Walls Are Everywhere
Thinking of Adding a New Service, Why Not Wallcoverings?
By Melissa Donovan
Adding a new service is daunting. Traditional wide format print shops looking to rejuvenate their portfolio consider adapting the latest trends, such as wallcoverings. Used in retail, home and office décor, hospitality, restaurants, and more the sky is the limit when it comes to this application.
Savvy print service providers (PSPs) recognize the similarities between new and current services and look to blend their talents between the two. However, like any new trade, there are learning curves associated with wallcoverings, these range from the sell, production—design and printing, to install and removal.
Wallcoverings are used in either short- or long-term applications as design elements, corporate branding, or for marketing/merchandising. Homes, retail, offices, museums, sporting arenas, entertainment venues, transit, educational institutions, and medical facilities are all environments that meet the criteria for a digitally printed wallcovering.
Since wallcoverings touch so many markets, Mike Richardson, VP – graphics division, Presto Tape, suggests PSPs start marketing to those they are already familiar with.
“These existing customers may not be aware of the options available to them with a long lasting and durable wallcovering,” explains Peter Spotto, director, sales, DreamScape.
PSPs should understand the benefits of a wallcovering in each environment. “Museums and historical sites are ideal for one-off custom mural installs since backdrops are a critical piece for many exhibits. This is similar to transit venues such as airports and train stations, which often rely on large custom murals for decoration and advertisements to grab the attention of travelers,” shares Ed McCarron, VP, digital imaging, Coveris Advanced Coatings.
Kirill Zelin, brand development leader, Korographics, explains how wallcoverings are ideal for corporate branding and in medical facilities. “By changing the interiors, one creates a custom experience for customers entering a corporate office. By changing from an institutionalized look to a more welcoming aesthetic, the entire experience for an individual entering a children’s hospital or assisted living facility is positively changed.”
“The commitment in wallcoverings can seem a bit more in depth than it is. Some visual merchandisers are committed to the aesthetic and quality knowing the life expectancy isn’t going to be several years. Film/TV studios often have similar requirements—both of these are viable avenues to pursue,” recommends Matt Devlin, president, Natural AdCampaign, Inc.
High-end home décor presents various selling tactics, according to Walter Gierlach Jr., president, Photo Tex Group, Inc. “For home décor there are multiple Web sites that can provide a printer with a customer base. If they are making their own wallcovering Web site they provide certain patterns or a customer can design their own.”
Print providers can choose to target business to business or consumer markets. “The key benefits PSPs can provide businesses are customization and service. Alternatively, they can pursue a geographic or demographic segment of the consumer market on a local or online basis, but must be able to handle small orders,” cautions Alison Zepp, VP, marketing and strategy, Jessup Manufacturing Company.
In newer markets, PSPs should be aware that client wants and needs may be different. “Unlike normal banner users, these new customers are paying a higher margin for prints and expect them to be perfect. This simply means that anyone looking at this market segment should be prepared with a professional install team and a product line that has been thoroughly tested,” advises E. Tyler Reich, director of product development, Qué Media Inc.
Zelin recommends selling wallcoverings to architecture and design firms; a segment that might be outside of the traditional PSP’s media buyer pool. “Establishing relationships with these organizations enables a PSP to not just land one job, but be considered by the architecture/design firm for any custom wallcovering projects that are being specified.”
These types of customers are interested in the technical information of the media, which means investing time in learning about certain certifications pertaining to wallcoverings. “Knowledge of fire ratings and how they are derived, various environmental standards, and the physical characteristics of Type I and II wallcoverings can be integral to establishing credibility,” says Zelin. He provides the example of the Early Warning Effect.
This occurs when specific media comes in contact with a heat of 300 degrees Fahrenheit or more; the wallcovering will emit an odorless, colorless vapor that will set off ionization-style smoke detectors. “Most fires do not occur until above 400 degrees Fahrenheit. This may seem like a very specific, and perhaps even gimmicky, sales feature, but its relevance to architects because of life and property protection is substantial,” he continues.
