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The Changing Role of Print for In-Store Marketing

How your shop can stay ahead of developing trends in P-O-P.

[Continued from High-End UV Flatbeds and the Changing Dynamics of In-Store Marketing.]

The current need to develop web, digital, and mobile platforms has reduced the total amount of money marketers spend on printing. Today, many large buyers of retail graphics expect full service from their print providers. They don’t want to go to one PSP for large graphics and another company for small-format prints.

Many shops that specialize in P-O-P and retail graphics use a combination of print platforms and workflow-automation and color-management software that enables them to shift jobs to the platform that makes the most business sense. Some digital flatbed presses can do work that was formerly done on either offset or screen presses, enabling companies that already specialized in label printing, packaging, or marketing collateral to offer P-O-P and graphics-printing services to their existing clients.

“Traditionally large screen and offset printers have been the first to adopt digital printing technology and cost effectively produce smaller runs,” says Gasch. “However, smaller volume print shops are also investing in higher-end digital flatbed equipment to increase production capacity, while maintaining a very high service level.”

At an SGIA press conference, Fujifilm introduced Ryan Brueckner, CEO of Direct Edge Media. The young entrepreneur got into the printing business right out of college in 2001 with a 60-inch HP Designjet 5000. Today, Direct Edge Media is a full-service print shop that specializes in short-run and fast-turnaround digital printing. Their equipment list includes three Xerox digital presses, three offset presses, two 98-inch Fuji Acuity flatbeds, a 138-inch Fuji Grand-Format Uvistar, three Roland solvent printers, three 60-inch HP Designjets, and a 74-inch D.gen textile printer.

Direct Edge Media’s P-O-P and retail segments were growing so rapidly that they recently added an Inca Onset high-speed flatbed. Doing runs of 1000 sheets on the Onset isn’t uncommon, Brueckner said, because Direct Edge Media customers consider digital printing the best option. They like the quality, fast turnaround, and flexibility as well as the ability to easily print a few color-matched replacements for prints that get damaged during shipping or installation.

At the Executive Outlook Conference prior to the 2014 Graph Expo, printing consultant Hal Hinderliter emphasized that the growth of online communications hasn’t affected all forms of print uniformly. He noted that “print that informs” is declining in favor of “print that performs.”

When people want to read information about new products and how to use them, they go online. “Print that performs,” Hinderliter explained, pulls people away from the information overload of the on-screen world and temporarily brings them back into the tactile, physical world. Creatively designed graphics, signage, packaging, and brochures with sensory appeal (special textures, scents, or imagery) can attract attention, create an impression, support the brand story, or engage the viewer.

Screen Printing’s Future in P-O-P
“Some people want to categorize digital as a screen-printing replacement, but it doesn’t have to be,” says Larry D’Amico of Agfa Graphics. Like all print buyers these days, P-O-P customers just want the job delivered at a certain quality level, turnaround speed, and price. “They don’t care if it’s done on a digital or a screen press as long as you meet their criteria.”

Dolf Kahle, CEO of Visual Marking Systems, agrees with this observation. While he used to introduce himself as a screen printer, he says, “That’s the last thing I would start the conversation with now.” He points out that not long ago, companies equipped with offset presses, screen presses, photo processors, and flexographic equipment served different markets. With the rise of digital printing, he says that’s no longer true: “It’s not about the process anymore.”

“The broadest impact on screen printing as a mass-production technique is the shift in marketing from general, national programs to regional, local, and even one-to-one messaging,” says Brent Moncrief, VP of sales and marketing, Durst Image Technology US. He compares the “versioning” of P-O-P graphics to the evolution of retail catalogs: “In the 1970s, nearly every home in America received the Sears catalog in their mailbox – one each of the exact same, massive, printed piece. Over time, Sears and their competitors segmented their offerings and their customer bases, which resulted in more versions of the catalog, shorter run lengths, and often more frequency. We see the screen printer facing these same competitive pressures from their retail and brand clients.”

This doesn’t mean screen printing will disappear entirely from the large-format graphics mix. “Digital flatbed printing equipment advances have shifted the breakeven point between analog and digital printing, enabling long runs and addressing many market demands. However, there are still capabilities unique to screen printing, including the use of metallic and phosphorescent inks, specialty substrates, and unique colors,” says Gasch. “There are also long-run volumes that still justify analog printing. When screen-printing presses are fully amortized, customers tend to equip those devices for very long runs and for very specialized applications where specific colors or finishing effects are needed.”

