Q&A: How to Adapt to New Demands

Part two of the Editorial Advisory Board annual roundtable discussion.

This is part two in a series in which Big Picture's Editorial Advisory Board shares their experiences from the past year in the industry. Read part one and part three.

EAB

Brian Adam, President/Owner, Olympus Group
Elaine Scrima, VP Operations, GSP 
Tanya McNab, Founder/Creative Director, McNab Visual Strategies
Brian Hite, President, Image Options  
Carol Yeager, Owner/Creative Director, MY Prints 
Stan Lucas, Business Development Manager, Wide Format, DCG One 
Bob Kissel, President/CEO, KDM P.O.P Solutions Group
Gary Schellerer, VP/Partner, ER2 Image Group 
Diana Herrera, President, AP Imaging
Carmen Rad, Founder/President, CR&A Custom

Most tradeshows and industry events moved from in-person to virtual platforms. Explain how this change affected your business. Did you have more time to attend virtual events? Or, without hotel and airfare booked, did you add them to your calendar and never actually log in? 

SL I did find myself attending more virtual events, tradeshows, and webinars. I found them helpful and worthwhile in general. I do, however, doubt that virtual events will replace actual tradeshows, which allow extended examination of equipment, materials, and products, as well as deeper conversations with peers and suppliers, which is supremely valuable. I attended most virtual events I signed up for. Or, if my work day caused a detour, I would revisit those that had been recorded. Daily workflow could occasionally interrupt my attending a virtual event.

BK Tradeshows didn’t have a lot of effect on our company because we only attend a few a year [pre-COVID-19]. We attended one or two virtual events, but those didn’t seem as impactful.

TM I personally am tired of the zoom calls, and virtual meeting. It’s not the same to me and I find it very hard to stay focused. So, while I had the best of intentions, there were very few virtual events that I actually did login to when it happened. I really hope that conferences and trade events come back. I think it’s clear that while technology can fill many gaps, it can’t fill the human factor. 

BA We print for tradeshows and events, so the lack of shows had a huge impact on our business. We did attend virtual events, and while the format allows more people to attend and gives you access to experts, we did not find the virtual platforms very effective. In-person tradeshows allow you to physically see and touch the product and build meaningful new relationships and connections, something not possible at a virtual event. While we initially logged into lots of events, the value and frequency of attendance has decreased rapidly.

BH Events we usually attended did not immediately make the transition to virtual. Part of the challenge attending events virtually vs. in-person is the dedicated time away attending the event allows you to focus on the event and content or meetings. In an office environment, it’s is too easy for someone to come by and ask for assistance, to answer phone calls, or have any number of interruptions. Studies by many of the larger virtual event companies are biased. Registrations and signup numbers are exceptional, actual attendance is ok, but the average time before the attendee disconnects is as little as five minutes.

ES I do not believe virtual events affected the business per se, but virtual events have been challenging. It is different when you attend a tradeshow – you are there. Nobody can knock on your door with “Can you come look at this?” or “Do you have a second?” or “We have a problem.” It’s a little easier to get distracted during a virtual event and much harder to sit still for an hour or longer. For most of us, we are never caught up on our “to do” list and so there is always something that inevitably pops up that pulls you away from that virtual event. We never closed. I am in the office every day, and every day there are interruptions, phone calls, or internal meetings that get scheduled over the virtual ones. For me, it’s been tougher to manage.  

Additionally, it’s technology. Connections cut out, people are talking on mute, talking over one another. By and large it has worked, but is it as impactful as face to face? No. Is it more impactful than just audio calls? Probably; if for no other reason than we just miss seeing one another. And while we likely only see one another once or twice a year, the mere fact that we can’t do it makes us miss it even more. The other part of virtual platforms is you rarely have people’s undivided attention. People multi-task; it’s human nature. It’s hard to determine if people just hear the words or if they really hear the message.  

DH Yes, I added them to my calendar. I found some were very helpful and actually enjoyed the ease of use (not having to travel, for example), but I don’t think I would prefer it over actually being at a show. 


Did you purchase any equipment this year? If so, why and how was it different than other years? 

SL Yes. One new roll cutter, a 60-inch roll-to-roll device, and a new 10 x 10-foot true flatbed printer. With the presses, the manufacturer made us an offer during a “down year,” so we replaced a couple of our smaller printers.

BH Image Options has not added any significant capital expenditures this year due to COVID-19. Our original plan was to add about $2.5 million in equipment in 2020 to support our forecast and business plan.

TM I did, but in my digital printing department. It was already on order as a usual replacement, but nothing new since then.

