Two years ago, three printing associations launched the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership (SGP) ( Representatives from PIA, SGIA and FTA recently updated the trade press on their efforts.

“The objective is to provide a trusted independent third-party sustainability certification program that is available to all print forms,” says Brian Hart, chairman, SGP marketing and communications committee. “SGP ensures that the appropriate metrics and tests are in place, making it simple for print buyers and specifiers to select suppliers that are operating sustainably across the chain.”

SGP has certified 24 printers. These include 11 commercial printers, 8 screen print/wide-format digital specialists and 5 flexo operations.


Wide format provides local, targeted messages

In June 2009, InfoTrends completed a North American research project with both corporate and consumer wide-format digital print buyers. Corporate print buyers expected to spend more on wide-format digital graphics in the next 12 months than they have in the last 12 months by a ratio of 5:1.

“I found that the ad agencies that are responsible for much of the buying activities were particularly bullish on wide-format digital because of the ability to localize advertising messages at the store level,” reports InfoTrends consultant Tim Greene. “They believe [this] is much more cost effective than mass marketing methodologies such as television, radio, and newspapers.”

What's new

InfoTrends post-show survey of FESPA 2010 attendees found that 70% expect to make some investment in their business following the show. “The highest interest is in new production/printing equipment (45%), textile printing equipment and supplies (42%), and ecofriendly printing equipment and supplies (40%),” reports Greene. “Certainly these were some of the dominant products and technologies on the show floor in Munich. I noted that there were new high-end equipment options and improvements from all of the leading vendors in the digital wide format market, including Durst, EFI, HP, Inca Digital and WP Digital.

Textiles are a key piece of the screen and increasingly important piece of the digital wide format market, according to Greene. “In Munich, textiles were everywhere,” he said. “FESPA caters to the textile market with specific events such as the FESPA Fabric event, but with vendors like Durst launching digital textile printing systems at FESPA, there is a clearly an increasing crossover between these market segments. There was an abundance of ‘green’ media products and new ink stories at FESPA Munich as well and the ‘Planet Friendly’ session was an excellent learning opportunity for those that want to understand the motivations for ‘going green’ as well as the processes.”


Follow InfoTrends' Tim Greene at

Chicago goes wide: Graph Expo 2010 (Oct. 3-6) attendees can see the latest digital wide-format imaging technologies and equipment in the Wide Format Pavilion. See

Got a finishing problem? “Troubleshooting wide-format laminating mistakes” covers boat wakes, infeed waves, print curl, silvering and blistering. See

Roll-to-roll. flatbed basics: We have an extensive archive of wide-format articles under the Inkjet/Wide Format tab at

Wide format live and in person

The 2010 SGIA Expo (Las Vegas, October 13-15) provides an excellent opportunity to see the full range of wide-format imaging technologies and applications firsthand. Meet up with industry experts on the trade show floor or in educational sessions to see how specialty imaging can add revenue to your company's bottom line.

Expo highlights

First-Ever Pre-Expo Business Development Conference: Unlike any educational event in the industry, the Pre-Expo Conference on October 12 focuses on maximizing profitability in specialty imaging.

Expo Floor: Witness the hottest digital imaging equipment from today's leading suppliers and manufacturers.

PDAA Graphics Application Zone: Connect with PDAA Master Certified Installers in this sales-free demonstration area and learn how graphics application can help you offer customers total imaging solutions.

Educational Sessions: Get on the Graphic & Sign educational track and learn about the latest industry issues such as pricing accuracy and sign law.

Expo Hours

Wednesday, October 13 9:30 am-5:00 pm

Thursday, October 14 9:30 am-5:00 pm

Friday, October 15 9:30 am-4:30 pm, Keyword: 2010Expo