A Wise Investment in POP Print
Marketers Leverage Digital Expertise
By Gretchen A. Peck
Logic dictates that the impact of digital on print volumes is negative. It enables on demand printing—meaning, print buyers only print when they need to, which is less than before. But point of purchase (POP) print—the graphics designed to inspire consumer purchasing decisions—defies that logic.
Print service providers (PSPs) report growth in POP. Marketers are only printing when they must, but as it turns out, that necessity is occurring more frequently than before. They want and need to distinguish the goods and services they represent, as the stalled economy has quelled consumer confidence and spending. Marketers realize how vital it is to rise above competitors, stand out, and convince the consumer of a wise investment. They’re turning to POP to convey the message.
The Big and Small of POP
“We are a design and print company,” explains Ken Holsclaw, president, Phase 3 Media, based in Atlanta, GA. “Like an advertising agency and printer combined into one. We design and print marketing collateral, POP—all sorts of print—for large corporations. We typically target companies with more than $100 million in revenue.”
POP isn’t exclusive to large format graphics, clarifies Holsclaw. “It could be an 8.5x11-inch easel-backed sign that’s positioned right next to a cash register.”
All of the narrow-format jobs—brochures and training materials, for example—are produced on a Xerox Corporation iGen4 digital press.
“We run Epson technology for banners, sidewalk graphics, and window graphics,” notes Holsclaw. Dye-sublimation technologies from DuPont and Mimaki USA, Inc. are also found in house and used for a variety of projects.
Large format graphics are produced by way of an Océ North America flatbed. “We’ve run flatbeds for seven years now,” he explains. Phase 3 bought one of the first flatbeds that Océ came out with in 2004, the Océ Arizona T220. It has since been replaced with Océ Arizona 250 GT and 550 GT printers. To complement the array of print engines, the company houses three cutters from Zünd America, Inc.
A Pioneering Spirit
Dave Bender wants to be a pioneer of print. President of St. Louis, MO-based Bender, Inc., he recalls all too well the early days of the business—based in a 3,000 square foot facility and employing just six people, including himself.
“We were always playing catch up,” he reminisces. “I didn’t want to do that; I wanted to lead and be a real player.”
Today, Bender, Inc. occupies a 45,000 square foot building, and produces an assortment of commercial and large format print for a client base that includes hospitals and universities. “The kind of clients that get you through recessions—steady work from organizations that insist on high quality and fast turnaround,” explains Bender.
The habits of print buyers have changed in recent years, he notes. While the company once offered longer runs and storage—today more customers print smaller run lengths on demand.
Large format POP is all produced on a Fujifilm North America Corporation Acuity Advance HD, purchased approximately a year and a half ago. Bender chose the device because of the new capabilities it would afford the business.
“For example, it prints white,” he explains. “Whenever I purchase equipment, I look for those that are going to add value and give me something exciting to talk to my customers about. With the Acuity, I was able to talk about our ability to print to foam core and with white, and the impact it would have. Every six months or so, we like to add something new to keep customers engaged. I use our equipment as marketing tools.”
“We service four major industries that relate to POP—fast food, automotive, entertainment, and retail. Those four sectors keep us busy,” remarks Jim Blee, COO, Graphic Tech, located in Fullerton, CA. Most of the company’s clients are based on the West Coast, but the distribution of print jobs spans the nation.
“We’re heavy in point of sale. 90 percent of what we do is intended for POP, and the lifespan of those products is short,” notes Blee.
The advent of large format digital inkjet proved to be a blessing for both print buyers and suppliers. “Digital allows marketers to be more dynamic, and to get more POP for their dollar,” he suggests.
Meanwhile, as a print supplier deploying large format digital equipment, Graphic Tech operators are able to smoothly and swiftly transition between jobs—feeding one right after the other.
“I can move from one product, which may be on banner substrate, to another that’s on foamboard in a matter of minutes. So we are able to pass this along to our client—that efficiency,” asserts Blee.
