Retail and P-O-P: More for the Money

Retailers are putting the pressure on graphics providers to offer more than just fast and flawless prints.

What’s a dollar worth?

In the 1920s, a dollar could bring home more than 2 pounds of steak. In the ’40s, a dollar would put about 10 gallons of gas in your car. In the ’70s, a dollar could get you a pack of Oreos. Today, you’re lucky if a dollar gets you a can of pop at the office vending machine.

For some products, the seller has a lot of control over what that dollar is worth to their customers. How high would the price of gas have to rise before you’d give up on driving and stay home? But in other industries, the market becomes saturated and the buyers are the ones with the power to dictate what they’re willing to pay.

It’s no revelation that this phenomenon has reached the graphics business, particularly in the retail and P-O-P verticals. Print buyers are being squeezed by their own customers – millennials who are perfectly happy to shop online, for instance – so they’re squeezing you. They want more for their money – a lot more.

“They need to find that extra bit of engagement from what they’re spending,” says Ryan Bishop, director of Boom Studios. “They’re trying to get more disturbance.”

You can’t afford to be commoditized, which means you can’t afford to offer a product that’s second-best. You can’t afford not to diversify, not to go above and beyond, not to dive in and find out what your customers want.

Close to Home
A 2014 Seattle Times survey found that the majority of consumers prefer to shop within 10 miles of their home, and knowing that a store has local ties can often be the differentiator when deciding where to buy.

“We are doing more and more digital, and a lot of that has come to be because there’s much more local marketing going on at the retail level,” says Maureen Gumbert, marketing and creative team manager at KDM P.O.P. Solutions Group. The Cincinnati-based company has served the retail market exclusively since its inception in 1970 when they opened up shop as screen printers. Since then, they’ve expanded into practically every technology that puts ink onto substrate, from litho to small- and wide-format digital. They’ve also put down roots in Cleveland, Atlanta, and Nashville, Tennessee. But their emphasis on digital is growing; why? Because retailers want customized messages to target their audience by age, ethnicity, gender, location, and more. “They’re trying to speak to the people that they’re actually selling to … and digital printing makes that happen,” Gumbert adds.

The localization trend has reached Melbourne, Australia, too. “I’ve got 80 stores around Australia, but each one is different,” Bishop says. Print is getting more personalized and, of course, runs are getting shorter. In the past, he says, “the store would be built around the print. Now, every store can be different because your prints can be different.”

‘I’d Wrap That’
So, the customer wants different, but how can you offer it without blowing their budget? One great way to switch it up is to offer printed graphics on unconventional items, and KDM Atlanta’s Mike Robinson says clients love it. One annual customer, Mars Brands, is particularly enthusiastic about using different areas of the store. “They’ll wrap anything,” says Robinson, “from air-conditioning ducts to bathrooms doors.”

Stretching 100 feet wide and four stories tall, the M&M’S store on Times Square is tough to miss. But with holiday graphics from KDM P.O.P. – a month-long undertaking – it’s unforgettable.

KDM does a massive holiday takeover for M&M’S stores in Orlando, Florida, and New York every year. The Orlando storefront is sizeable, with roughly 20 window panels, each measuring 48 x 96 inches. But to call the shop on New York’s Times Square “large” is like saying chocolate is “satisfying” – it just doesn’t do it justice. Each of the building’s three sides extend about 100 feet wide and four stories tall. Covering the façade with two-sided window graphics is an enormous undertaking that takes almost four weeks to plan, from start to finish; Robinson says prepress alone takes about 10 days. KDM Atlanta uses an HP Latex 3000 printer for the window graphics in both locations; this year’s Orlando job called for 3M Scotchcal IJ40 while the double-sided images in New York were printed on DuraPrint Matte Lightblock Duo.

Another campaign earlier last year featured M&M’S dressed as “Star Wars” characters; only a graphics installer would stop and shudder at the dozens of rivets that line the surface beneath, or the duct onto which the image extends. KDM used 3M Controltac IJ180 and a lot of heat for the textured areas.

Installing graphics in unique areas is a claim to fame for Eminent Custom Graphics in Ontario, Canada, too. About 20 percent of the shop’s business comes from providing table wraps, textured wall murals, and more for local bars, restaurants, and breweries. Owner Mark Dorey says their reputation spread quickly through the food and beverage business once vendors saw what they were capable of. “They’re looking for the next thing so they can be ahead of the game a little bit,” he says. “Traditional neon signs [hanging] in bars are almost coming to an end. People are so used to it that they don’t even notice it anymore.”

An expertly designed wall mural can change a room in an instant. This top-to-bottom graphic was printed on a Roland Soljet Pro 4 XR-640 onto 3M IJ180Cv3-10.

When it comes to table wraps, the shop has learned not to wrap around the edges of the table, preferring a slight inset from the perimeter to minimize wear and tear. The wraps last at least two years, but Dorey says clients usually want more frequent changes “to freshen up the look.”

Another increasingly popular spot for graphics is cooler doors. Robinson says he’s seeing this quite a bit in convenience stores; Dorey’s been able to use the spot to flex some digital creativity in bars, as well. For example, a local ski chalet wanted to hide its keg room from view. Eminent used a white underbase on Mactac Imagin B-free Frosted Window film to make the graphic pop while allowing the cooler’s light to shine through. Dorey says the key to installing on a cold surface like a cooler is to leave the door open for a bit to allow it to warm up and for condensation to dissipate, and then to use lots of heat to make sure the vinyl bonds well.

