Suppliers Expand Economy Offerings and Niche Substrates
by Thomas Franklin
Part 3 of a 4-part exclusive online series
One of globalization’s well-publicized impacts has been the off-shoring of manufacturing to Asia—among other regions—where labor costs are low and the regulatory environment is loose to non-existent. The same forces that drove down the price of a DVD player to under $20 have also brought wide format printing media prices down dramatically.
Name-brand media suppliers have responded in kind, introducing new value-oriented product lines to blunt the impact of lower cost, overseas competition. They have also put renewed emphasis on differentiation—through superior service, deliver times, breadth of supply, quality of paper, and new applications—to keep customers coming back.
"The market [for inexpensive media] was not underserved, but we needed to play there," says Gabriel Maxwell, director of print media, Arlon Graphic Films. The company will expand its line from one to six films in the promotional range by the end of the year and bulk up its promotional scrim vinyl from three to as many as eight products, Maxwell notes.
The proliferation of lower cost media from Asia was "initially detrimental to people who supply higher-end product," states Lorna D’Alessio, president, Ultraflex Systems, Inc. But a funny thing happened on the way to the full-blown price war—customers started coming back.
"This holds for us and our competitors," D’Alessio says. "I think as [print providers] began to realize the shipping constraints, the inconsistency of the media, customers started coming back." Shipping in particular hurt overseas suppliers who couldn’t match the demanding turnaround times of printers, she notes.
To push back against aggressive pricing, D’Alessio says her company began to add value to its existing products by increasing technical support and customer service, and doubling inventories so media could be stocked and ready for speedy shipping. The company also added economical lines as well as diversified its products to include printable carpet and wallpaper to help print providers find higher margin compliments to banners and billboards.
"We haven’t seen the offshore competition to be a big problem," says Ed McCarron, director of marketing, InteliCoat. "Very low prices are attractive to a limited audience, when you consider the delivery times and minimum ordering requirements."
"Price drives things to some degree, but it’s not the best way to look at it," says Regan Dickinson, marketing communications specialist, LexJet. "As a provider, you want to base your print prices on value, not cost."
"Ultimately you get what you pay for," states Dan Halkyard, director of marketing, Océ North America. Going cut rate cuts out a host of important support such as ICC profiles, next day delivery, and knowledgeable tech support, he adds. "For someone new to digital printing, that support is extremely important."
"We have diversified our product to include a sub-brand, Océ Options, for value buyers," Halkyard states. In that brand, the company sells a scrim vinyl geared for aqueous printers running pigmented inks for producing outdoor signage without lamination. "It gives us a price point advantage," notes Halkyard.
"You need consistency from roll-to-roll," says Kevin Shimamoto, worldwide marketing manager, Kodak Graphics Communications. "We have invested a lot of time in researching the compatibility of our media, building out our ICC profiles, and providing an extensive range of technical support" to give users peace of mind.
For Sihl USA, manufacturing its own product with little third party sourcing is a way to reassure customers that the company stands behind what it sells, saysPhilip Hursh, president, Sihl USA. "Every time a product changes hands from a factory to an intermediate brand owner, there is a transaction cost eventually paid by the printer, and a dilution of accountability," he says. "Know your source."
Experience counts, states Max Bowers, owner, BF Inkjet. The company holds a U.S. patent on the technology to make both canvas and vinyl inkjet receptive, he notes. That "deep bench technology" enables the company to transition its chemistry as new technology emerges on the market as well as handle custom work for large volume clients, he adds.
Helping end-users improve productivity is another way to appeal to the value-conscious. GBC focuses on microporous polyester media to speed dry times and make the print-to-lamination workflow more efficient, says Cindy Pilch, senior product manager, GBC. "Everyone is focused on productivity," Pilch states. "They want the media to print correctly the first time and dry quickly so they can get it laminated."
Engineering media top-coats to use less ink and thus print faster is also a focus for Neschen Americas, says Eric Tischer, director of sales. "That’s the differentiator, the top-coating."