A print service supplier can only keep the digital presses printing if the pathway from prepress is clear, and Blee confides that large format POP work can place greater-than-normal pressure on that particular department.
The primary focus of any project is found in the prepress stage. “In the past 24 months, our biggest capital investment—with the exception of an Agfa Graphics :M-Press—was in our prepress department, with nesting and pagination software, proprietary RIP software, and the Nexus workflow solution from EskoArtwork,” says Blee.
One of the challenges of producing print in the large format POP realm is proofing. Now that customers are aware of the true on demand nature of digital inkjet, their expectations for proofing have risen. Increasingly, they ask Graphic Tech to produce contract proofs to scale, on the substrate chosen for the live job. Not only does that turn a $2 million printer like the :M-Press into an expensive proofing device, it adds to that strain on the prepress department.
“From a prepress standpoint, it’s as if you’re doing the job,” he notes.
In addition to the :M-Press, the pressroom is comprised of two Hewlett-Packard (HP) Scitex TJ8600s, an HP Scitex LX800, an HP Scitex FB6100, and a variety of HP Designjets.
“As our customer base becomes more sophisticated, their quality threshold has dramatically jumped. We find that the :M-Press quality and throughput was the ideal choice for us,” concludes Blee.
Expertise in Color and Quality
Stevenson Color, Inc., based in Cincinnati, OH, boasts a rich entrepreneurial history that is quintessentially American. The company was founded in the late 1920s, and back then, it concentrated on providing camera separations to local lithographers. Today, the company offers all sorts of packaging and retail print to its customers.
“Folks are looking for better ways to market their product,” asserts Tim Ludtke, VP of operations, Stevenson Color. “They want to put up very rich media, and then change it out on a frequent basis. They are not willing to cut corners when it comes to quality.”
“For large format, we have a structural group that looks at how best to construct jobs so that they ship in a more efficient manner and take up less space in a retail environment,” he explains. “When it comes to quality, the customer is not willing to sacrifice.”
Steve Wardwell, manager of innovation and prepress, Stevenson Color, says that the commonality among their client base is an increasingly aggressive expectation for turnaround. “We’re getting to the point now where we’ll get files in the morning, and we’re shipping products in the afternoon,” he attests.
Like the prepress challenges Blee cited at Graphic Tech, Ludtke and Wardwell agree that prepress can be taxed in this dynamic segment of the print industry.
“We may be printing out 40x60-inch banners on a large format inkjet one minute, and then turn around and have to do one-inch rigid cutouts in the next, as part of the same campaign,” notes Ludtke. “We have to match the color throughout the entire job.”
“But our biggest challenge,” he confides, “is when designers or outside agencies don’t understand large format inkjet, and that these graphics are going to be blown up. They provide low-resolution art.”
Stevenson Color has an expansive pressroom, with an array of digital printers, including 44-inch Epson Stylus Pros, 30-inch LEC-300A and LEC-330 printers from Roland DGA Corporation, an HP Scitex TJ8600, and an EFI VUTEk QS2000 hybrid. For finishing they utilize an i-XL Kongsberg table from EskoArtwork.
The HP Scitex TJ8600 printer investment was born out of necessity, according to Wardwell. “We were outsourcing a lot of screenprinting work, and running into some difficulties, time- and quality-wise,” he recalls.
“You really have to weigh all your capital investments before you take the plunge and question whether you will get ROI out of it,” cautions Ludtke.
Getting a Piece of the POP Pie
If a PSP has already made an investment in large format digital print and finishing equipment, there’s no question that POP-types of jobs are within its reach. As the end users profiled in this article admit, the combination of the right equipment, prepress knowledge, and the correct attention in regards to managing customer expectations, can translate to high-quality POP pieces ranging from narrow to wide format.
While POP spend has morphed into shorter runs, it is important to remember that means additional projects, as the change out between product promotion, sale, or season must happen at a more frequent pace. PSPs should be aware of this. Digital is positioned to output short-run, high-quality, colorful POP pieces that attract consumers.
Oct2011, Digital Output