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The Digital Flatbed Market

Customers Share Their Wants and Needs

by Gretchen A. Peck

This is the final installment in our four-part series on Flatbed Technology. Look for a full feature article in the March 2006 issue of Digital Output.

There’s the proverbial question—What do print buyers want? It’s something print executives ponder daily, as they try to make existing customers happy, and attract new ones.

Really, the answer is—and always has been—fairly simple. Of course, they want price, quick turnaround on their jobs, and only the best quality from their suppliers. These are givens—expectations as old as the business of print itself.

But look a little deeper, and you’ll find that’s not all that your customers want and need from you, their trusted print supplier. They need your expertise, and they want you to share in the creative process.

Moving Beyond Price
Jeff Sybil, sales and marketing manager for Image Mill, Inc., Redmond, WA, understands why customers are often fixated by price of large format print. "Usually, with a first-time customer, it’s tough to get beyond price," he says. "They have budgets, just like all of us."

Image Mill was founded in 1996 as a full-service supplier of large format graphics—everything from retail and POP signage to wall murals and fleet graphics. The company runs a variety of digital print engines, including solutions from 3M, HP, and Vutek, and a digital flatbed from Leggett & Platt Digital Technologies (L&P).

"Primarily, our customers are regionally based," Sybil explains, "Companies like Nordstrom, REI, and Microsoft. They are mostly based in Washington and Oregon, with others in California and other places. But we’ve found that relationships—at least in this print segment—are better built when you share a neighborhood."

When discussing a job, print buyers will naturally steer the conversation back to pricing, so it’s up to the printer to explain the pricing structures, but also to educate the customer about the technology behind the job. They should understand how the job will be produced, how you will care for it throughout the manufacturing process.

A knowledgeable customer—one that better understands your business—becomes a loyal customer, according to Sybil. "There is still a lot of relationship building to this business," he adds.

The quality of print and the finishing of the job are often equally as important to a print buyer as cost. "The two things we’re known for is quality and turnaround. We’re not always known for price," Sybil jokes.

"But this is a philosophy we take very seriously," Sybil continues. "Any printer out there can offer a cheap solution, but not back it up with quality. Our relationship with Leggett & Platt and other equipment manufacturers, and our confidence in the materials we use—these things matter not only to us, but to our customers. They can rest assured that we can stand behind our work."

Creative Collaboration
You may be working with some of the most experienced graphic designers in the U.S., but even they may be creatively limited by a lack of knowledge about the digital wide format print process.

It was creativity that landed Image Mill a recent job produced for The Alaskan Brewery Co. The company signed on as a sponsor for the 2006 Iditarod and wanted a creative way to promote their participation.

"The real difference between us and the others who bid on the job was that we understood their vision. They wanted to jazz it up with something different, like voice-activated sound. The printing was easy," Sybil recalls. "We just printed it with our L&P UV Flatbed, directly onto the substrate. Then, we put it through a flatbed router. The voice-activation boxes were attached, and they were out the door. The client couldn’t have been happier."

Indeed, in the digital age, electronic communications between the print supplier and the print buyer have largely replaced that all-so-valuable face time. So, when you can get it, take advantage of it, Sybil suggests.

"You can’t sell everything through the Web site," Sybil suggests. "It’s simply a good introduction to a company. I find that the retail and corporate clients are, by far, more concerned with the cost of the job and how fast we can get it done," he confides. "They prefer to say, ‘Here’s what we want it to look like, and here’s when we want it.’"

"Designers, on the other hand, will want to know more about how the printer works. It helps them get a better idea of how to design for the technology. They also develop a realistic expectation for the technology and what its limitations may be. This is valuable information for the print buyer."

Look for a feature article on Flatbed Technology in the March 2006 issue of Digital Output!

Jan2006, Digital Output

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