By Mat Drake, Business Manager, Commercial Print, Roland DG
If I was to sum up the prevailing mantra of the industry over the last few years it would no doubt go along the lines of 'diversify or die!'
The statement itself is dramatic and while it is not necessarily true of the whole industry - many sign makers continue to make a good living doing exactly what they do best - there has been a huge amount of discussion in the broader graphic arts industry about the best ways to seek out new markets to improve margins, revenue streams and client base.
Manufacturers of hardware, software, inks and substrates from right across the industry have responded to this positivity and worked very hard over the last decade to ensure that printing companies of all persuasions have the right technologies at hand to grow and diversify their businesses.
From my perspective, nowhere is this commitment more evident than in the wide format sector. There is no doubt we are in one of the more vibrant sectors of the industry, where innovation continues to flourish and be embraced, and as a result the opportunity to diversify and grow is ever present.
The short-run label and garment decoration markets are two excellent examples of where sign makers can utilise the inherent flexibility in their current print and cut machine and move into supplementary, high margin sectors, with a minimum of effort and, importantly, cost. The former requires no additional equipment and the latter just a heat press and you're ready.
Its real flexibility like this that also gives the sign maker or printer considerable opportunities for cross selling other products to the same customer and this is critical for two reasons: firstly, you increase your revenue levels per customer. And, secondly, but of equal importance: if you offer a broader range of services, then you lessen the risk of a customer going elsewhere for additional products and then being cross-sold to by your competitors. I often say to customers one of the most exciting things about wide format is you can never assume that what you could produce on the machine this time last year, is 'all' you can produce this year.
The extraordinary versatility of these machines and their openness for new opportunities means they are always effectively designed with one eye firmly on the future. We've actually got examples out there in the field of machines that are nearly a decade old, yet are printing some of the latest, most innovative and creative applications out there.
This is because the technology is flexible enough to adapt as the industry's needs change and new inks and substrates become available.
Like hardware companies, substrate and materials manufacturers see huge possibilities for the sector's future. Working closely with companies like Roland, those in the substrate world are investing in and continually introducing new wide format products onto the market and opening up new markets and potential new channels for revenue. Importantly, this investment by both huge international companies as well as a plethora of nimble, new start-ups, means they all see a strong, positive future for this part of the industry.
And, all this has combined to create an increased demand for wide format print as print buyers increasingly see the value of these applications and realise they offer a much greater choice of innovative ways to capture their audiences' attention.
I'm out there every day as part of my role as business manager for Roland in the commercial print sector and there are an exceptional number of creative new applications coming into play every month.
Recently, I saw a sign maker printing on a new, unique adhesive-free graphics substrate that uses a micro suction structure that enables it to stick to flat surfaces without any adhesive. It's also 100% recyclable and can be easily reapplied. This is an outstanding development for those sign markers working in the POS and retail space, where seasonal and sale-based campaigns are the norm.
For all these reasons, in terms of diversification, the wide format market is an incredibly exciting place to be right now, with all those along the supply chain - from hardware and software manufacturers and substrate and ink suppliers to sign makers, printers and print buyers embracing and taking advantage of the considerable opportunities wide format offers.
And, with options like white and metallic inks and 3D textures and layered effects now readily available, as well as highly intelligent print and cut functionality, wide format printers have never been more versatile, and the options for business development more extensive.
At Roland, we're right at the forefront of this industry and have pioneered many of the technology developments the industry now sees as critical to success, such as print and cut, wide-format-specific workflow software and metallic and white inks.
As a result, we now have one of the widest range of printers separated by width, speed and special print effects on the market today as well as dedicated models such as our LEC series for sector-specific or highly specialised applications. In fact, to keep up with the increase in demand for wide format, we recently introduced our fastest, most versatile printers to date - the Pro 4 XF-640 printer and the Pro 4 XR- 640 printer/cutter. Both have already been very well received by the market and customers and demonstrate to us that the appetite for exciting and relevant new wide format remains on the up.
Moving forward, the prevailing mantra of the industry should be less about 'diversify or die' and focused far more on all the great applications there are out there for new business, and new business that is exciting and profitable. From literally month to month the horizon is changing, getting bigger and presenting more opportunity as new substrates, software and hardware comes onto the market. So, make a point of doing your research, and speaking to your hardware, software consumables partners to find out the latest developments. It could change the way you see wide format technology and transform your business in the process.
For more information please call 0845 230 9060 or visit www.rolanddg.co.uk