Once again, over 200 print companies took part in this annual poll designed to take the temperature of the wide-format print market. This is a synopsis of the main findings but for the full report go to http://www.imagereportsmag.co.uk/widthwise/
This is the fifth consecutive year that Image Reports has conducted its Widthwise Survey of the UK and Ireland’s wide-format digital inkjet print sector. And once again, over 200 companies involved in this space took part in the poll, which this year became Widthwise+ to allow print companies already involved in digital print – but not yet in wide-format – to get involved in the survey for comparison sake. A number of companies from the wider European community were also asked to provide data to the same end.
The poll was conducted earlier this year, with a total of 227 respondents, of which 91.2% came from the UK. Of the total sample 89.9% run wide-format digital inkjet printers [the rest running production presses/digital printers, but not wide format]. Almost two-thirds (62.3%) of those involved in wide-format bought their first digital inkjet printer over five years ago. Only 3.4% are new to the sector, having bought their first such machine in the course of the last year.
We will concentrate on the data from the print companies involved in wide-format in the UK/Ireland to provide a comparative study of the sector in relation to previous Widthwise polls - but will highlight any significant findings in relation to the whole sample where they occur.
Firstly, of those involved in wide-format 30.4% said they also have digital production presses. Almost two-thirds (63.9%) said they expect wide-format to become a bigger ratio of their work over the next two years (31.7% expect the ratio to remain the same and 4.4% expect it to fall).
Although 43.3% said wide-format margins are better than other parts of their business this is a smaller percentage than those saying the same thing last year (48%), but with 43.8% saying they are about equal (34% in 2011) and fewer - 12.8% - reporting they are worse (18% in 2011).
When asked how wide-format margins specifically had changed in 2011, 38.2% said they had seen a drop off, 35.3% said they stayed the same but, encouragingly, 26.5% saw an increase. This is pretty reflective of overall margins across the sample. 38.4% said overall business margins fell over the period, 33.5% reckoned they remained the same and 28.1% saw an overall increase – a slightly brighter picture than was painted by the 2011 Widthwise poll.
The state of the general economy continues to dominate when it comes to major concerns for business, followed by price competition and then reduced demand for print/competition from electronic media - which is on a par with availability/cost of finance.
However, recruitment is still definitely on the cards, with 51.5% of those involved in wide-format saying they will be looking for additional employees over the next two years. Print production staff remains the highest priority with 50% saying that’s where they will primarily recruit, but that’s significantly lower than the 62% that said the same thing in 2011. This time around 45.2% said sales/marketing staff will be prioritised (36% in 2011), 42.3% design (30%) and 36.5% finishing (26%). Business development is the next highest concern with 18.3% prioritising recruitment in that area, but this is quite a jump from the 7% that flagged it up in the 2011 survey. Internet/online development came in at 18.3% too (15% in 2011).
Finding/entering new wide-format digital printing markets/offering new services remains a priority, with 61.8% saying it is a high/very high priority. Of those that are looking to diversify their wide-format business, growing turnover and margin are equal frontrunners when it comes to why they plan to do so - both ahead of differentiation from the competition, which is perhaps something that could be more of a focus seeing as such as high percentage of players are involved in the mainstream areas of exhibition and display graphics (78.2%), posters (73.8%) and general banners/flags/signage (68.8%).
Unsurprisingly, exhibition and display graphics also scored highest when it came to asking print companies what was the fastest growing part of their wide-format offering, with 26.3% citing that area of work. Retail/POP/POS came a close second at 22%, with the likes of floor packaging (3.2%), graphics (2.7%) and industrial speciality (2.7%).
Over half (58.3%) said that they have had to make strategic changes within business to win work from new markets/applications. 46.2% said they have restructured and/or refocused sales/marketing teams and more than a third (35%) spend more time on applications R&D. Over a quarter of respondents cited each of the following as areas for the same purpose: working more closely with suppliers to identify/sell new applications; recruit people with specific new sector knowledge; and realign branding/company name/Website image. And, almost half use Facebook (49.5%) and LinkedIn (48.9%) as business tools
In terms of how businesses have had to change to meet customer demand, 52.7% said they have had to innovate/add services in the area of design and 40.6% have had to look at installation services. Things like campaign analytics and integrated print/video polled at 7.9% and 5.5% respectively.
When it came to technology, solvent printers remained at the top of the pile when it came to the types of wide-format kit companies own. 56.3% said they have a solvent machine (inc. eco-solvent), followed by aqueous printers (43.2%), laminators (33.2%) and UV-curable flatbed printers (24.6%). Textile printers still only polled 3.5% - and they are not high on the list of immediate must-have’s either.
Overall, 37.3% said they would be investing more in their businesses in 2012/13 compared to 2011, with another 39.2% saying they would be spending about the same amount. (Only 6.4% said they reckoned an a zero spend in each period.) A tad over half (50.5%) said they expected to buy a digital wide-format printer in the next two years (23.5% didn’t know and 26% said they wouldn’t). Top of the picks came latex printers, with 37.4% saying they expect to buy such a machine. UV curable flatbed machines also scored high (35.4%). Textile printers came significantly lower down with 8.1%, above only UV curable roll-fed printers (7.1%) and print-and-cut roll-fed units (also 7.1%).
Asked if they would be investing in digital narrow format/production presses over the next two years 10.8% said yes. Of those investing here the top choices were for colour MFP/copiers at 45+ppm (27.3%) and production level colour laser printers (also 27.3%).
The environmental section of the survey findings remains as confused as ever. 54.7% said it was more important to offer green options than two years ago, pretty much echoing last year’s survey. But we have anomalies: then 18.7% thought it not important to offer green options at all and 9% thought it less important that it was two years previous. This time around fewer thought it unimportant at 6.9%, but far more - 19.7% - thought it less important than two years ago! What is clear is that more customers are asking about a print company’s environmental accreditations and sustainability plans. While 49% said no clients ask for these (as opposed to 63% in 2011), 38.6% said some do (33% last year) and 12.4% said most do (4%, 2011).
In response to these customer demands – and no doubt for economic reasons too - 55.6% of respondents said they had taken steps to reduce their energy consumption, 50.6% to use recyclable materials, 48.1% to reduce/recycle in-house waste, and 45.7% to reduce their carbon footprint. Significant numbers also said they were taking other environmental steps to become ‘greener’, with 7.4% having hired an environmental consultant.
63.9% said they expect wide-format to become a bigger ratio of their work over the next two years
43.3% said wide-format margins are better than other parts of their overall business
38.2% said wide-format margins had fallen in 2011, 35.3% said they stayed the same and 26.5% saw an increase.
51.5% of those involved in wide-format saying they will be looking for additional employees over the next two years
61.8% said finding/entering new wide-format digital printing markets/offering new services is a high or very high priority.
58.3% said that they have had to make strategic changes within business to win work from new markets/applications.
52.7% said they have had to innovate/add services in the area of design
37.3% said they would be investing more in their businesses in 2012/13 compared to 2011
50.5% said they expected to buy a digital wide-format printer in the next two years
45.7% have taken steps to reduce their carbon footprint