Preparing your Décor Print Shop for the Next Generation 

Understand what makes Gen Z tick in order to gain new customers and more cash.

The next decade is just around the corner, and I have to admit, typing that makes me realize I’m inevitably getting older. I’m a millennial, which I feel is still young and forceful, but it’s the next generation – Gen Z – that is believed to be the one reshaping the workforce and economy. The main difference between the two generations is this: millennials grew up with both analog and digital technologies, whereas Gen Z is made up of true digital natives. Hands up if you’re a millennial and you remember having a rotary phone or dial-up internet as a kid but had a smartphone in high school. [Editor’s note: “Me!”] If you’ve noticed an uptick in new generation names or a confusion on what birth years define millennials and Gen Z, there’s a reason: generational timeframes are becoming shorter and more frequent.  

“Generations are clues, not absolutes. Because of how disruptive technology has become and how fast the world is changing, generational spans are likely to shrink to five to 10 years,” says Generation Z author, speaker, and generation expert Ryan Jenkins in Inc. magazine. What this means is generations like Gen Z who are exposed to technology at earlier ages than millennials are causing cultural shifts and faster generational cycles. Does this point to a correlation between the disruptive nature of digital print technology and its ability to revolutionize or create new markets? Absolutely. Digital print is producing new customers, especially in the home décor market – think artists, designers, and consumers who all have access to digital print some way or another.

Digitally native generations are also causing market shifts and increasing a need for on-demand personalization, e-commerce with front door delivery at the click of a button, and sustainably focused products. We see this with home décor and fashion, especially because digital textile printing is part of the solution to fast fashion’s wasteful supply chains. Localized manufacturing is possible through digital print instead of offshore manufacturing. On the other end of the décor spectrum, the interior design industry is known for its somewhat dated practices. As a result, designers are competing with e-design services, and the industry is going through its own period of digitization. Although digital print mostly has the right inks and technology to produce the same level of quality products as those that are traditionally printed, without digitally native generations we would have a difficult time justifying price and our industry’s value proposition: the ability to adapt. 

All this information can help you predict what moves to make for your décor print business and where to invest in next. Maybe you’ve considered dye-sublimation or UV-LED technology, but you need to build the business first. Being keen on markets outside the graphics industry will give you subtle hints about where your customers are pointed and how you need to pivot. Spending a few minutes each day browsing different media outlets and social media platforms for niche markets like fine art, fashion, real estate, and custom home building might help you predict the next-big-thing. Take the open floor concept; it paved the way for wall art, canvases, and personalized décor. Boutique hotels, trendy co-working spaces, or branded flagship retail locations – all of which derive from the digital gens – are the reason branded spaces are trending. Think wallcoverings, floor graphics, architectural wraps, and more. 

Tip: While you’re in New York City, walk through Macy’s on 24th Street to see how a legacy retailer evolves by keeping the space engaging and full of traffic, leading to more purchases. You’ll see pop-up retailers and brands within department stores, creative display graphics for promotional campaigns, props and elaborate storefront windows, all created with digital print. 

To stay up to date with digitally native generations, or what’s being called the next Industrial Revolution, implement these three tips to keep your décor print business on-point.  

1. Attend Art and Design Shows for Inspiration 

To be frank, you may not have the time or extra resources to attend fancy art fairs or design shows, but it’s in your best interest to at least follow these types of events during or after. Art influences fashion, fashion influences interior design, and design influences consumers and home décor trends. Staying on top of these trends is key to connecting with your customers. HD Expo in Las Vegas in May 2020 or Art Expo in New York City in April 2020 are great ways to see a vast array of commercial art, pop art, fine art, and hospitality art firsthand. When I attended a few years ago, dye sublimated applications like decorative wall panels and wall art with modern stand-out frames were trending. Not only should you pay attention to art content and styles, but also take a look at finishing techniques, even down to the hanging hardware. Do you understand how to achieve certain looks? Are you bringing value to your customer? Can you make application suggestions to connect with younger generations? Immersing yourself is the best way to do it. 

2. Use Social Media Daily

First things first, don’t get stuck in the scroll. Spend your time wisely using social media and keep it strategic. Pick out a few accounts and make it a habit to follow them, but don’t be afraid to post and test out your own ideas. Using social media, especially Instagram, which is all about home décor, is a low-risk way to showcase your work, beta test new products, and connect with your current customers plus ideal prospects. If you want to hone your skills and build organic growth to your website, start developing content for long tail marketing. Not familiar with long tail? To keep this simple, it’s the untapped potential at the end of an SEO “Search Demand” curve where less-popular keyword search terms live, hence the phrase long tail. Creating specific content for customers actively searching for your services and products will increase the likelihood of finding your website instead of competing with already common search terms, leading to a low ranking in Google. Use social media and popular hash tags to find new search terms; there’s also software available to do this for you.

3. Follow Consumer Behavior and Online Shopping Trends

Okay, here’s a big one when it comes to understanding millennials and Gen Z. If your print business doesn’t need an online presence to capture cash, you’re in luck. However, if you have any type of web-to-print business or if you print and produce décor products for e-commerce, take note. Business Insider reports, “Gen Z will not be an extension of the previous generation and should not be thought of as millennials 2.0, but instead as a distinct set of people with unique experiences, beliefs, and behaviors.” Referring to the above, Gen Z are 100 percent digitally native; they were exposed to digital technologies from birth. This is going to cause a massive shift in how consumers shop online and differentiate from millennials because they are aware and price-conscious unlike millennials who struggle with (mostly college) debt. It also means they’re going to focus on value. Don’t confuse that with being cheap, either. Multiple economic surveys predict that price is the number one factor Gen Z makes in a purchasing decision followed by a brand’s shared values. It’s why the younger generation is willing to spend more money on sustainable products than purchase something at a cheaper price. If you’re considering how to build your décor print business for the future, the use of sustainable practices and materials will resonate with these customers. 

Where will the next decade of digital print and interior décor take us? On the print and manufacturing side, many technological advancements such as better materials, more durable inks, and single-pass equipment is on the horizon, but if you want to stay ahead of the pack, focus on understanding your customers. Design is increasingly becoming more digital, and online design services that can tap into customer insights will continue to grow. But don’t get too wrapped up in the bells and whistles. Building a trusted brand that’s well-connected to your customers and their communities is a strategic and authentic way to ensure a loyal customer base. 


Rachel Nunziata is a digital print business and market development specialist with an undeniable enthusiasm for interior and home décor segments. She is a graduate of Ringling College of Art & Design in Sarasota, Florida, and has a knack for enabling synergies between artists, interior designers, and industry experts. You can connect with her on LinkedIn or Twitter @RachelNunziata.

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