Neil Felton, Fespa CEO, provides a heads-up on the early data collected as part of its Print Census launched last May. Any surprises so far?
What’s the shape of the global wide-format printing community - its size, business performance, growth prospects and key areas of development and investment? That’s something Fespa hopes to answer at the Fespa 2015 show in Cologne this May, when it will release the top line findings of its Print Census launched last May, and when a full analysis will be available to members of its associations.
But you don’t need to wait until then to get some feel of how the worldwide market is developing – the first data batch is in and Fespa CEO Neil Felton is eager to share the findings from the census which has so far collected more than 1000 responses from 45 countries via survey points at every Fespa exhibition since the project went live (including Fespa Digital 2014 in Germany, Fespa Africa 2014, Fespa Mexico 2014, Fespa Digital Textile Conference 2014 in Italy, Fespa China 2014 and Fespa Eurasia 2014 in Turkey).
Before the full data set is analysed this coming May, the census will also target delegates at Fespa’s two European conferences in March, visitors to Fespa Brasil and the Mexico Conference, but for now, Felton flags up what has been discovered to date.
Point one is that the wide-format industry is changing, and the business owners who are most optimistic about the future are those who understand that they need to identify ways to add new applications or acquire new customers. Also of note is that the dynamics in relationships between customers and print service providers have shifted - today’s print buyers are not looking for suppliers, but for creative solutions to their projects and objectives and any challenges they may face. For marketers focused on proving return-on-investment for example, PSPs need to help them plan and deliver integrated, targeted marketing campaigns, which can be measured and swiftly adapted according to audience response. Brand owners looking to differentiate themselves in a crowded visual communications space however, are looking for PSPs who will recommend innovative solutions such as blending conventional print with printed electronics or using inks to create special effects.
Brands however are not the only ones looking for ways to stand out. People not only want to express their personal identity in everything from their clothing to their environment, but they also want consumer experiences tailored to their preferences. 59% of respondents to the census said that more clients are asking for versioning and personalisation. This mass customisation trend, together with the move toward shorter runs and on-demand production that accompanies it, is not only driving the adoption of digital technology in the wide-format print sector, but also wider consumer demand for bespoke applications in areas such as decor, textile printing and vehicle graphics.
Fespa highlights that this new environment is creating new opportunities for PSPs, and that opportunities in printed decor, for example, are not confined solely to the interior decor industry; that PSPs already producing POS materials or signage for retailers, restaurants and hotels etc. could begin diversifying into the decor sector.
Textile printing has also come up on the census radar as a substantial opportunity for diversification and expansion. Although only 29% of respondents in the census regularly produce textiles for garments, 71% expect textile printing for garments to grow as a percentage of their wide-format business. When it comes to textiles for decor applications and soft signage these figures are 66% and 63% respectively. Indeed, 34% of PSPs in the census said that the capability they’d be most interested in when investing in a new device would be textile printing capabilities.
The data also shows that with wide-format PSPs needing to find creative ways to add value, many respondents have added finishing solutions.
Fespa points out that about 40% of respondents to the census reported that they are currently producing industrial applications such as decor and laminates (18%), automotive (7%), 3D printing (5%), electronics (3%), biomedical (4%), glass (3%) and ceramics (2%), and that they expect to be producing even more of these over the next years.
While banners, billboards and signs are the applications most commonly produced by respondents at present, they expect the greatest amount of growth to come from textile printing for garments (71%) and decor (66%), as well as wallpaper and interiors (69%). In many cases the print method selected will depend on factors such as run length, budget and how durable the printed item needs to be.
Print is being used by some interior designers to replicate high-end materials, while growing consumer demand for personalised wallpaper is leading some digital wide-format PSPs to consider to a business-to-consumer offering. Other PSPs are using developments such as conductive inks to add new functionality to products they already offer, as in the example of promotional posters that play music or garments that react to ambient temperature.
What each of these examples has in common is that the PSP understands that print is just one step in a broader manufacturing process in which the resulting product or solution is far more valuable than the sum of its parts.