Many customers look for eco-friendly substrates that are PVC free, phthalate free, utilize recycled content, or are Forest Stewardship Council certified. In architecture specifically, customers look to achieve LEED certification status with specific wallcovering material.
Rudy Herrera, business development manager, Americas graphics solutions business, Hewlett-Packard (HP), points out that indoor air quality is top of mind with designers and customers creating digital wallcoverings for environments such as schools and hospitals. A certification these clients look for is GREENGUARD.
Defining the customer is the first step in offering a new service. The next part involves learning how to sell it. “Education is the real answer to success with helping PSPs in this area. A PSP should offer a hands-on, participation required, install at their own production facility or sales office,” shares Jim Tufts, business unit manager, Perception Wide Format Media, Worthen Industries.
Spotto says he knows several print companies who have staged open houses and invited hundreds of designers and architects for a hands-on experience. “This allows printers to demonstrate both in-house capabilities and promote wallcoverings by printing files and samples on various textures and specialty surfaces.”
If you have serious aspirations about expanding business with wallcoverings, Herrera suggests designating a dedicated employee to lead the business.
“This person becomes the catalyst to pull together, create excitement, and lead the initiative. With this offering, your company can reach beyond existing customers to the design community, ensure your Web site prominently promotes your capabilities, organize focused open houses, create a wallcovering print sample kit, and develop the firm’s plan,” continues Herrera.
Jason Yard, marketing manager, MACtac Distributor Products, believes that sale staff should always be on the lookout for new opportunities by observing their surroundings for alternative applications—such as wallcoverings.
“A sales team should think outside the box and provide specific examples to prospective clients,” agrees Lanie Dattilo, director of marketing, Masterpiece Graphix.
A sales team is only as good as the amount of knowledge they have on a specific product. For wallcoverings in particular, this means having a good understanding of material type and surface compatibility. Teaching sales to determine the correct product for the job is an important consideration, as it allows them to accurately quote a project.
“Selling wallcoverings has to be a hand-holding experience so it is critical that your sales person completely understand all the available media and how these products react to certain substrates,” recommends Craig Campbell, graphic products market manager, ORAFOL Americas.
Wallcovering material and the adhesives used vary. For example, Micah Causey, VP, AlumiGraphics by FloorGraphics, LLC, says aluminum foil-based materials can accommodate a higher temperature range, which allows for application around pipes or HVAC units to help the entire wall graphic come together. The correct match is necessary to ensure optimum installation success.
Not every wall is the same—cinder block, plaster, brick, and dry wall are just some of the mediums. “The differences stem from a combination of texture and the type of paint that has been applied—sheen, such as flat or semi-gloss; oil; or latex water-based. The best way to train your sales force is to first and foremost get them comfortable asking questions related to these issues,” adds Dennis Brunnett, product manager, product branding, FLEXcon.
Ritchie Daize, business development manager, Arlon Graphics, LLC, cautions that in many cases the actual wall surface is nearly impossible to correctly identify. “For example, even when a brand or type of paint is specified to be in compliance with specific types of adhesives, painters and landlords often cut corners and use cheaper or more readily available paint, making the substrate unknown.”
Wallcoverings may be a more involved sell, but similar to other applications, listening to the customer is the most fundamental part of earning a job. “The salesperson needs to understand their customer’s expectations. What is the expected life of the graphic? How will it come into contact with people?” explains Richardson.
Tim J. Boxeth, business manager, 3M Commercial Graphics, says the same questions need to be asked no matter what the product is or where it is placed. “Some factors never change in selecting the most suitable material—printability; gloss; resistance to whatever it is exposed to indoors or outdoors; and type of substrate and its finish."
The production process consists of design, receiving files, and print and finishing. With wallcoverings there are a few nuances to address in each step of the workflow. The file size of a wallcovering is an important consideration.
“I would say the most crucial part is understanding the image resolution needed before going to production. If too low resolution images are used, once they are blown up to full size it will be pixel city. The designer also needs to pay extra attention to color, it will be apparent if flesh tones, for example look washed out or oversaturated,” shares Campbell.
