Commentary & Analysis
Following the Money in Wide-Format Digital
By Dan Marx
Published: October 3, 2012
Scanning through industry publications that cover wide-format digital markets can be a daunting task for any company just approaching this area. And that's no surprise, really, given the wide-and still increasing-variety of technologies and materials used and end products created, embellished, or decorated. The purpose of this article is to focus in on the center of the wide-format digital bulls-eye, and find out the markets and products that make up a majority of the money made using this technology. There are two specific ways to parse out where money is made in wide-format digital. The first is to look at the market areas served by wide-format producers. The second is to look at the product areas they serve. Once these are known and understood, further information can be gleaned by looking at how markets and products fit together.
Markets: Who is Buying Wide-Format?
The broader wide-format digital marketplace can be divided into several large categories:
Retail and Hospitality: Consists of retail stores, corporate branding, food services and hospitality services; 77.1 percent serve this segment.
Institutions: Consists of non-profits, associations, organizations; educational institutions; athletic teams; health care institutions and government and government contractors; 63.9 percent serve this segment.
Trade Printing: Simply put, this is wide-format digital work that is performed, on contract, for other printing companies; 50.7 percent do this.
Consumers: Whether as a local sign shop, or a company whose business model has them selling directly to the end user, more than half, 50.7 percent, serve this segment.
Services: This segment comprises work for ad agencies, interior designers and decorators, exhibit manufacturers, environmental graphics and transit advertising; 44.4 percent serve this segment.
Manufacturing: This segment includes the use of wide-format digital technologies within larger manufacturing processes; nearly 30 percent serve this segment.
When reviewing these market segments, it is important to note that the channels for reaching the customer-be they print buyer, manufacturer, consumer-are not always the same, and accessing new segments can require careful calibration of your market outreach strategy and your sales team.
Products: What Are They Buying?
End products made using wide-format digital are often much more than a print that emerges from the printer and is then sold, unchanged, to the end customer. In almost all cases, one or more of a variety of finishing technologies is used to convert print into product. Banners are generally printed, then hems are sewed or seamed, grommets set in place; vehicle graphics are printed, then laminated, before they are applied to the vehicle by a graphics installer.
The most common end products in the wide-format industry are the following:
Product Area % of Companies Producing
Window Displays 82.6%
Indoor Wall Graphics 81.8%
Point of Sale/POP 77.3%
Trade Show Displays 74.2%
Presentation Graphics 73.5%
Floor Graphics 69.7%
Vehicle Graphics 64.4%
Back-Lit Signage 63.6%
How it All Fits Together
This is where it gets interesting, because neither markets nor products can exist without each other, and it takes a firm understanding of how these two elements work together to truly serve them profitably.
Taking data from both SGIA's Financial Outlook & Business Growth Plans Survey and its Market Trends & Product Specialties Survey, I've been able to expose an interesting reality about this printing segment: Three product types truly rule the roost. Banners, the top product area among those listed earlier, are the top product in not only every market category outlined earlier, but also every sub-category within them. Further, indoor wall graphics and window displays are the second or third most common product in all but two market sub-categories. It is not, in fact, until we arrive at fourth- and fifth- most common products that we begin to see the product diversity that separates one market from another.
If you want to follow the money toward opportunity in wide-format digital, it is then essential to understand that the "bread and butter" of this industry segment exists is these three product areas, regardless of which market area is being served, and more than 80 percent of wide-format companies serve these areas.
As the product list above shows, more than 90 percent of companies serving wide-format digital markets today produce banners. While this is an impressive number, it should be noted that this may also be a sign of a highly-saturated product area where little is left to compete on but price (quality, as it should be, is a given). The question to be asked, then, is: how can a company produce a banner that fulfills the basic expectations of what a banner is, while at the same time offering a unique product worthy of a higher price point? In some product areas, this is a challenge, indeed. Some companies react to this reality by seeking niche areas, while others grasp the pricing challenge, becoming lean and mean enough to glean that little extra per square foot sold.
What's in it for You?
If your company has been serving wide-format market and product areas for some time, then you know that each of the product areas outlined earlier can be classified as a moving target. Ongoing changes in media, inks, laminates, finishing technologies and more allow producers the opportunity-should they choose to take it-to differentiate themselves from their competitors. To stay on top of these areas requires careful research into current and future developments in technology, materials, pricing strategies and current trends in the product/market areas you serve.
If your company is yet to enter this area, but hoping to, then now is the time to start your learning process. If you plan to "hit the ground running," you must first know what the ground is made of.