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Creativity Drives POP

Retail Graphics Flourish

By Gretchen A. Peck

The point of sale (POS) print market is experiencing a perfect storm. With a poor global economy, consumers are more cautious than usual about expenditures. However, point of purchase (POP) remains strong despite the skyrocketing costs of television, radio, and direct mail advertising.

“Advertisers need to move services to the spaces where ad spending is increasing,” suggests Carmine Catena, founder, Print Curious, a New York, NY-based creative agency. “Not adjusting business plans means no business in the future. I believe POP will continue to be a major component of advertising. More POP pieces consist of merging technologies. Some standee signage includes video and voice-activated attachments. ”

With or without electronic add-ons to POP, cost effectiveness is still present. “The studies we’ve seen all point to diminished returns on television and mass media advertising due to market fragmentation and the increasing expenditure on POP and e-marketing. This attributes to the cost effectiveness of reaching specific, targeted audiences,” remarks Andrew Oransky, director of product management, Roland DGA Corporation. “Inventive and creative displays, such as three-dimensional graphics at theaters and department stores, colorful fabric applications, and frosted glass windows,” suggests Oransky, are what continues to drive advertisers to POP.

“Our customers create amazing POP work, including vinyl installation on elevator doors and floors, to ATM and coffee machine wraps. Pillar wraps and floor graphics are increasingly used to catch a customer’s eye—this includes in-store locations, as well as outside on sidewalks and walkways,” notes Mary Ann Kucera, product marketing manager, MACtac Graphic Products.

Numerous examples of POP, like the ones discussed above, solidify POP’s popularity. “POP advertising completes the consumer experience and touches the consumer in a way that other forms cannot. You will continue to see merging technologies in this area. There will also be more consumer interaction with this medium than in the past,” suggests Catena.

Cashing in on POP
Following a short-lived retirement from a pharmaceutical career, Sam Sheppard moved his family from Atlanta, GA to Reno, NV and began a quest for an enterprise that allowed him to capitalize on a passion for photography.

With much research and consultation, he became owner of a Signs by Tomorrow franchise, attended his first print industry trade show, and purchased a Mimaki USA, Inc. solvent printer. The venture was born.

“We started out in cut vinyl, and I quickly figured out in two months that I couldn’t make much money doing only that in this market,” Sheppard recalls.

A diverse mix of print equipment handles the company’s growing workload. “We had two Mimakis—eight and five feet—but they were old and we got our money’s worth out of them. So, I sold them on eBay,” Sheppard shares.

He then added an Hewlett-Packard (HP) Designjet 9000 series printer. An HP Designjet Z3100 manages the jobs requiring photographic-quality output. Primarily used in the manufacture of POP displays is the shop’s EFI VUTEk QS3200, a UV-curable technology capable of printing up to 900 square feet per hour on substrates up to two inches thick. It can print in either four- or six-color modes, offers a special seventh channel for white ink, and can image up to 1,080 dpi.

“We work with many local casinos, creating a lot of backlits, half-cards, full-cards, and banners—the type of jobs that get changed out on a regular basis,” Sheppard explains.

“With the QS3200, we print six half-cards on a four- by eight-foot sheet of 1-mil PVC. We often do eight to ten of those in a day,” he estimates.

The device also enabled the shop to grow its menu of capabilities and better serve its customers’ POS needs—including requests for special materials. “We just used fabric from Neschen Americas to print drapes for The Ritz Carlton hotel,” Sheppard notes.

“Jobs are also produced on sticky-back vinyl and then applied to Lexan. These are printed on clear 3M Graphics Market Center vinyl and then we apply a 3M cast overlaminate. We’re a 3M certified print shop, but print on just about everything,” adds Sheppard.

POP Sings with Print-and-Cut
Thomas Wink and his partner, Jamie Novak, founded Virtuoso Graphics in 2004 in a thriving and highly competitive Houston, TX market.

“We pride ourselves on offering more than the average sign shop. A niche like POP separates us from the other sign companies,” explains Wink. He estimates that there are seven print competitors within a three mile radius.

One of the increasingly popular types of POP that Virtuoso produces are plexiglass walls that offer practical architectural structure; beautify retail spaces; and promote products, services, or brands. “We also sell a lot of acrylic, plastic signs that either hang from ceilings or mount to walls,” Wink notes.

Virtuoso Graphics is equipped with two printer/cutters from Roland. The company first purchased a 30-inch VersaCAMM VP-300.

“I saw a Roland ad and ordered a printed sample,” Wink recalls. “The resolution and the die cut were phenomenal!” A short while later, Virtuoso Graphics installed a VersaCAMM VP-540, a 50-inch wide printer/cutter. Both VersaCAMM models print on coated and uncoated media. They are driven by Roland’s VersaWorks RIP software and use ECO-SOL MAX inks.

Wink asserts that the print-and-cut route was the way to go for his business. Though he admits digital print-only technologies certainly have faster print speeds, the quality of a print-to-cut graphic makes speed a small sacrifice.

“A customer came into our shop after using another TX-based printer to print a sample banner graphic. They requested we print the same graphic using higher resolution. We printed a sample from our Roland and they loved it. They couldn’t believe the machine printed that clear—at that a high dpi—on a banner substrate.”

