Evolution of an Idea

How PSPs latch onto the multitude of print opportunities in interior décor.

When it comes to breaking new ground, nothing is more stifling to a late-night idea quickly doodled on a napkin than the amount of planning and research that follows. I’ve had many eureka moments that fizzled upon realizing my cool idea probably wouldn’t make it past the initial scope of a business plan, much less a proposal for startup capital. Take it from a creative at heart: Never turn off that part of your brain, even if being bombarded with new ideas is both exhausting and exhilarating. In the wide-format print industry – especially when it comes to interiors – we must also consider whether a new market or demographic calls for traditional print services or a more robust print provider that custom designs and manufactures finished goods.  

Today, traditional PSPs may find themselves at a crossroads when contemplating an interior décor market entry strategy. It’s a challenge because wide-format digital print isn’t always at the forefront of an architect’s or designer’s mind. If your vision is to work directly with creatives and designers, your strategy may be to build an entirely new business that attracts the type of clientele you’re seeking. 

Perception Shift

Bailey Print Group
Courtesy of Bailey Print Group.

Samantha Bailey-Jensen is the business development manager for Bailey Print Group in Brisbane, Australia, which launched into the print business 33 years ago. “One of the greatest challenges we’ve had to overcome as a PSP in this market is that interior designers and architects don’t instantly think of a wide-format printing company as their first point of call to discuss wallcoverings and textile printing,” Bailey-Jensen says. “It’s been a slow burn; however, momentum is now starting to build, and we’re soon to launch a new arm and brand to our business that will be solely focused on the domestic and commercial printerior space.” (Read more about Bailey Print Group's dive into commercial printeriors.) Your forte may be large-scale installations or collaborating with home décor brands to customize their product lines. Perhaps it’s both. But what about those who have a pre-existing passion for interiors? Having an authentic passion for interior décor is important, but having a compelling why is equally as important as your business strategy.    

Take Nicole Piach, co-owner and VP of Digital Print Specialties in Detroit, Michigan. The parent company of Digital Print Specialties (DPS) was originally founded in 1924, but their interior décor business didn’t begin until 2009; shortly after the US economy showed some signs of recovery and consumers expressed interest in home improvement. Piach says one of the deciding factors that made interior décor a priority for her shop stemmed from a lull in day-to-day signage and graphics business. “I started investigating what was happening overseas and looking for something innovative and new. It wasn’t something that happened overnight because there weren’t as many printing options then as there are today. So, through a lot of research and development, I was able to come up with a viable offering that was new and exciting.” 

Seeing the Trend

Although Piach was slightly ahead of her time, it wasn’t until she saw a cool customized chair at a small tradeshow in a design center in 2009 – and observed the same trend at the 2011 Toronto Interior Design Show – that she realized this was in fact an intriguing concept to designers. “I exhibited at the Toronto Interior Design show in 2011 and it was there that my hunch was validated. Customization was really starting to take hold as the economy had shifted, and a void was being filled with short-run, on-trend requests,” Piach adds. “Today, customization is everywhere. It’s become the norm. But even though it may be the norm, it’s the simple fact of knowing that every project breathes its uniqueness, each with its own personality, color, shape, and scale. It’s always new and exciting.” Attending design fairs and events is a surefire way to develop a keen understanding of your customer base; plus, being consistent with your research and networking helps with identifying trends before others.

There’s also a high value associated with being nimble and responsive to trends through wide-format digital print, especially to someone who knows a thing or two about how they affect business. Aqeel Ahmed is the managing director of Sleek Editions, a UK-based furniture manufacturer that opened a digital textile division in response to the demand for customization. “We have to keep up with customers’ growing demand for luxury interior spaces and offer more than just plain, simple products and fabrics,” Ahmed says. “We love offering a full bespoke offering to the customer starting with furniture and furnishings. We can even print bespoke fabrics.” According to Homepolish, leveraging a custom option in furniture design doesn’t necessarily mean cost savings for the designer or client. It may, however, translate into time saved searching for the perfect piece or solution for a design dilemma in an awkward sized space. In the most obvious sense, customizing furniture fabrics means your client will have a piece no one else does. 

Five years ago, Sleek Editions’ parent company realized versatility was another compelling reason for incorporating digital print into the business. Ahmed describes how trend curation is used to develop marketable products: “The greatest challenge is keeping up with the constantly changing trends in the market. Customers are more and more demanding, and we have to constantly stay ahead. We do this by traveling to trade fairs and gaining inspiration, and then adding our twist to what is happening in the market. We also have in-house designers, and we research and develop our own unique style products.” Additionally, digital print has paved the way for Ahmed to work with interior designers creating their own customized fabrics.

Amping the Visual Experience

Depending on your capabilities, you may have the resources and talent in place to provide full room customization in addition to signage and graphics. Think experiential graphic design that combines marketing and branding into transformative spatial experiences. Christie Ross, business development at Impact Media in Alpharetta, Georgia, says, “Interior décor has been a focus for our business since our company’s inception. This is because at Impact Media, we consider ourselves more than just a print service provider. We have an in-house design team that can go so far as to build a company’s entire brand. So, while we certainly specialize in large-format graphics, and we utilize the most innovative and high-quality material for our prints, we always take into consideration the aesthetics required to emulate a specific message within a space, which is why we love partnering with interior designers.” 

Ross says the company has 77 years of combined industry experience, and that clients, first and foremost, perceive them as experiential design experts. “One of our greatest challenges working in this market segment has been in making sure that graphics don’t become an afterthought at the end of a designer’s project,” she adds. “There are so many important facets to the interior design space, and it’s easy to think of graphics as a last stop because they seem inconsequential or easy. When this happens, budgets are often much tighter, and it becomes tempting to cut corners on the material of the graphics, the sizing, the quantity, etc.” 

In terms of design value, Capital One’s 2018 Work Environment Survey via dexigner.com reports that 66 percent of respondents thought office design was equally or more important than office location. It also shows 79 percent of office professionals agreed: “Companies cannot encourage innovation unless their workplace environment is innovative.” What about decorative print applications? Survey respondents said artwork/creative imagery is one of the top six in-demand workspace design elements. Ross advises those looking for a PSP – and to PSPs looking to market themselves to designers – “Consider a client walking into your space like a person going on a first date. No matter how beautiful the person may initially look, if the quality isn’t there, you take notice.” 

Courtesy of Bailey Print Group.
Courtesy of Bailey Print Group.

For Bailey-Jensen, in the Australian market, adapting her print business wasn’t solely a passion project. “It’s only in the last eighteen months that interior décor has become a focus in our business, when we decided to move away from solvent printers to latex machines. In Australia, the wide-format signage and display business has become incredibly price driven combined with the market being flooded with print production coming from China. We knew in order to survive we had to look for new market opportunities where we could use our wide-format print expertise.”

Piach of DPS also points out one of the greatest challenges: the potential for saturation in the market. “You could see it happening over the past few years because great ideas are catchy, and it’s inevitable that the market will shift. I don’t think customization is going anywhere but there will be more PSPs out there willing to try their hand at interiors.” 

As we near the end of 2018, ask yourself: Do I fully understand the interior décor customer? Have I developed an attractive brand, do I know my substrates, and most importantly, do I have a compelling why? For Bailey-Jensen, “it’s to inspire others – it’s all about seeing an opportunity, taking a risk, being bold and creative, and saying ‘look at us and look at how we can transform a space.’”

View more from this Big Picture issue