Slicing one file into multiple panels is typical practice due to the size. “Although wallcovering seams traditionally are vertical, it is important to let the artwork and media dictate the best breaks and method of paneling, such as overlapping or butt seams. Be sure to test all options before getting to the installation site,” says Brian Cheshire, sales manager, Xcel Products, Inc.
“It is critical to overlap the images when creating panel files. The panels should contain a one-inch overlap to help match the pattern across panel seams. It is also good practice to number the panels and provide a map indicating panel segments to the installer,” explains McCarron.
Zepp advises that PSPs consider scale. While single graphics are easier to produce and more similar to traditional applications, “landscape graphics used to create a total visual experience in a room must be appropriately sized and perspectives matched to the layout,” she continues.
Because of the scale, Yard points out that bleeds need to be considered. “No wall is perfectly square, so it needs to be printed with a bleed on all outside edges to account for unevenness and installation issues. A two-inch bleed on the top, bottom, left, and right will fix any problem,” he shares.
It is also important to think about the different obstacles the install area presents. Cindy Richards, regional technical specialist, Avery Dennison Graphics Solutions, refers back to the size of the graphic and how it can pose a challenge when lining it up at the corners and ceilings of a wall.
“Other aspects printers need to consider include the presence of doorways, electrical outlets, windows, and other obstructions,” recommends Al Bobst, digital marketing segment manager, Monadnock Paper Mills, Inc.
To streamline the ordering part of the process, Reich suggests a Web-based ordering portal. He cites larger print providers using Web to print that allow customers to design their own wallcoverings or upload pre-designed files. “Although the initial setup is expensive, the money saved in the design element every time someone needs a wallcovering is well worth it. This also puts the onus on the end user, which allows the PSP to focus on the print quality rather than several revisions of the customer’s artwork,” he adds.
According to Karin Biel, marketing manager, ASLAN, Schwarz GmbH & Co. KG, the printing component of a wallcovering differs from common applications due to the characteristics of the materials such as thickness or flexibility.
McCarron suggests PSPs check their printer manual for alignment options. “Due to the heavy gauge of wallcovering material, it can commonly feed through the printers at different rates, which can cause print alignment issues.”
“At the printer, make sure the print advance is adjusted properly. Performing a length and width calibration is recommended. Fabric-backed wallcoverings do not stretch. If it does not advance properly, you could end up with panels of slightly unequal length resulting in alignment problems during installation,” adds Spotto.
Flipping every other panel as it is cropped and sent to the printer is an additional tip from Richards. “That way the seams are printed with the same side of the printer and lessens the visual difference that may be caused by ink drop out or missing nozzles,” she shares.
As experienced as an installer may be, wallcoverings present challenges not usually seen in traditional signage environments.
Installation varies by product. For example, a removable adhesive material may be similar to a vehicle wrap install, however the surface still has to be properly prepped and primed, shares Kylie Schleicher, marketing coordinator, Ultraflex Systems, Inc. Conversely, a non-adhesive back commercial grade wallpaper would require wallpaper paste to adhere to the wall.
“Wall preparation can make or break an install. Make sure all manufacturers’ guidelines are followed for proper cleaning, paint curing, and environmental specifications,” recommends Yard. Many media suppliers offer product guides and technical bulletins.
Another challenge is adhesion. “Many new paints are formulated to be washable. As a result they are resistant to many chemicals, including the chemicals in the media’s adhesive,” explains Lily Hunter, product manager, Roland DGA Corporation. She suggests creating small swatches and testing in a low-traffic area inside the venue.
Larger installs can be found in odd locations, complicating certain scenarios. “Like high on walls or over stairs, where special equipment and skills are needed to properly and safely apply,” adds Tufts.
With various media products, unknown wall characteristics, and adhesion challenges, Richardson suggests that if a PSP does not feel experienced enough to install a wallcovering, they may consider outsourcing until they feel confident enough to do it on their own.
“The installation learning curve can be particularly challenging for PSPs with international installation crews accustomed to car wraps or other peel-and-stick products. Finding the best wallcovering installers in geographic regions and developing strong relationships with them is a challenging task, but one that pays dividends the more wallcovering projects the PSP completes,” agrees Zelin.