BK We are currently in the process to possibly purchase a new flatbed digital press.

ES From wide-format presses to finishing equipment, we purchased according to plan. COVID-19 did not impact our capital expenditures plan for 2020 at all. Lead times were a little longer. Equipment we would normally get in four to six weeks was taking six to eight weeks or eight to 10 weeks. Generally, two to four weeks longer. We had to be better planners.

GS We have been on a spending freeze since the pandemic hit. With the uncertainty in the marketplace, we felt managing our cashflow was extremely important. Right before the pandemic hit, we had purchased a Zünd CNC cutting table , which did come in handy with some of the PPE work we have been doing.

CR We purchased a new HP Latex 3600. I don’t see the purchase different than any other year except for we don’t have the amount of workflow as before, but the transactions remain the same.  

BA We purchased some finishing equipment and invested in I.T. solutions, but made the decision to pause all major Cap Excapital expenditure  purchases. We plan on upgrading our UV-printing platforms at multiple facilities over the coming months.


What application (outside of PPE and COVID-related signage) had the highest demand/growth this year? What should other PSPs consider when looking to expand their offerings?

TM All our other products really remained at the same pace, we didn’t see high demand or huge growth outside of the PPE/COVID stuff. In fact, many things declined like events and other sectors so it balanced out, but for us there wasn’t specifically a boom. 

CR We created a stronger ecommerce site and spent a great deal of time this year trying to have a better understanding of the internet world. Plus, pivoted to the interior décor market. I should be a ballerina from all our pivoting this year!

BA In printing the flexible packaging/printed corrugate market has been huge, specifically in the wide-format space, the tent market is strong.

BH Image Options is working on this, but in general it would be anything that may be less impacted by COVID-19. Could be print related, but we are looking at all opportunities for revenue and will build around the opportunity.

SL This is a tough one because there wasn’t any one thing that grew in its demand that was not pandemic related. My thoughts and observations:

  • Pandemic related: clearly window graphics and floor graphics. 
  • Not pandemic related: I don’t think there was growth in any one category, however the category that had the highest volume was still “retail” and also some in “building interiors/exteriors: walls and windows.”

For Other PSPs, I’d recommend they follow developments in retail and corporate spaces. Even if there is a vaccine, I suspect the future of those spaces will be evolving over the next several years, and I think there will be tremendous opportunity as those sectors try to accomplish such things as: 

  • Bringing customers back into the brick-and-mortar retail locations.
  • Retailers who did not survive the pandemic will be replaced by new businesses who will need new and experiential retail spaces.
  • Corporations needing to not only retain employees by upgrading their workspaces with such things as cheerful colors, murals, employee recognition areas, artwork, and photography.
  • Creating safe workspaces to minimize COVID-19 (and future viruses) infections.
  • Not simply creating safe workspaces but making employees actually “feel” safe, too. 

DH Interior décor. 

Has the way you communicate with your customers changed? If so, how? 

ES Outside of in-person visits, I don’t think we communicated differently.    In many instances, I am not client facing but not being able to get in front of our customers was challenging but not insurmountable. There is something about face to face contact and reading body language that can help determine not only what to say but how to say it.  Many people only do audio and do not turn on their cameras so that is another challenge.   Perhaps more frequently to ensure we were meeting their  “their “new” needs because the needs of our customers were also changing.  

TM At the onset yes, we ramped up our communication because it was important for our clients to know we are still here and how we were adapting to assist them. As things are starting to normalize, we are somewhat back to usual, with the exception of the Zoom calls which we make ourselves available for at all times. 

CR I find that I am still a traditional B2B. I call my clients and speak to them. We also found that when our team reaches out, we have more success.  At the same time, we are developing more email blast strategies and also spent more money on Facebook and Instagram ads.

SL Definitely. Fewer sales calls in-person, more conference calls, and teleconferencing. The consultative approach has become more difficult… not impossible, as some technologies are bridging those difficulties, but there has definitely been a decrease in intelligent and comprehensive consultation on projects.

BH We are communicating more on Microsoft Teams and Zoom, but are fortunate our customer relationships are as deep and long lived as they are. We have not had any real impact other than becoming even closer with customers.

BK Most of our customers are working remotely. It’s also hard to prospect new business and call on existing customers.

BA Yes. We are a personable company and loved engaging with our customers, visiting them, and connecting with them. We have been more deliberate about attempting to connect via phone, but have found it to be a challenging substitute for in person meetings.

GS Almost all our meetings are now virtual. Video conferencing is the standard at this time and will probably be for a while.

DH Yes, more email, text, phone calls, and definitely Zoom or Teams video meetings.
 

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