In 2016 Oasis Graphic took the decision to dedicate a member of staff and a budget to applications development on unusual substrates. A year and a bit down the line and the company is getting real jobs through the door and demonstrating its abilities to a wider creative audience than ever before.
Cotton wool, moss, hessian, glitter, straw, screw-heads, bubblewrap - just some of the things Oasis Graphic can print onto, and ‘substrates’ that are garnering the company plenty of attention from creatives. And there you have it, the reason behind the company’s decision last year to dedicate a full time employee and a budget to exploring print possibilities - to extend its client-base by meeting a demand for the unusual. Now the investment in the project is at a break-even point as the work starts to roll in, and the expectation is that profit from it will soon flow.
“People still want vinyl and foamex and all that, so there’s definitely a place for the ‘everyday’,” says Chris Boyd-Leslie who, having been studio manager at Oasis for around eight years before becoming head of creative development early last year, enthuses “but there’s a real demand from all sorts of people for something novel. We realised we could tap into that.”
It hasn’t always been simple, and not just from a technical point of view. In the early days of the project Boyd-Leslie admits that getting even some of the staff on board was an issue, with those at the production end needing to be convinced of why ‘test’ jobs needed to be added to an already hectic print schedule. The decision then was to put R&D print work through the company’s workflow as real jobs, so that they didn’t get bumped off the schedule for any reason - like live jobs having to take precedence! Since then there’s been a real buy-in from staff right across the company, and Boyd-Leslie says that’s because everyone is starting to see the fruits of the labours - new clients are emerging, and the high spec ‘creative’ jobs are beginning to come through. As he says: “Everyone is starting to see the value of undertaking concept pieces.”
What’s more, Oasis employees have had the opportunity to see how big the scope is for the company, by attending shows like Retail Design, where it exhibited this year, and will again in 2018.
“We realise we need to showcase our capability to as wide an audience as possible and get the message across that we’ll work with them to push the boundaries of what’s possible with print,” explains Boyd-Leslie. “So, at Retail Design we took a stand and showed some of the things we have proven we can print onto - printed bubblewrap proved a particular hit. People coming to us were surprised we were a print company because they just didn’t expect that there. The thing is, not only did it showcase to creatives what we could achieve, but it showcased our talents to our own staff who were invited along to understand how we could fit into the more creative space. It really paid off to do that - they get what we’re trying to achieve.”
As Boyd-Leslie says, getting the ‘can do’ message in front of a larger pool of potential clients is as key to the success of the Oasis printed substrates R&D project as the technical side, but it has proven just one of the benefits of having exhibited at Retail Design. “We had all kinds of conversations at the show, with all sorts of creatives, ranging from the technical to blue sky concepts. Apart from getting them interested in what we might be able to do for them, it helped us realise what kind of conversations we should be having. We got loads of new contacts, but we got much more than that.”
The event/show scene is proving crucial to Boyd-Leslie’s remit, and as he says “I’ve probably been to ten in the first half of 2017 to get ideas. That’s what it’s all about, looking for new things that can help us increase our applications portfolio - looking for new materials and suppliers, and developing ideas for clients. So I go to shows in surfaces, graphics, retail, design, textiles etc., anywhere I might see unusual stuff.” And he has certainly found some.
“At Retail Design for instance, an agency called Mynt asked if we could print on cotton wool. So we went away and tried, and yes, it turns out we can,” says Boyd-Leslie. |”And at the New Designer Show in June I got talking to some young design graduates about wallpapers, fabrics etc. I picked up some of their artwork and said I’d try out printing the pieces on different surfaces, so they’re really interested in what we can do. It’s all about linking up with people and working with them to see what’s possible. You have to be proactive. Sometimes I approach people and ask if I can have materials or whatever to trial, other times people come to us and ask us to try something out - I’d say that’s about a 50/50 split. But the thing is to recognise that it’s not an immediate win in terms of work.”
At Surface Design for instance, Boyd-Leslie came across Innerspace Cheshire, a business who’s website describes it as ‘a company to bring designers together with authentic, easy to use, materials for design’. Those ‘materials for design’ include moss, hay and a rusted metalised waffle-effect wallcovering. “We loved some of the materials they were showing and asked if they would give us some to trial print. They said we’d never do it, but we did and we took the samples to show them. Now they know we can do it they have put a bit on their website about us, saying what we can do with their products. Developments like that don’t bring in new customers overnight - it’s a slow burn, but a fire worth lighting.
He adds: “We actually have customers now who use our samples for mood boards with clients etc.”
To give you an idea of how Oasis is stretching its print portfolio, it is currently working with Organoid, a manufacturer of organic substrates and laminates based In the Alps and whose products are sold in the UK though Arnold Laver. “I saw them at Retail Design and asked if I could have some material to play. As far as I’m aware, no-one else is printing onto them. I came up with samples for our own use, and for theirs, and now we’re getting calls from people saying, ‘Arnold Laver has shown us some samples, can we come and talk to you.”
Boyd-Leslie goes on to enthuse over test printing onto both glitter and hessian wallcoverings from B Brown. “Again, as far as we’re aware, no-one is printing onto these highly decorative materials. I actually came across a swatch in a box in our own studio that we had after having produced a stand for them for a show. We asked for test materials and now we’ve done a job for a big pizza chain on the hessian wallcovering and we’re just about to go live with a job we’ve done using the glitter wallcovering.
“Agencies, designers, brands - they all want something quirky to grab attention. We’re talking big markets with bit potential,” stresses Boyd-Leslie. No doubt Oasis is hoping they also have have big, deep pockets.
(You can see the previous Oasis feature here.)