Eyes on the Prize

Don’t be fooled: While online shopping is at an all-time high, brick-and-mortar retail and P-O-P displays are alive and well.

Never-ending social media posts. Emails constantly dinging into your inbox. The latest podcast now streaming. Today’s consumer is overwhelmed with status updates, news, information, advertisements, and notifications, not to mention the growing reign of e-commerce. 

While headlines throughout the past five years have declared brick-and-mortar retail another alleged casualty of the millennial generation, the data show another story. While 79 percent of Americans report making purchases online, only about 15 percent make online purchases on a weekly basis, according to a 2016 report from Pew Research Center. And two-thirds of online shoppers actually prefer buying from physical stores, especially when purchasing something for the first time. US shoppers value the in-store experience of asking employees questions, comparing prices, and being able to see, feel, and try out the item they’re interested in buying.

Though consumers may prefer shopping in a store, their purchasing decisions ultimately come down to price. Email blasts, Twitter and Instagram feeds, Google ads, and myriad other mediums constantly bombard shoppers with steals and deals. How can a brick-and-mortar retailer break through? With so many distractions vying for a customer’s attention, retail and point-of-purchase displays have to be more than eye-catching. They have to be absolutely riveting

Easel graphics printed on white foamcore and bar imagery on 3M Scotchcal Graphic Film Series IJ40 film turned an empty warehouse into a margarita-filled party. Graphic Trends output the graphics using its EFI Vutek LX3 Pro and HP Scitex FB10000 printers. 

Sure, an artfully arranged display may grab a potential customer’s attention for a few seconds. But taking a display to the next level with digitally printed graphics is a surefire way to truly captivate passersby. And the more off-the-wall, the better. 

Make It Pop

Brian O’Leary, business development manager for Los Angeles-based Graphic Trends says customers are becoming more and more open to “experimental stuff.” An example? One client started out asking for a display with some standard PVC and Falconboard prints, “but then all of a sudden, they wanted to get a bunch of old-school 30-inch TVs, bust them up, and have them hanging [from the ceiling] from the actual power cords.” Smashed up TVs are certainly not your typical display material.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg for Graphic Trends. Another P-O-P project in the works involves floating snowflakes, hanging printed champagne bottles, and dimensional, holographic vinyl backdrops. A footwear client has ordered window graphics that transform each window into a finish line for a running shoe. A job in progress for a mobile phone company has the team incorporating printed PET floor graphics, AstroTurf, and 5-foot-tall chess pieces for a window display. “It seems, especially in the markets and the brands we’re dealing with, everyone’s going outside the box – totally experimental,” O’Leary explains.

T-Mobile opts for a “pretty in pink” look for its locations spanning the country. Above: A Charleston, South Carolina-based call center is decked out in framed fabric prints, made of polyester weave colorfast fabric textile mounted in extrusion frames. Photo Credit: Paige Robison, superGraphics Creative Producer.

“Customers are always open to whatever is new and cool,” says Paige Robison, former creative producer at superGraphics. [Editor’s note: Robison held this post at the time of her interview with Big Picture.] The Seattle print shop dedicates about 75 percent of its business to the retail and P-O-P sectors, with an increase over the past few years. (Who says brick-and-mortar retail is dead?) And what are all those clients requesting? “Something that people look at and that holds their attention.”

One retro application that’s been making a comeback recently? Neon lights. Even though “10 years ago it would have been considered out of date,” Robison has seen neon-inspired signage coming back in a major way: 

Using a neon-signage look in print – without being an actual neon sign, just looking like one – has become very popular in this environment.

neonFor a recent project for Patrón Tequila celebrating National Margarita Day, Graphic Trends was tasked with turning a warehouse in Silver Lake, California, into an around-the-country tasting trail, with seven bars representing seven cities and their personalized spin on the classic drink. When brainstorming a way to make each bar “really pop,” O’Leary came up with an idea: “Why don’t we go old school and do some neon lights?” The shop fabricated actual neon lights and complemented them with a backdrop, printing each city’s respective color onto a clear acrylic backer with EFI Vutek LX3 Pro and HP Scitex FB10000 printers. The end result? A nod to the classic neon dive bar light, fitted for the modern era. 

Highlight the Locale

Anyone who has ever visited Cincinnati (home to Big Picture and the ST Media Group family of publications) will quickly notice one thing: Cincinnatians love Cincinnati, and their signage and décor reflect it. We see wide-format prints and murals depicting the city everywhere from Great American Ball Park, Jack Cincinnati Casino, and Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport to restaurants (Skyline Chili is even named after the Cincinnati Skyline), businesses, and more. ArtWorks Cincinnati has created 132 public wall murals on buildings around the city, many of which commemorate local history, neighborhoods, or organizations. This doesn’t even include the sheer amount of large-format photography available depicting Cincinnati’s skyline and landmarks.

