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Go with the Flow

Stay Flexible While Generating POP

By Amber E. Watson

Any company selling an item or service understands the value of eye-catching point of purchase (POP) graphics. Top-notch support from a trusted print service provider (PSP) is often relied on in these situations.


PSPs should be aware that POP graphics are a collaborative effort. Advertising agencies, marketing managers, and designers are involved in multiple aspects. The key is to cultivate relationships so a shop can count on a steady stream of business coming in throughout the year.


POP requires creative flexibility through the high times and the low. Graphics and displays are rotated out on a regular basis, and workload picks up during certain seasons and holidays. It is rare that two POP projects—even for the same company—are identical. PSPs focusing on POP services must be organized, creative, and able to go with the flow of business.


Take What is Given

POP artwork and design is usually created and submitted to a print shop by advertising agencies, design firms, or marketing departments. However, most shops specializing in POP staff a creative team capable of designing and executing artwork or other aspects of the project.


In business for over 20 years, PhotoCraft, Inc. operates from a 57,800 square foot facility in Portland, OR. The team of 120 employees often works with submitted artwork, or from a description of what the art should look like. They are then tasked with dropping in a logo or making a brand compliant with the customer’s needs.


Shops like Digital Impact, LLC in Yeadon, PA create a display from scratch or from customer-supplied art files. The shop currently operates with ten employees and occupies an 18,000 square foot building containing a front office, production facility, pack out and assembly, and material storage area. It produces large format, high-resolution semi-permanent POP displays, product packaging, and specialized permanent displays and fixtures.


Located in Eagan, MN, BIG INK Display Graphics runs out of a 16,000 square foot space with 25 employees. The PSP partners with other companies to provide a one-stop service. “Typically we receive finished art, however we work with several outside resources allowing us to provide POP rendering, design, and/or logistics,” explains Janine Trutna, marketing director, BIG INK. “We are often brought into the design process while it is in progress.” The shop encourages customers to use their ideas and knowledge to make designs stronger.


With 32 employees and a 23,000 square foot location in Eagan, MN, Archetype gets involved with structural engineering, material selection, and/or design suggestions to help make POP projects more cost effective.


No Project Too Big or Too Small

Depending on the customer’s end goal, overall size of the company, and number of locations, the average POP display project can take a day or weeks to complete. It may involve a few pieces or several thousand. PSPs that succeed in this market are open to projects of any size and capable of offering a range of display parts and graphics.


“Some POP projects require upwards of 2,000 pieces depending on the graphics and numbers of stores fulfilled,” explains Tom Wittenberg, GM, PhotoCraft. Common output created for POP displays include banners, window clings/vinyl, wallpaper, perimeter panels, graphics shelves, and magnetic graphics.


“It’s possible to complete a simple POP display in one or two days, however, displays for large companies with multiple stores can take over two weeks,” notes Wittenberg. “We determine deadlines with a workback order, stating when we need items to comply with non-negotiable deadlines and the beginning of new advertising campaigns.” Despite hard deadlines, customer changes often occur up to when items are shipped, and PSPs must be able to accommodate this to keep clients satisfied. When deadlines are cut close, shops rely on advanced, high-speed equipment to get the job done.


With a minimum quantity of one piece, Digital Impact produces as many as 2,500 to 3,000 pieces depending on the overall size of the job. The shop’s average POP project contains 300 to 500 pieces and sometimes includes hanging hardware.


“We produce trays, headers, channel strips, pallet skirts, standees, RSC boxes, HSC boxes, complete pallet displays, and window graphics. We print on a variety of materials including corrugated board, SBS, chipboard, foam PVC, styrene, coroplast, foamboard, acrylic, PET and PETG, vinyl, static cling material, window graphics, wood, and Plexiglas,” shares Craig Cotton, business development manager, Digital Impact.


The company recently created a series of standees going into H&R Block locations. This project consisted of 180 standees with easels, four different demographic markets, and various quantities of each version. Along with the standees were 1,515 interchangeable signs that attach to the standees through channels. There are multiple signs for each of the four markets it serves.


The material used for the standees include 3/8-inch white coroplast and the signs printed on .040 white styrene. Digital Impact used a Durst Image Technology US LLC Rho 900 to print directly on the material. The standees were routed on an EskoArtwork Kongsberg XP Auto, and the easels cut on Kongsberg DCM cutters.


“The easels were hand applied to the standees, channel strips for the interchangeable signs were added, and the standees were skidded by version and picked up to distribute to the retail locations along with a set of interchangeable signs. Overall this project took eight days to produce and pack out for the customer,” says Cotton.


JUUT Salons recently hired BIG INK to create a consistent branding message across its six locations. They wished to communicate the brand personality from the walk up to the salon—via window graphics—and into the retail environment. “The environment is very clean, modern, and minimalistic, so the use of graphics is too,” says Trutna.


For window graphics, BIG INK used white window film printed on an Océ North America Arizona 250 GT. In-store posters were made of 8-mil poster paper printed on a Mimaki USA, Inc. JV3-160SP. Wall graphics were output on 3M Commercial Graphics media with the Mimaki JV3-160SP. Vinyl was cut with a Graphtec America, Inc. FC7000-160 64-inch cutter.


