FESPA CEO Neil Felton explores the undiscovered theme of this year’s FESPA expo in more detail.
Felton said that the wide format industry is changing, and the business owners who are most optimistic about the future are those who understand that they need to identify ways to add new applications or acquire new customers. With 68% of wide format print providers relying on FESPA exhibitions to hear about new industry developments and 52% planning to research new markets in the coming year, the most forward-thinking print service providers (PSPs) will be donning their metaphorical space suits to journey to unexplored corners of the ever-expanding wide format print universe at FESPA 2015 in Cologne.
Acclimatise To The Atmosphere
The dynamics in relationships between customers and print service providers have shifted. ‘It’s no longer just about print by the square metre,’ said Ron Gilboa, Director of Functional Printing and Packaging for InfoTrends at the 2014 FESPA Global Summit in Munich. His message is one that is being taken to heart by PSPs across the wide format print industry, many of whom are working to develop longer term partnerships with their customers.
Today’s print buyers are not looking for suppliers, but for creative solutions to their projects and objectives and any challenges they may face. For marketers focused on proving return-on-investment for example, PSPs need to help them plan and deliver integrated, targeted marketing campaigns, which can be measured and swiftly adapted according to audience response. Brand owners looking to differentiate themselves in a crowded visual communications space however, are looking for PSPs who will recommend innovative solutions such as blending conventional print with printed electronics or using inks to create special effects.
Brands, however, are not the only ones looking for ways to stand out. As was reflected in many presentations at the FESPA Global Summit, we are living in an age of individuality. People not only want to express their personal identity in everything from their clothing to their environment, but they also want consumer experiences tailored to their preferences.
In fact, 59% of respondents to the FESPA Print Census said that more clients are asking for versioning and personalisation. This mass customisation trend, together with the move toward shorter runs and on demand production that accompanies it, is not only driving the adoption of digital technology in the wide format print industry, but also wider consumer demand for bespoke applications in areas such as décor, textile printing and vehicle graphics.
Open Up Galaxies Of Opportunity
This new market environment is creating constellations of new opportunities for PSPs. Opportunities in printed décor, for example, are not confined solely to the interior décor industry. In fact, for PSPs who already produce point-of-sale materials or signage for companies such as retailers, restaurants and hotels, producing commercial interior applications for these same clients could be an exciting opportunity to begin diversifying into the décor sector.
Textile printing also presents a substantial opportunity for diversification and expansion. Although only 29% of respondents in the FESPA Print Census regularly produce textiles for garments, 71% expect textile printing for garments to grow as a percentage of their wide format business. When it comes to textiles for décor applications and soft signage these figures are 66% and 63% respectively. Indeed, 34% of PSPs in the census said that the capability they’d be most interested in when investing in a new device would be textile printing capabilities.
As many successful PSPs already know, opportunities don’t only come from new customers. Often you can grow your business more efficiently by offering new services to existing customers. With marketers and brand owners eager to differentiate their communications in a competitive marketplace, wide format PSPs need to find creative ways to add value, whether that is with finishing or special effects inks. Indeed, many respondents in the FESPA Census have already added finishing solutions to their hardware arsenals to enable them to add value for customers and increase the profitability of jobs.
The Infinitely Expanding Universe Of Wide Format Print
Regardless of whether your sphere of expertise is analogue or digital printing, innovations in both materials and technologies mean that almost every surface is now viable for printing. Together with value propositions such as on demand manufacturing, higher quality and lower environmental impact, this evolution is driving a transition to higher-value applications.
About 40% of respondents to the FESPA Print Census, so far, users of wide format printing equipment from 45 countries, report that they are currently producing industrial applications such as décor and laminates (18%), automotive (7%), 3D printing (5%), electronics (3%), biomedical (4%), glass (3%) and ceramics (2%), and that they expect to be producing even more of these over the next years. And while banners, billboards and signs are the applications most commonly produced by respondents at present, they expect the greatest amount of growth to come from textile printing for garments (71%) and décor (66%), as well as wallpaper and interiors (69%). In many cases the print method selected will depend on factors such as run length, budget and how durable the printed item needs to be.
Print is being used by some interior designers to replicate high-end materials, while growing consumer demand for personalised wallpaper is leading some digital wide format PSPs to consider to a business-to-consumer offering. Other PSPs are using developments such as conductive inks to add new functionality to products they already offer, as in the example of promotional posters that play music or garments that react to ambient temperature.
What each of these examples has in common is that the PSP understands that print is just one step in a broader manufacturing process in which the resulting product or solution is far more valuable than the sum of its parts. In today’s print universe the application of print has become more important than the print itself.