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The seed has been sown

The seed has been sown

According to industry surveys this print sector is well aware that it needs to be more proactive and innovative in finding new business. In 2010 will businesses start to reap the benefits of the hard work ploughed in during 2009?
With spring just around the corner, will you start to see the fruits of your labours? According to various industry surveys and reports, a great swath of wide-format print companies tried to counter the bleak economic landscape of 2009 by sowing seeds of innovation that might see them prosper in the months and years ahead.

Given that the print industry is often cited as being myopic and too production focussed, having too little good business acumen and with not enough emphasis on long-term business development, seeing companies taking this proactive approach will perhaps change that perception. Whether or not that happens hardly matters - the point is, a significant proportion of print companies are being proactive in developing not only their own business but the sector as a whole. Through conversations and topical Round Table discussions with printers over the course of the last year it has become apparent that innovation as a business strategy has become a key driver for many of the players in today's market. Recent data proves it.

A survey undertaken by Fespa / InfoTrends in December 2009 showed that of the 217 companies (wide-format printers, manufacturers/suppliers and others) that responded over half (56.4%) said they thought 2009 was the worst year in the industry's history. But, the great news is that 72% said they thought wide-format would recover to previous levels during 2010. That's hardly likely to be totally due to the shaky end of Britain's recession and more to do with a new-found zeal to grow opportunity.

70% of the Fespa / InfoTrends survey respondents indicated that they had employed some kind of innovative process or created some kind of innovative product in order to help them though the economic downturn of 2009. 61.5% had added new products to their portfolio and 60.6% had entered new business areas. 39.9% had made changes in their sales strategies to boost business.

Tim Greene, director, wide format and jetting technologies at InfoTrends, comments: "The economic downturn has accelerated demand for higher service levels, so it's important for PSPs to be flexible in responding to profitable opportunities.  While the requirement for faster and more capable equipment has become a given in the wide-format market, research tells us that new markets and new application areas are what most respondents are looking for."  

Attracting new business also came out top of the recent BAPC mini survey, which asked printers to list what they considered to be the most important challenge during 2010. As you might expect, retaining existing business came second but third was implementing a marketing strategy - something that has been sadly lacking within many PSPs. Interestingly, Web-to-print entered the top ten for the first time, an indication perhaps that companies are looking at new ways to do business.

In the 2009 Widthwise Survey conducted by Image Reports last spring, there were strong signs that this would be the case. Finding new markets came out top of the pile when wide-format print companies were asked to prioritise various areas of business development. At that time 88% said they expected the Internet to bring them new business over the next two years. It will be interesting to see how far they've already come when the 2010 Widthwise survey is conducted in a few weeks. There's little doubt that the sector's innovative use of Web-to-print and variable data printing/versioning for instance will start to bear more fruit in 2010. All the signs are that print businesses have become a lot more savvy in marketing new applications capabilities and are structuring operations so that they can more creatively and efficiently go after high margin new niches.

It will be interesting to see how recruitment is affected by the shift in attitude. Should we expect to see the role of business development manager come more to the fore as 2010 progresses? Will 'sales' be restructured to reflect the move towards more strategic services management? Will we see printers target the younger generation for the value of their IT skills and can-do attitude in recognition that better PSP/client communication is needed to fertilise the soil in which new applications/business can flourish?

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