“The challenges of this project involved finding the right wall film for every location, each of which had different wall surfaces,” explains Trutna. “We tested several substrates and depending on the surface, shipped each location the correct film.” The initial project went through the shop in a week, however the client continued to add pieces once they received initial shipments.


Caribou Coffee enlisted Archetype’s skills to complete a menu board and beverage display for various locations. Taking two weeks door to door, the project was printed with UV inks on closed cell PVC sheeting. The final product allowed for change out with the chain’s seasonal headers. “Different markets had different pricing and size menus,” shares Steven Carpenter, CEO, Archetype. The shop had to take all variations into consideration and ensure the right pricing and sizes were printed for each.


The POP Process

There are several steps involved in the production of POP. At Digital Impact the process begins by preparing the file to ensure graphics align to the CAD structure. “A press proof is generated on the requested substrate and then die cut to ensure accuracy. This press proof is sent to the customer for approval. A PDF proof works for some customers, but it depends on the job and the customer,” explains Cotton.


Upon approval, the job is scheduled into production and printed, die cut, and shipped to its final destination. This process takes between three to 14 days depending on the quantity ordered and the shop’s current workload in production.


Many shops find their list of equipment expanding on a regular basis to accommodate changes in the market. Digital Impact’s press equipment consists of a Hewlett Packard (HP) Scitex FB6700 flatbed printer that uses water-based inks and a Durst Rho 900 with UV-based inks. For cutting they use three EskoArtwork Kongsberg DCM CAD tables, two DCM finishing tables, and one XP Auto finishing table. They also have a Weeke North America BHP 200 CNC router and a Brandt edgebander. For finishing Digital Impact relies on a Drytac Corporation VersaCoater XL80, UV liquid laminator, and a GBC Falcon 3064WF-1 roll-based laminator.


To adhere with quick turnaround expectations, PhotoCraft utilizes a HP Scitex FB7500, which uses UV inks. Accompanied by a combination of medium-speed digital printers, cutters/slitters, laminators, and sewing equipment, the shop is able to produce displays on material ranging from boardstock to styrene to sheeted vinyl.


The majority of Archetype’s POP and marketing projects are smaller runs requiring high resolution and fine detail. “We use a high-resolution swissQprint Oryx flatbed printer—distributed by Polytype AG—for much of that work and an EFI VUTEk QS2000 printer for larger sheet stock and roll-to-roll projects,” explains Carpenter.


Most PSPs provide kitting and fulfillment services, as well as installation services at an additional or bundled cost to the customer. BIG INK manages color and design standards for several customers and prints and ships various items to locations around the world.


PhotoCraft offers fulfillment services on a ship-as-needed basis, as well as store kits in which customers order the items they want made, the overall quantity, and the quantity of items per store.


Depending on the job requirements, Digital Impact provides pack out services and kitting of displays for customers. “This may involve assembly, loading of the product, packing into shippers, palletizing, and shipping of individual packages or bulk shipping on skids,” explains Cotton.


Archetype alleviates one less detail for customers to worry about by offering on-site kitting and fulfillment services. “Many clients like to have one place to get the project printed and out the door. The responsibility is on us to make sure everything gets where it should on time,” notes Carpenter. It helps to provide turnkey services that meet customers’ needs on an ever-changing basis.


Changing with the Seasons

Most POP work is driven by client timelines. Those timelines are often in line with seasonal promotions, holiday marketing campaigns, and rebranding efforts. Each occurs during a different period of the year and is held for a varying length of time.


The steady rotation of seasonal and promotional POP displays affects business in different ways. Because items are typically customized for specific seasons and may have a shorter run period in select stores, PSPs producing a majority of POP output should make a point to stay busy several seasons ahead as buyers and merchandisers put together new looks.


Successful PSPs embrace the changes that come along with the rush periods and find ways to cope with the downtime. “It’s nice to have the predictability of seasonal changes,” says Carpenter. “We schedule extra staff and another shift to be able to fulfill all obligations.”


BIG INK expands its services to businesses that do not fluctuate as much based on the time of year. “We provide visual communications for events, exhibits, and environments, so there isn’t any one POP season that affects us dramatically,” contests Trutna. “At any point in time we can have a really big project moving through from any of the other client areas.”


Plan Ahead

Although POP displays are subject to the highs and lows of the seasons and ever-changing advertising and promotions, shops that build a strong customer base enjoy consistent orders throughout the year. “We are lucky to have repeat customers and consistent orders coming in every month,” says Wittenberg.


Even so, the shop experiences a stronger later half of the year until just after Thanksgiving with Black Friday and the balance of the holiday season. “It’s important for owners to understand where the spikes are and really manage the volume and business during both these times and the slow months,” he advises.


POP is a lucrative niche for digital print shops that view certain challenges as opportunities. By embracing creative collaboration, being open to change, and offering a full-service experience to customers, a steady rotation of retail POP graphics provides an ongoing stream of business.


Print know how plays a large part in running a successful POP business. Owning the correct hardware—from printers to finishers—is a crucial part of the process. PSPs must rely on these tools to create high-quality POP projects for a range of clientele.


Archetype, BIG INK, Digital Impact, and PhotoCraft all realize this and enlist their portfolios of hardware to offer a vast array of POP applications for customers.


Apr2012, Digital Output

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