For standards and other technical information vendors suggest visiting the Wallcoverings Association’s Web site—wallcoverings.org. Another community of professionals to reach out to is the National Guild of Professional Paperhangers, ngpp.org. This site offers listings of certified installers by area. “In addition to eliminating the need to travel for installation, certified wallpaper installers are inexpensive, plentiful, and easy to find,” explains McCarron.
Addressing Customer Needs
TGI, with production headquarters in Philadelphia, PA and a second office in Parsippany, NY, offers a range of marketing solutions from direct mail and Web, to both wide and narrow digital and offset print. These services are utilized by Fortune 500 companies to smaller regional businesses in pharmaceutical, financial, manufacturing, retail, healthcare, education, advertising agencies, exhibit, and trade show industries.
Celebrating over 30 years in business, the PSP has offered digitally printed wallcoverings for close to 12 years. It added the application to fulfill the needs of a retail customer who was looking for high-quality adhesive-backed mural graphics. Only working with aqueous inks at the time, the company was limited to one wallcovering material, but it produced ideal results.
As TGI expanded with low-solvent, UV-curable, and latex ink printers it began dabbling in other mediums. Today it uses products from DreamScape, HP, Korographics, Photo Tex, and Visual Magnetics.
Dan Long, wide format product specialist, TGI, explains that these newer materials are changing customers’ preconceived notions of wallcoverings. “Wallcoverings are traditionally thought of as a more permanent fixture. Today a wallcovering can be permanent or transitional—changing out monthly, bi-monthly, or yearly.”
Product diversification requires that salespeople be properly educated on how to recommend the appropriate solution for the intended use. At TGI, the company holds bi-weekly sales meetings to present ideas, case studies, new substrates, and technical information. Long says there is no better place to start training staff than within the company.
Outside of the company, it works with HP. TGI recently held an HP Digital Wall Décor course at an open house. According to Long, clients who weren’t previously thinking of wallcoverings are now thinking of them—which is a start to future sales.
The HP WallArt solution benefits clients, helping them visualize their final product. “A client can do the layout themselves using the Web-based application, share it with me, and we can both make edits and view on our screens,” adds Long.
To ensure it produces quality final products, TGI works with Marabu North America’s ClearShield Wall Armor. With a low-glare sheen and a high scratch resistance, the liquid coating offers durability that is essential to the PSP’s client base. Long says that many of the wallcovering installations are for medium- to high-traffic areas, which necessitates in many cases an extra level of protection.
TGI recently worked on a multi-faceted project for a Fortune 500 company looking to use wall space to both promote the company brand and communicate awareness about upcoming corporate initiatives. A repeat customer, the PSP previously provided the client with retractable banner displays and traditional signage.
“This time around, the corporate communications manager wanted to make an impact that would get the employees attention. We worked out a long-term graphic to promote the brand and then transitional graphics to communicate the initiatives,” explains Long.
The long-term graphic was printed on a traditional Type II wallcovering. The transitional graphics consist of a base layer of Visual Magnetics MagnaMedia that utilize the same design as the long-term branded piece, with a second layer of MagnaMedia in the form of individual poster-sized panels. Each panel includes awareness messages that can be changed out repeatedly.
After design approval, TGI printed, coated, and trimmed all the graphics in under a week. Printing occurred on an HP Latex 3000 with HP 881 Latex inks. Install occurred after hours on a Friday, so when employees were back in the office on Monday, the new graphics were on display.
“Employee feedback was better than ever. The product really gets the viewer’s attention, too; the office employees actually have been seen watching facilities employees change out the graphics—it’s a very positive curiosity,” concludes Long.
Special Care and Time
Adding wallcoverings is not a stretch. While there are some challenges that need to be addressed at the outset it is easy to see how this service is an extension of other offerings. To make a new product successful, care must be taken in introducing it, time must be invested in learning about it, and then high profitability becomes a reality.
Jun2014, Digital Output