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Coloring the Walls

Digital Custom Interiors Gain Popularity

By Barbara A. Pellow

Is it time to start that home decorating project? Maybe you’re looking at one of the hotter trends in the wall covering market—borders to spiff up a dining room or bedroom. Nationwide retail sales of wallpaper have slipped, losing ground to paint, but wall borders have taken off. Suppliers and dealers are leveraging digital printing technologies to cash in on this trend.

There is a new choice in wall coverings that may save you from wallpaper boredom. It’s digital wallpaper through large format printing, a new, personalized solution that lets you paper any wall with your favorite images. While not yet as pervasive in the home market, the commercial market likes the distinctiveness of a customized original design.

According to I.T. Strategies consulting partner Patti Williams, "Decorative printing is a growth market. The worldwide retail value of print in this space will be $525 million in 2006 growing to $825 million by 2010. That’s a 12 percent CAGR."

On the Borders
Mississauga, Ontario-based Excell Décor is the largest provider of digitally printed wall coverings in the world. In 1993, Jim Hingley and business partner Buddy Seymoure started a company called Excellpak, a custom packager of wallpaper borders, and introduced die-cut borders to the marketplace. In 1999, they were joined by another partner, Wayne Stacey, to start up Excelltek. In 2004, Excellpak and Excelltek merged to form Excell Décor. Wayne believed that digital printing would become a major factor in the wallpaper market and Excelltek became the first company to produce wallpaper digitally using Xeikon technology. According to president Jim Hingley, "Anyone with a digital printer can print wallpaper, but it takes specialized equipment to turn the printed goods into a packaged product for retail."

It was a natural market for Excell Décor. When they started printing digitally, they had an existing base of wallpaper manufacturers and customers. With their deep understanding of the market, Hingley says, they knew that digital technology would be a good fit.

Hingley says there were many benefits, such as inventory control. With traditional technology, even a minimum run of borders produced very many. Inevitably this meant a significant amount of obsolete inventory. Wallpaper is just like other business—80 percent of the sales come from 20 percent of the products. Also, digital technology meant that designers could produce no-repeat borders. Traditional wallpaper manufacturing was limited by the circumference of the printing cylinder, and the Xeikon technology removed that restriction. Customers can request complex story lines or patterns that extend out several yards without repeats in the pattern.

Excell Décor traditionally provides its product through converters and distributors. According to Hingley, "We are basically a contract printer. The bulk of our customers are distributors. As an example, one of our largest distributors is Brewster Wall Coverings." Excell Décor has also developed a proprietary product called Sportshots for the adolescent market. The images are all photographic, and Excell Décor makes use of a number of third party design libraries to produce this product.

Hingley says, "Wide format printing is typically viewed as the best way to print murals, and in some respects it is. However, for the consumer, it is hard to put up and a challenge to purchase at a retail outlet. This is a great niche for Xeikon output because it can be produced in 18-inch-wide strips. You can put it on a shelf and a consumer can install it themselves."

Other wallpaper manufacturers are also leveraging this digital technology. With a rich history dating back to 1895, the oldest wall covering manufacturer in the U.S.—York Wall Coverings of York, PA—has complemented its traditional manufacturing technology with digital equipment. According to director of marketing, LeRue Brown, "We are the only company today that leverages all five technologies to produce wallpaper—surface printing, flexographic, rotary screen, rotogravure, and digital. We try to determine which equipment gives us the best look for the design. While customers weren’t specifically asking for custom borders, the addition of Xeikon technology gave us diversity, inventory control, and a product that was different.

Going Large
Vancouver, WA-based Techjet Imaging opened its doors two years ago. The firm has expanded its initial 1,300 square feet to more than 8,000 square feet and added three additional printers. Today, the facility has a Roland SC-540, a MacDermid ColorSpan X-12, and two NUR Tempo units. In its first year of operation, revenues exceeded 500 thousand dollars and this year will top well over one million. Techjet Imaging produces a large selection of direct-to-substrate large format print products including trade show walls, and murals on cloth, gator board, and sintra. According to director of operations, Paul Fite, digital wallpaper has been a good area of opportunity.

He says, "You can create almost any kind of image for your walls with large format poster printing. While the bulk of our business is point of purchase, we are seeing some key digital wallpaper opportunities in restaurants, sports complexes, and commercial properties. Consumers, especially sports enthusiasts, are using custom murals to decorate recreation rooms."

The perspective at Techjet Imaging is that digital wallpaper is cheaper than buying rolls of custom-print wallpaper from home stores. While the least expensive option is traditional, no-frills wallpaper sold for less than one dollar per square foot from stores like Kmart and Target, it can be hard to find something the consumer loves. Custom-print paper, which is what many people end up with, costs roughly $35-40 per square foot. By comparison, at between $8 and $20 per square foot, digital paper is a cost-effective choice. The wallpaper itself is 230-gram latex-based paper specifically designed for residential and commercial use and has a life span of five to six years. According to Techjet Imaging, by that time, most people are probably ready for a change anyway.

Opportunities Await
Digital printing is gaining a foothold in both borders and murals. Digitally printed murals are much more successful in the commercial market versus residential because murals give the organization an opportunity to build brand. Whether it’s a casino, hotel, retail outlet, or restaurant, marketing professionals are beginning to realize that decorating can build brand as well as be appealing to the eye. There is also opportunity in convention centers, health clubs, schools and universities, and commercial offices.

In the home market, today’s high-end savvy consumers like the distinctiveness of a customized, original design. The knowledgeable interior designer is beginning to understand that digital technology can help with the custom designed interior. You can take a photograph of your grandmother’s china pattern and use it as the border on your dining room walls, or you can build a baby’s name into the bedroom wall coverings. Designers understand that there is a sub segment of the market that is willing to pay for a one-of-a kind interior.

While the possibilities are endless, there are still challenges. The general public lacks awareness of the capabilities of digital technology in coloring and decorating the world inside of their homes and businesses. As with all emerging markets, building awareness that there is a whole new way to color and customize walls is a key ingredient for success. But that challenge is certainly not insurmountable. Just like bus wraps and building wraps were a novelty not too long ago and seem to be everywhere you turn today, this market will gain a foothold.

Oct2006, Digital Output

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