Sat, Jun

IR talks to... Ed Currer, Founder, Vinyl Impressions

When newly married Ed Currer and his wife wanted to decorate their home without causing any damage to walls, he had something of a Eureka moment, out of which was born West Sussex-based surface graphics company Vinyl Impression.

Now, clients can buy a host of customisable large-format digital inkjet printed interiors products from its online ‘shop’ as well as via the traditional route, and Currer believes there’s huge opportunity for further growth in the niche. But, as we discuss here, there’s something of a job still to be done by PSPs if that opportunity is to be fully realised.

By Lesley Simpson

In the Creative Theatre at Sign and Digital UK this year you took part in a seminar examining the trends in interior décor. How big an opportunity do you think there is in that market for large-format PSPs?
I think there is a really big opportunity. That’s not just a gut feel. There are people, like Frazer Chesterman of Mack Brooks (organiser of the new Pure Digital event-  see pX) who have gathered excellent data on this - and in fact I downloaded their White Paper with all the stats on it and sent it to my bank manager to show how good the projections are! So I’m excited about it.
It’s obviously a field where we’re ahead of the curve as far as PSPs are concerned, specialising as we have been for some time in large-format décor and branding print for office, event and public spaces as well as for home interiors.

What we are seeing are trends coming over from America - and that move towards interesting, captivating interior décor within the office environment is at the forefront of a lot of companies’ new ways to engage with their clients - it helps formalise, in a visual way, their vision and values. They're also seeing it as a way of helping with staff engagement and retention. The bar has been raised in terms of the working environment and now it’s about fun, about blurring the lines between work and play.

The other side of our business deals with the consumer/home décor market. And again, we’re seeing big influences from the US. When I started the business five years ago I did some research into how often people would refresh the look of their homes. The figures I found then showed that people in the US would change their décor once a year, if not more frequently. I don’t think we do that in the UK, but the market is heading in that direction and there’s definitely room in the market for PSPs offering those types of products – customisable wall imagery, decals etc.

So, given that you have quite a substantial template-based range of surface décor products on your website, to what extent are your interior products customisable – and how important is that?
I think personalisation is the huge driving force behind the growth of interior décor graphics.

Our online offering is a standard-product driven type of offering, but we are implementing a personalisation app on the website that allows customers - consumer or business -  to go in, see a product they like, and change the colours etc. The view they get of the product will then change live in front of them to reflect their choices. The move gives clients something between an off-the-shelf standard product and a fully personalised option. It gives them choice and us some control – the best of both worlds.

The app on our website will deliver us print-ready artwork, so customers get professionally designed, high quality products and we know we have printable files, which has in turn freed up people at the front end of the business and allowed us to keep the price of products competitive.

But we will go beyond the online offering and provide a more bespoke service to consumers too, as we do with businesses. For instance, we had a call from someone in the US saying they’d seen our printed tree wall decals online, but they had a very high vaulted ceiling and could we provide them with taller trees? So we didn’t just scale up the whole tree image we had – we actually designed them a taller tree image to fit their space. Of course the customer pays over the odds for that, so we‘re both happy. There’s definitely money to be made in both template-based and more personally customised interior décor graphics.

Is there more money to be made in the corporate/business or in the consumer side?
Definitely in the office market - the corporate side. You’ve not only got scale, but you benefit from developing the kind of relationships that keep them coming back time and time again.

For me, profitability comes down to the lifetime value of a customer. Yes, you may make 50% on small orders of £100 from consumers, but it’s much better to win a corporate client with 14 offices around the UK and you get a percentage on a much bigger job, plus it’s likely you’ll do repeat business.

We’re much more consultative with those guys because the scale of the job allows us to be. We really show we care about what they are trying to achieve - and sometimes that means referring them to a product that is not the most profitable for us in the short run, but makes them trust us and use us longer term.

Wallpapers, floor graphics etc. are now pretty commonplace offerings - but it seems that there’s still a relatively slow burn in terms of textile-based interior décor products by large-format PSPs. What are your thoughts on where the most profitable niches are yet to be targeted by PSPs?
I do think there is money to be made in the fabric side of large-format for the décor market, but I think what concerns some smaller print companies - and it’s something that I consider - is the length of time it takes to build up a sensible in-house trade from it.

If we were to offer something on foamex and we have to send it out, we know that one day soon we could bring that in-house. We’d start selling it, build up demand, buy a printer to meet the demand and we’d be off. With fabric, the time it will take me to be able to buy a printer in is much longer - I know if I start selling fabric print I’m going to have to outsource it for five years to build up the demand I need to buy the relevant printer - so I’m more resistant to that change. By then I won’t be at the leading edge of that market. I want to concentrate on offering product I can produce in-house with less of a build-up time and get quirky options to market first.

Saying all that, we do print fabric with our latex printer - such as roll-up blinds. We now offer a product that Papergraphics has recently started doing- basically a blind in a box. So we’re selling those to clients like Nando’s etc.

I actually think one of the real drivers in interiors will be bringing 2D and 3D together. We are seeing a trend toward graphics that are both more interactive, and physically 3D. So, for example, we’ve been in talks with a company that want a world map on their wall. They want a customised wallcovering behind the map, which in turn is made of acrylic or foamex or something and stands proud of the wall, and in that map they want us to drill holes in the locations of their offices, and place LEDs that turn on and off depending on when those offices are open/closed depending on time zone. This kind of thing is becoming popular not only in offices, but in retail and museums etc. 

Even in the home market, we’ve been asked for things like 3D butterflies that can be applied to one of our tree wall decals, but that can be detached from the branches and moved about! People get ideas from the spaces they visit and the ideas flow down the markets.

Getting print possibilities in front of creatives is notoriously difficult. What does the sector need to do to get its message across and stimulate the market for all these potential interiors applications?
For us, getting good visuals online of projects we’ve completed is a huge focus. We send a professional photographer in to as many of the projects we complete as we can, and we spread them of social media to really good effect.

Also, we need to do better as a sector in talking to those in the creative industries. The charisma within the print sector is something that needs to be worked on! I think things are changing as more young people inject a vibrancy into the industry.

So we need to become better marketers.
Yes. I do lots of talks and presentations to industry leaders and try and do a lot of networking with influencers – so for instance I go to events for those in architectural design and construction etc. At the moment I’m trying to pull together another breakfast session with people from those areas. We’ve done two already and they are really great ways of getting your message across to people at a high level.

We also send out really unusual inspiration packs – not just print samples, but for instance we’ve recreated some of the products used in a really cool job for a client and send the actual products out with the case study – so people can actually see and feel what we’re talking about.

The more companies do this sort of thing the more it will raise the game across the industry and help show-off what’s possible to more people and to better effect.

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