“This is why we chose the VersaCAMMs. We needed the level of detail and quality. Sure, we could have put speed before quality, but that’s not what we’re aiming for. We’ll take quality over the ability to knock out a job fast, any day,” he stresses.

Flatbeds Offer Opportunities
Des Moines, IA-based Beeline+Blue originated as a reprographics supplier, but the company became involved with large format color approximately 14 years ago, recalls Steven Strooh, VP, Beeline+Blue.

“For the past six years, we produced solvent, outdoor prints,” Strooh notes. “Then, we found the need to print on rigid substrates, so we recently upgraded our flatbed printers, automatically opening the door to the POP market.”

Heather Kendle, director of marketing, Inca Digital Printers asserts that the advent of digital flatbed technologies revolutionized the POP industry—not simply by expanding the possibilities for substrate use, but by changing the market itself.

“Flatbed technology translates to a more responsive and reactive industry, with 24-hour turnaround becoming the normal standard,” Kendle suggests. “It also changes store advertising, creating localized displays based on an individual place or promotion. Shorter runs are possible, allowing budgets to be stretched over several campaigns and adapted regularly in response to customer feedback.”

Beeline+Blue chose two OcŽ North America Arizona flatbed printers. “We installed two for the throughput of two machines, plus there is redundancy if one of them happens to go down. Once the devices were installed there was an explosion of POP and retail graphics work,” Strooh explains.

The print service supplier complemented the OcŽ Arizonas with a MGE, Inc. i-cut system for handling complex contour cuts. “We actually didn’t realize how hand-in-hand flatbed printers and a system for cutting go together until we installed them. Then we wondered how we’d ever done any work without them,” Strooh marvels.

Some interesting jobs Beeline+Blue recently produced include a mural printed on ceramic tiles and a project printed on the second surface of glass. “We blew up an image of a medallion on a ribbon to about 60 inches tall and printed it on glass. It came out magnificent, preserving the texture of the ribbon and the look of light reflecting off the medal,” recalls Strooh.

Creative Consumables
Clients may turn to print suppliers to recommend new and interesting substrates used to set POP displays apart from the competition. In response, print suppliers look to media manufacturers to continue offering innovative POP products.

“One trend is the use of metallic enhanced laminates, like our Enhancer Brilliant Crystal, in high-end department store POP displays,” notes MACtac’s Kucera. “Our Enhancer Series offers elegant finishes and elevates short-term promotions.”

MACtac’s IMAGin wallNOODLE is a strong performer in POS applications. “One Cleveland, OH rock radio station uses wallNOODLE in a mix of promotional materials for local events,” Kucera explains.

“Roland has a variety of media designed and optimized for our ECO-SOL MAX inks, including vinyl, banner, paper, canvas, and various films,” Roland’s Oransky advises. “Additionally, there are a tremendous number of third party media solutions for ECO-SOL MAX that allow our users to run fabrics, metallic materials, and even wood.

“One reason we are so excited about our new VersaUV LEC-300 LED-UV printer is its capability to print on many standard films and other materials that were difficult in the past, since they are not compatible with eco-solvent type inks. We already see great results on typical POP media, like polycarbonate and paperboard.”

Once a print is finished, the next challenge for the print supplier is how best to handle the installation. Depending on where the customer wants to display the graphic, print providers may choose to take advantage of existing display systems—like banner stands or wall systems—or custom build a solution.

“Retailers we sell to use banner stands to promote specialty services within their store, such as photo processing and printing services,” notes Robb Northrup, marketing communications manager, Southern Imperial, Inc. “As for brand manufacturers, our banner stands are used for new product releases, and for special sampling or promotional events,” Northrup explains.

Testrite Visual Products, Inc. carries dozens of brands of sign and graphic display structures, including banner stands, pedestal stands, and systems for framing and hanging.

Recently, the company introduced two display products—the Cobra, an aptly named floor graphic stand shaped like a cobra ready to strike; and the MegaWave wall system, which provides a large structure for displaying mural-sized messages.

Companies like Tex Visions supply framing systems for retail graphics as well. Popular for in-store signage, Tex Visions’ Q-Frame Tex is mountable to a wall or ceiling and can be positioned in floor bases.

A Specialized Sell
“We have a full-time outside salesperson,” notes Sheppard of Signs by Tomorrow in Reno, NV. “His job—all of our jobs—involve consulting with the customer to determine exactly what they need and the best way to execute it. Then we’ll go back to the shop and create a mock-up to present to them.”

One way large format print differs from the traditional offset market, suggests Wink of Virtuoso Graphics, is that it’s a different type of sell. It’s more of a consultative process, a good example of how advertiser and print supplier can creatively collaborate.

“I find that customers don’t want to come into the shop and talk to a ‘sign guy.’ There is a misconception that the sign guy will push them toward a product the shop wants to do, rather than what best suits the customer. We take a totally different approach and work with our customers. We offer them plenty of suggestions and options. We’ll work with them to design something that they’re going to be happy with and works within the budget,” Wink states.

Tapping the POP market
Print service providers must invest in the technologies, workflow, and consultative sales abilities to enable a successful foray into the POP market. This dedication will aid advertisers in successfully promoting a product that will in turn jump start a promising economy. POP graphics are a mainstay in the graphic arts.

Jan2009, Digital Output

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