The New York City branch has a touch of local flair with three column wraps depicting the city’s skyline, output on premium pressure-activated adhesive vinyl with matte overlaminate printed on superGraphics’ EFI Vutek machine. Photo Credit: Edwin Narvaez, artist Install Manager for superGraphics.

This isn’t a phenomenon unique to Cincinnati. “A lot of customers (including me) want to see their local flair,” says Robison. While maintaining a corporate identity is important for national companies, Robison is seeing more and more companies localize each branch. One major client, T-Mobile, does this by maintaining a consistent color scheme throughout all sites – the brand’s well-known magenta-pink – and customizing graphics for the specific locations. So, a call center in San Francisco is clad with landmarks from the city; the New York City branch has imagery depicting the city’s skyline; and a Charleston, South Carolina, call center “added some South Carolina-specific elements to make it shine.”

Graphic Trends’ National Tequila Day project took a different approach by turning each bar into a specific location: Boston, Seattle, and Los Angeles, just to name a few. Each “city” was localized with its own color scheme and imagery, in addition to the unique margarita flavor available at each bar. For the LA-themed bar, images of citrus fruits and tropical plants and flowers were interspersed with a bright green color to add a Cali feel. The shop printed the bar graphics onto 3M Scotchcal Graphic Film Series IJ40 with EFI Vutek LX3 Pro and HP Scitex FB10000 printers.

Wells Fargo, another one of superGraphics’ retail clients, integrates local history into each branch location with a timeline mural. “It has a dynamic look by the end of the project – it tells all of the local people who walk by the history of their area,” Robison explains. “It has a really meaningful impact on people.” Cities have also been reaching out to superGraphics enquiring about “historical timeline-type artwork that they want to have tell the story of their community.” And a bonus for the shop is that timeline projects can be adjusted to fit into almost anyone’s budget. SuperGraphics has created murals ranging from higher-end dimensional pieces to simple black-text prints.

Think Big

Often, when one thinks of retail and point-of-purchase, they envision a display or two within a single store – perhaps an eye-catching window graphic or wall wrap. Graphic Trends asks: Why limit it to one location? Why not six?

For the Nike takeover of downtown Los Angeles during the 2018 NBA All-Star game, Graphic Trends wrapped columns, top header sections, and clothing divider sections in the Staples Center and store with 3M IJ35 vinyl, using a mix of white and black PVC for graphics in front windows, the arena window, four-way toppers, and four-way rack headers. 

That’s exactly what the shop did for Nike, the jersey sponsor of the 2018 NBA All-Star game, leading up to the 67th-annual game in Los Angeles in February. As Team Lebron and Team Stephen prepared to battle it out on the court, Graphic Trends transformed downtown LA into a professional basketball lover’s dream with more than 12,000 square feet of print.

The warehouse location was decked out with hanging banners using DuPont Tyvek material and floor graphics output on Mactac Permacolor overlaminate. Graphics were printed using the shop’s EFI Vutek LX3 Pro and HP Scitex FB10000.

The first building the shop worked on was a warehouse with a basketball court. The team printed the graphic packages and mounted them onto the existing court, and incorporated wooden fixtures and podiums with acrylic lifts. Always looking to print on “outside-the-box materials,” the shop printed hanging banners using DuPont Tyvek material, which O’Leary describes as “more of a papery material that you utilize when you’re building houses.” With such a thin substrate, the shop opted to hang the banners with fishing line.

The takeover also included hotels with exterior window graphics; stores with printed signage on windows, dividers, columns, and racks; and the Staples Center, home to the Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers and host of the All-Star game, decked out in vinyl. 


Pretty much everywhere you went in LA, you could see it,

O’Leary describes. “It could be building graphics, fabrication pieces, floor graphics, dimensional signage, window graphics… it was a whole takeover of this black-and-white campaign.” With lots of last-minute changes adding new items into the mix and installation taking five days (some days racking up 12-hour shifts), the final job was certainly something everyone involved was proud to put on display for all of Los Angeles to see.

While the digitally printed takeover of an entire city isn’t a request most print shops run into every day, find other ways to think “big.” SuperGraphics keeps busy by outputting large runs for clients with multiple locations across the country. And in the retail sector, clients want new displays anywhere from quarterly to every few years.

Amazon recently rolled out Amazon lockers – secure, self-service kiosks where customers can pick up Amazon.com packages – at a number of Whole Foods locations across the country. Each location had the opportunity to brand their own locker as long as it complied with Whole Foods’ corporate identity. “Part of their challenge was coming up with something that said ‘Whole Foods’ but would also work in all of their locations,” says Robison. The result was three sizes and two color options with the same graphic to create a different spin at various locations. All in all, superGraphics printed graphics for 401 Whole Foods Amazon locker locations across the US, ranging from Orlando, Florida, to Milwaukee to Oxnard, California. The shop output the color graphics onto Avery Dennison MPI 1005 Supercast Easy Apply RS with DOL 1370 3D Lustre Clear Conformable Cast Overlaminate using the PSP’s EFI Vutek GS3250LX Pro and GS5000r printers.