Crosby agreed, noting that “A number of factors keep screen printing as a method of choice.” Some of these include custom Pantone or corporate colors that aren’t easily replicated with four-color process or runs lengths over 1000 impressions on plastics, foamboards, corrugated, or heavy card stock. Jobs with heavy solids or line art that can run as two- or three-color jobs instead of four-color process are other factors that favor continued use of the screen-printing process.

Not all clients are seeking shorter runs of more personalized and customized graphics, Crosby says. “Some are looking to build an international brand in which all doors receive the same message. These clients are looking for cost efficiencies through standardization and longer runs. They are less concerned about speaking to local markets.” Clients who want to customize their messages for a regional audience run special programs in fewer doors based on their perceived needs for that market and the triggers for spending activity. According to Crosby, “They feel that the increased costs are offset by higher, targeted sales.” Plus, not all components of a P-O-P project require customization. Standardized elements could be mass produced on screen or offset presses and combined with shorter runs of graphics produced digitally.

Invest in More than a Press
According to the Big Picture Premier Printer Guide (www.bigpicture.net/printerguide), your company can now choose from more than 170 models of wide-format UV inkjet flatbeds (and hybrids) from more than 25 major manufacturers. Bigger plants producing large volumes of P-O-P work tend to focus on the high end of this machine class, presses that most closely approximate an in-line screen press with top quoted speeds over 3500 sq ft/hr and the ability to automate sheet loading and/or takeoff. (Examples include the Durst 1312, EFI Vutek HS100 Pro, HP Scitex FB10000, and Inca Onset S50i.)

Streamlining prepress and production workflows has become a critical step in successfully integrating a high-speed UV flatbed line. According to Bowers, Miller Zell is in the process of addressing this now. “It is essential for dealing with the customization of graphics and achieving faster turn times on jobs. It is also one of the areas where costs can be reduced – both in terms of number of ‘touches’ that are required to handle files as well as eliminating human error.”

“Workflow is absolutely paramount,” said Hanulec. “In order for print to remain relevant, it has to be more like my iPhone – it has to give me what I want now, instantly. In order to do that in an efficient and effective manner, you can’t put people on it. The workflow has to be totally automated from the time the files get submitted and prepped down to the final distribution.” It’s also important to tie your print MIS systems into the process so that data on job status and costs can be properly captured and reported.

If you worry that you won’t have enough work to keep an expensive digital flatbed running at capacity, consider setting up a web-to-print storefront. These online interfaces make it easy for clients to send preflighted, color-managed PDF files directly into your production workflow. Some press manufacturers offer web-to-print solutions; many others are available from independent software developers. (See “The Other Shop Software,” February/March 2014.)

Be prepared to automate the finishing department, too. According to Isabelle Noppe, product manager of Esko’s i-Cut Suite for large-format printing workflows, “Flatbed printer owners come to us for guidance because they are dealing with short runs on expensive, high-speed presses. They have invested a lot of money in these presses and really want to keep them running. They struggle, because without automated workflows, they can’t keep up with all of the short-run jobs.”

Dolf Kahle says Visual Marking Systems will continue to use the robust mix of screen presses and digital printing equipment they have acquired over the years. But he expects to replace two of the company’s 11 screen-printing lines in the near future. After Svecia went out of business, he says, it has become increasingly difficult to keep the presses up and running.

Considering ongoing changes in customer expectations and the competitive landscape, Kahle doesn’t plan to look backwards and replace the old screen presses with newer ones. He prefers to look forward and continue expanding and upgrading his fleet of sheetfed and roll-to-roll digital printers and cutting tables. For a while, Kahle outsourced specialty projects such as rolls of labels. But after he realized just how much work he was outsourcing, he invested in an HP Indigo WS6400. Today, Visual Marking Systems has eight digital presses, two roll-to-roll latex printers, two HP Indigos, and two Zünd cutting tables. Kahle still outsources a few projects, but with the company’s mix of screen- and digital printing equipment, they can produce about 98 percent of what they sell.

In their new book "This Point Forward: The New Start the Marketplace Demands," industry analysts Joseph Webb and Richard Romano explain why commercial printing firms can’t afford to keep looking in the rearview mirror to make equipment decisions: “An increasing number of today’s communications and advertising mangers do not expect to use print. Why should they? It doesn’t serve their purpose. It’s not that they hate print.

It’s that they’ve found other media that are more effective for their particular objectives. Today’s marketing managers are highly skilled digital media experts who are both creative and innovative, and fluent in the statistical nature of digital media analytics.” In order to stay relevant to the changing needs of their customers, all types of print service providers must remain aware of what their customers might need from this point forward.
 

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