WFX: Wide-Format Exchange Sparks Discussion, Education

Industry leaders gathered to share ideas on all aspects of the wide-format digital print business.

WFX: Wide-Format Exchange brought together leaders in the wide-format printing community for two and a half days of education, networking, and discussion focused on the present and future of the industry. Attendees gathered at the Renaissance Minneapolis Hotel, The Depot, May 21-23, for the inaugural event, which was hosted by SGIA and ST Media Group (publisher of Screen Printing, Big Picture, and Signs of the Times).  

In addition to speakers and moderated panels, WFX attendees were encouraged to network throughout the event. Industry-related lunchtime roundtable discussions, an evening cocktail hour, and a dinner reception at the historic Mill City Museum complemented the lineup of 18 educational sessions. 

Along with presenters who are wide-format industry experts, WFX boasted an unusually strong focus on the buyers’ perspective, with panels featuring four major program decision makers as well as three brand-facing agencies. 

The event kicked off with keynote speaker, Ryan Estis, CEO of Ryan Estis & Associates, who energized the crowd and emphasized the importance of implementing the takeaways from WFX immediately upon returning to work. 

Hot Applications

Kraig Kessel, co-founder of Kraido, a retail design and branding firm, shared “Why the Retail Store Is Evolving, Not Disappearing.” Kessel stressed the role signage and graphics play in helping retailers transform their environments. Despite the grim-sounding news about retail, Kessel mentioned that more retailers plan to open locations this year vs. close them. Customers want brick-and-mortar retail to be an experience, which opens the door for creative displays that present higher-margin opportunities for PSPs.

Soft signage and on-demand printing are hot topics at many industry events, and WFX continued the trend. A panel of experts discussed how textiles could fit into the wide-format digital print shop. Ron Gilboa, group director, production technology, Keypoint Intelligence; Kerry King, VP of research and development, Spoonflower; and Kirk Green, CEO of Ferrari Color, presented “From Soft Signage to Fashion, the Opportunities in Textile Printing Are Boundless.” 

Gilboa said textile printing is a growing market, though finishing is a challenge to entry for some PSPs seeking to integrate textiles into their print shops. “If you can’t sew or finish the printed textiles, that’s a problem.”

Soft signage was initially attractive for its lower shipping costs and simplicity when it comes to care. Now, said Green, the draw is also that people like the look of fabric. Other benefits include short runs, plus expansive customization and design options.

Let’s Talk Production 

Ray Weiss, director of digital print programs, SGIA, led a panel discussion on “Meeting Your Clients’ Color Expectations,” which featured Terence Wyse, OPS R&D color specialist at Shutterfly, and Hayes Holzhauer, bluemedia executive VP of operations. The panelists discussed how they tackle standardizing color in their shops, which often includes calibrating multiple machines. Holzhauer said they operate from a single, customized RIP and limit the number of people RIP’ing files to have standard operating procedures and eliminate the potential for error. Weiss advised getting all machines on the same color target in order to achieve consistency and accuracy. “Good color management is all about reducing variables,” Weiss added.

SGIA’s Marci Kinter, VP of government and business information, led a panel discussion on “Why Sustainability and Profitability Go Hand in Hand.” Panelists from Snowball Print Marketing, MillerCoors, and Modernistic, shared their dedication to sustainable print operations and the value of thinking in the long term. All four speakers agreed that educating their customers is key – you can’t count on the customer to know the benefits of a sustainably produced product. 

Scott Schulte, CEO of Modernistic, said it required a culture change within the company to get everyone on board with the push toward being a more sustainable operation. With employees committed to the change, they were able to reduce their waste by 75 percent due to recycling efforts. Schulte and Snowball Co-Founder Jenny Dela Cruz both discussed their use of recycled and recyclable substrates. “We have to be the ones to ask the hard questions to move the industry forward,” Dela Cruz said.

Mark Hanley, IT Strategies, addressed “What Single-Pass Printing Means for Your Business.” Hanley said that ceramic tile printing has embraced single-pass technology, but other areas have been slower to adopt. The future offers a range of new products, with some concern about single-pass printhead cost, propensity for nozzle failure, and maintenance integration to prevent nozzle failures.

“The Future is Now: The Two Key Places to Automate Your Production” offered attendees insight into automation from workflow to customer communication to the shop floor. Richard Labiuk, president of Holland & Crosby, and Brian Hite, president of Image Options, discussed the ways automation can save time in the long run, despite some effort in the short term. “Automation is really just saving time, money, and effort. Five minutes may not seem like big savings, but all that time adds up,” Labiuk said. 

New Perspectives

What can you do to better serve major clients and prospects? The decision makers responsible for the signage and graphics programs of three top corporate brands – REI, SuperValu, and Wells Fargo – provided insight into how their needs are changing and what they want from PSPs in a panel discussion led by ST Media Group’s Senior VP of Content, Steve Duccilli.

Kevin Manion, Wells Fargo VP branded environments leader, said with the size of their locations shrinking, the company is exploring “how do we create a customer experience in a scaled-down environment?” This often means the use of longer-term, changeable displays. Although REI has a strong online presence, the physical stores for the outdoor outfitter are a vital part of eliciting customer inspiration, said Suzanna Eversole, REI’s print production manager. “I’m looking for a printer that cares as much about my signage as I do,” Eversole said. The buyers also mentioned they are seeking longevity and a strong relationship with vendors, efficiency, and problem-solving skills. 

In “Keeping Print Relevant for the Next Generation,” Robin Donovan, editor-in-chief of Signs of the Times, moderated a discussion about business culture and attracting and retaining millennial workers to the print shop. The conversation featured panelists Brian Adam, president of Olympus Group; Ben King, president of King Signs and Graphics; and Dalton Scott, president of the Young Professionals of Minneapolis. The panel offered tips, which included providing young employees training and continuing education; communicating regularly one-on-one; and letting employees know how their day-to-day efforts are making an impact.

Big Picture’s Editor-in-Chief Adrienne Palmer led a panel discussion with three of the magazine’s Women in Print Award winners about their origins and roles in the changing digital print industry. Panelists included 2016 Women in Print Award winners Diana Herrera, owner/president of AP Imaging, and Elaine Scrima, VP of operations at GSP, and 2017 Women in Print Award winner Michelle Gobert, president and owner of Image 360 Central New Orleans. “In this industry, there’s no limit to your creativity or what you can go out and market,” Scrima said.

Closing keynote speaker, Anthony Tjan, founder and CEO of the Cueball Group, venture capitalist, and entrepreneur, ended the event with the encouragement for PSPs to power forward and increase their position in the industry: “You’re not in the business of digital printing – you’re in the business of amplifying a brand or a business.”

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