Snapshot: Trending Substrates

According to O’Leary, “Printing, in general, is so commoditized.” The key to standing out from the shop across the street is, well, making your work stand out. For Graphic Trends, that involves taking “generic kinds of prints” and finding ways to showcase the shop’s unique capabilities in creative ways. “There’s really nothing that we’re doing that isn’t unique and different,” says O’Leary. “We were working on glass yesterday. Today we’re working on dimensional vinyl.” Of course, there’s a reason vinyl and rigid boards are staples in the print industry. O’Leary sees clients wanting to use old-school media they’re familiar with while simultaneously experimenting with new and exciting substrates.

For its flagship location in Chicago, T-Mobile wanted an extremely “T-Mobile-centric design” because technology on the floor includes other brands like Apple and Samsung, says superGraphics’ Paige Robison. The shop found the perfect solution: illuminated columns and lightboxes, imaged on polyester weave colorfast premium backlit fabric textile. Photo credit: Pete Kouchis of Visucom Graphics, lead installer for superGraphics.

Customers aren’t the only ones having fun with new supplies. O’Leary says going beyond the “basic stuff” to tie in unfamiliar materials is fun from a shop’s perspective, too. Graphic Trends has spent a lot of time finding “economical materials that are recycled” to use as alternatives to traditional rigid boards. One such substrate? Ecore, a rigid substrate composed of recycled compressed material. Since customers have been inquiring about sustainable materials more and more the past five or six years, it pays off to have an innovative style piece suggestion at the ready.

The versatility of fabric is an attractive option for customers who know they’ll be changing out displays regularly, as is the norm for many retail clients. Robison says customers turn to fabric substrates for both illuminated and nonilluminated framing systems, since the printed textile can be easily swapped out when it’s time to move on to the next display. Illumination especially has taken off in recent jobs, Robison says. “It makes it very versatile and easily changeable, and it’s not a super expensive way to get some fine art pieces, either.” T-Mobile’s flagship location in Chicago has integrated 20-foot-tall backlit fabric columns into its décor, which have an uncanny ability to grab the attention of shoppers, even when they’re surrounded by brand-new, state-of-the-art cell phones and technology.

Use Your Know-How

Print service providers specialize in taking a simple idea, brand, or concept, and helping it blossom into a larger-than-life final product. You and your shop’s employees have been around long enough to know what materials will work best for what jobs; use that knowledge to educate your customers. For superGraphics, many clients come with a specific idea – a color, style, or theme – and the production and design teams work together to narrow that down into an executable project. “It’s useful for us as the signage experts to actually be able to ask them questions and say, ‘You have this theme, so what three words would you say describes it best? What are you looking for?’” Robison adds. 

Right off the bat at Graphic Trends, potential customers are asked everything from their budget to how long a display will be up and how concerned they are that a print may be damaged. “We break it down and give them the knowledge of what’s going to work best,” says O’Leary.

In a perfect world, taking that extra time to sit down with the customer and fully understand their vision would automatically result in the perfect project. In reality, it’s usually not quite that simple. One example? With Graphic Trends’ Nike takeover of Los Angeles’ Staples Center, the client requested vinyl for everything, because that’s what other brands had done in the venue previously. After two weeks, all the vinyl was taken down and the removal process was “a disaster.” “Pretty much everything ripped off and pieces of material snapped,” O’Leary explains. “But that’s what they wanted, and that’s what you’re going to listen to.” In hindsight, he would do the entire project again with PVC, mount hooks, and Velcro – and he shared that with the client. “They wanted to do what other brands have done in there before, which is fine, but maybe no one ever told them here’s a better way to do it,” O’Leary says. “You need to tell people [that based on] past experiences, this isn’t going to work.” And at the end of the day, your clients will appreciate that insight when it saves you both time and headaches.

Take a Chance

While it’s true that e-commerce sales are on the rise in certain markets, there’s just something about leaving the comfort of your house (and laptop) to go somewhere and buy something. Ninety percent of all retail purchases in the US were made in brick-and-mortar locations in 2017, according to US Census data. So, as long as shopping malls, grocery stores, pop-up shops, and other retail concepts continue to bring in customers, print service providers will get to flex their creative muscles envisioning, executing, and installing retail and P-O-P displays.

O’Leary sums it up nicely: “The retail world is fun and unique.” So take full advantage of the wide world of options available to you, whether that’s materials, concepts, or applications – don’t limit your shop by continuing to create displays the same way you always have. Challenge yourself to think outside the box – your customers (and in turn, their customers) will thank you, and come back for more again and again. 

Read more about retail and P-O-P trends from our April 2018 issue.

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