Infinity Images’ Retail Refresh for Columbia Sportswear
How retail accounts can create long-term relationships and new directions for print providers.
Often, the companies that are most successful with wide-format printing become partners in their client’s business, addressing and anticipating their graphics needs, finding opportunity in every creative challenge.
“In many ways our clients look to us for more than just printing,” says George Gross, CEO and founder of Infinity Images (www.infinityimages.com) in Portland, Oregon.
“They want high quality, and expect short turnarounds, but they’re also looking for ideas on how we can help them stand out – ways to catch prospective customers’ attention and make them look at their products.”
When the print provider can deliver, the results can breed long-term relationships – relationships that can point the print provider in new directions. In that regard, retail accounts can be especially lucrative, notes Jason Mockley, Infinity’s account manager for the Portland-based Columbia Sportswear brand and stores.
“Retail is the only type of repeat business where you can continually plan and forecast” ongoing demand for wide-format services, he says. “It’s the type of client that needs to keep going, with something new to draw attention to their products all the time.”
A supplier of outdoor clothing and gear, the Columbia Sportswear brand is a fixture in major sporting-goods stores and chains from coast to coast. The company also owns and operates its own network of outlet and flagship stores. Wherever Columbia products are sold, there’s demand for collateral marketing material, P-O-P, and signage and graphics. For its own stores, that’s only the start.
“We’ve been asked to do things that involve a lot more than printing on a flat piece of paper,” notes Gross. “They like 3D things and multi-dimensional displays such as water fountains that seem to empty into sports shoes.” Some of these concepts are first tried at the company’s flagship stores; those deemed most effective might then figure into Columbia’s national marketing campaigns as well.
Graphics in the flagship stores are regularly updated to keep things exciting and interesting for consumers. When Mockley spoke with The Big Picture in the autumn of 2013, he was working between refreshes on the Columbia’s flagship store in Seattle. The stores get a new look a few times each year, but street-level graphics and some of the sales-floor displays can get swapped out more regularly.
“The window change-outs can happen quite often, every six weeks or so,” he explains. Other graphics might be updated on a more seasonal rotation, as Columbia Sportswear promotes specific products for that time of year. At least twice a year, the stores garner an entirely new look, with new graphics and displays throughout.
Showing the client what’s possible
There’s a lot of back and forth – as the projects evolve, the various ideas are tested and refined. “We deal with a client like Columbia Sportswear on a daily basis, talking about current projects as well as things we’ll be doing several months out,” says Mockley. “At this level, we’re working with the creative director and their teams, starting with a concept then seeing what works best.”
“They’re continually pushing us to print on new materials and the engineering side, too. Sometimes they look to us to take their ideas and expand on that and show them what’s possible.”
When designs and displays are finalized and approved, a variety of sizes and media might be required, driven by the artwork for that promotion. It might include banners, window graphics, high-res prints, and more. “Some are 3D structures that we build,” says Mockley. “Some are more product-focused, and some more based around the photography.” The tools used to produce the graphics will vary as well.
For instance, at Columbia’s flagship store in Seattle earlier this year, the graphics included:
• Two large exterior wall wraps on adhesive-backed vinyl, each measuring 10-feet wide x 40-feet tall, output with the company’s recently added Durst Rho 1000, onto 3M adhesive vinyl;
• Wide-format prints mounted in specially built rounded magnetic frames, promoting the new line of Columbia’s Sorel footwear, printed with a Durst Lambda onto Lambda metallic paper; and
• Window clings and banners highlighting new products, printed with Infinity’s EFI Vutek QS3220 and QS2000 flatbeds.
“We utilize whichever output device is needed for the media requirements,” says Mockley. “Size often dictates which of the machines we’ll use. For most of our large-format rollouts, we’ll use the Rho 1000 or our EFI printers.”
For this past October, a refresh was planned to give the store a new look, and promote sportswear for the fall/winter season. “There are a lot of parts and pieces to the campaigns we work on, and a lot of the time they are very different,” notes Mockley. “All of these campaigns are specific to retail product rollouts.”
Of course, it can take a while for the print provider to be entrusted with so much work. With Columbia Sportswear, as is often the case with large accounts, the proving ground is typically small orders for a limited number of printed signs, P-O-P, or graphics. If the company delivers, and client confidence builds, projects grow larger and a more long-term working relationship develops.
Those relationships can transform a print shop’s prospects. “Retail is by far our largest source of business,” notes Gross. He estimates that two-thirds of Infinity’s print production is for retail. The balance is in one-of-a-kind projects and exhibit work for museums and educational institutions.
Rooted in mapping
Despite its importance today, however, retail was not one of the targets when Gross started up the venture that would become Infinity Images. The company began as the digital printing department of an engineering-services firm specializing in aerial mapping, creating large-scale topographic maps from stereographic photography. It had its own photo lab, and Gross added high-res digital photo printing with a Cymbolic Sciences’ LightJet in the 1990s.
Initially, he focused on two specialty niches: exhibit graphics and design agencies. “Both had a need for small quantities and high quality in larger sizes,” he recalls.
Demand slowly grew and the business eventually evolved into a standalone-company. By 2000, Infinity had three employees, its own location, and was beginning to gain a reputation in the Portland area for wide-format digital print work. Satisfied customers referred others to the company. Gross produced some signage for NBA’s Portland Trailblazers as well as small retail and restaurant chains in the Northwest. “Then we began to do some sign work for Adidas and some small work from Nike, which later blossomed into much more.”
Infinity Images blossomed, too. By 2002, business had reached the juncture where demand for large-format services outpaced the production capacity of the LightJet. Gross made the first of several strategic re-investments in the company, upgrading print technology to increase production and expand capabilities. A Durst Lambda was brought in, followed by the addition of Seiko and NovaJet wide-format inkjet printers, then another Lambda. In 2006, Infinity added an EFI Vutek PressVU UV flatbed plus the company’s first Zund digital cutting table.
Today, Infinity’s equipment lineup includes EFI Vutek QS3220 and QS2000 flatbeds, two Lambdas, and a Fotoba cutting system for roll media. The shop recently added a Zund GL3000 10 x 10 cutting table and a Durst Rho 1000 flatbed/rollfed grand-format printer with a precision feed table and auto stacker.
These investments have reaped big payoffs. Over the years, Infinity has relocated and now operates from its own 25,000-square-foot facility as well as a 10,000-square-foot annex. The staff includes 44 full-timers in production, sales, and administration. Some accounts, like Columbia Sportswear, represent so much business they command their own dedicated production manager.
A fundamental change
In part, Gross attributes his company’s success and growth to “making prudent investments in technology and buying things that will get used enough they will pay for themselves.”
The combination of speed, quality, and total production capability of the shop’s machines has the company well positioned to provide its clients whatever they require, even on the tightest turnarounds. “You have to be able to respond to what the client wants in the short term – and that’s increasingly an issue when working with clients whose graphic needs are evolving all the way to deadline,” says Gross.
But, meeting one challenge only breeds others. “When you go from producing 10 pieces to hundreds, it fundamentally changes how a company operates,” Gross continues. “You can’t always anticipate the degree of change it requires in how things get organized as they move through the shop, and how you do your workflow so you touch things as few times as possible.”
For companies like Infinity Images, who have a commitment and track record to grow and re-invest in clients’ evolving needs, the future can hold endless opportunities.