A Material World
Nothing says “personalization” like a graphic on a piece of reclaimed wood, or “seasonal” like a magnetic-receptive campaign that can be changed out in a matter of minutes. If a retailer is looking for something unique, there’s a good chance they can be won over with something as simple as the substrate. Consider these examples:

Fabrics: Walk into any imaging tradeshow and you’re bound to hear the words “digital textile printing” within 50 feet of the door. Textiles are lightweight, so they’re easy to ship; the prints are vibrant; and the effect is one of luxury. Retailers are no stranger to the trend.

“Five or six years ago, with wall graphics you either had a satin laminate or a matte laminate, and that was sort of it,” says Bishop. But since the explosion of fabric adhesive wallpapers, Boom has, almost by accident, developed a reputation for using – and stocking – specialized materials. They’d pick up one or two rolls of a material, learn how to use it, and then another customer would request something else. Suddenly, they were “that company that generally has one or two rolls of everything.” An inventory headache, perhaps, but when other print shops start calling you for help, you must be doing something right. Boom prints fabrics on their HP Latex series printers.

KDM has taken a more cautious approach to exploring fabric media, but they’re certainly not ignoring the trend. The company has moved away from dye sublimation and is actively researching a number of latex-printable materials for some of its clients.

Magnetic-Receptive: “The P-O-P world is temporary by nature,” says KDM’s Maureen Gumbert. Seasonal campaigns, frequently changing prices, and that ever-growing desire to keep things fresh are all huge motivators for retailers to consider magnetic systems.

Bishop says they go through so much magnetic-receptive material – in the neighborhood of 8000 square feet each month – that they’ve started sourcing it themselves directly from China. Many of their customers update their graphics as often as once a month; Bishop says “it’s generally a minimum of four times a year.”

KDM’s quick-serve customers are fans of the magnetic systems, as well. The company also has a retail division that builds in-store hardware, like boards with magnetic-receptive panels. Then the imaging team swoops in and offers kits designed to last the store for the year. “It’s even easier to change out than with adhesive sheets,” says Robinson.

Everything Else: The real fun comes when the surface doesn’t even resemble a wall or window. Last summer, KDM’s Cincinnati facility printed onto 200# Kemi B-flute with an HP Scitex FB7600 to create a 5-foot-tall chair for a grocery chain’s “Burger Bash” display. Gumbert says the impact of the display doubled the retailer’s sales. KDM President Bob Kissel adds that the company is definitely keeping an eye on the corrugated market.

Bishop says Boom Studios has seen a rise in popularity for prints on reclaimed timber, plywood, and glass. They’ve even printed on lasagna (yes, the pasta) via their Océ Arizona 480 GT.

Making the Papers
What the most hip retailers want is to make a statement. Bishop calls it “disturbance,” saying “they’re trying to get in the newspaper.” It’s all about that buzzword: the customer experience. Retailers want to provide something unforgettable for their visitors, something that will make them value the shirt or shoes they just bought as more than just a piece of clothing.

Sometimes, “unforgettable” can be generated on a printer. A creative wall mural can change the whole atmosphere of a room in an instant. Eminent Graphics designed one such mural promoting Belgian Moon beer for the previously mentioned ski chalet. The graphics look so much like wood that people often get out of their seats to see them up close, says Dorey, but it’s all 3M IJ180Cv3-10 with 8520 matte laminate, printed on a Roland Soljet Pro 4 XR-640.

But sometimes, a retailer’s standards for “unforgettable” go far beyond a graphic. “A lot of print needs a home,” says Bishop. Realizing that print “is part of a bigger picture,” Boom Studios built a business with the philosophy that they can do anything. “That’s sort of our mantra: We make stuff. We don’t know what it is; we just make it,” Bishop jokes.

Laughter aside, being nimble has brought the studio some incredibly fun and imaginably lucrative gigs, from creating a full-size basketball court overnight for Footlocker to turning a tent into a direct-to-garment print shop at the Australian Open tennis tournament.

The Asphalt Art graphic for the basketball pop-up spanned more than 2500 square feet, and turned into quite the undertaking. The Australian Open T-shirt bodega, however, was truly a display of what technology is capable of in creative hands. Boom teamed with an athletic-wear retailer to turn a tent into a pop-up shop, starting with a façade covered in Orajet 3165 and Oracal one-way vision graphics. Boom constructed a number of glass, metal, and acrylic displays and cabinets for the interior of the structure. Next, pretreatment and direct-to-garment units were brought in, and the retailer created a software program for shoppers to choose and customize their own T-shirts. Bishops says they sold roughly 8000 shirts over a two-week period.

Another all-inclusive undertaking for the same retailer called for the construction of a curved wall – UV printed on polypropylene and fixed to custom frames – custom floor unit, and digital screen blade. Then, Boom printed on regrind rubber for the floor; constructed hanging displays from string, LEDs, and acrylics; and wrapped all the walls.

Broadening your Business
Note that each of these companies goes far beyond the scope of putting ink on a substrate for their customers. Just being able to print wide-format isn’t enough anymore. KDM P.O.P. does research and development for their customers; they offer hardware services; they even have a team of six programmers working to develop an analytics system that will offer insight about in-store graphics placement.

Mark Dorey is a graphic designer by trade. When he set out to build Eminent Custom Graphics with business partner Jay Farren, he was determined to bring his passion for unique design to the forefront of the business. Dorey says they’re able to garner a lot of jobs that way because retailers appreciate the insight that comes from having both design and large-format expertise.

And “print provider” doesn’t begin to describe Boom Studios. For one customer’s sneaker boutique, Boom made 200 plaster sneaker replicas in addition to producing floor and wall wraps to transform two shipping containers into a sneaker “museum.” It’s certain the phrase “that’s not my job” has simply never crossed their minds.

Has it crossed yours?

Read more from Big Picture's March 2017 "Running Retail" issue.

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