As the economy continues to reopen, businesses are looking for ways to keep employees and customers safe, and wide-format printing has played a major role in socially distancing people at least 6 feet apart in what were formerly crowded spaces.
“Any place that is actually having employees still come in, and it’s still standard day-to-day stuff—they’re having to outfit themselves with wide-format printing,” Chris Fink, account manager/sales at Houston-based Signs2Trade.com, indicated. “... It’s almost like an [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] sign [that] needs to be up. It’s getting to that point.”
In fact, he noted floor decals, specifically, caught the attention of Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, who spotted them at a restaurant while he was walking around Washington, D.C., in the spring.
Floor graphics are the new normal during the COVID-19 pandemic to convey social distance and store navigation, offer reminders to wash and sanitize hands frequently, and alert people of new rules like wearing a mask to enter. Instead of having someone relay the policy changes, signage educates people without having an actual person breaking the 6-foot-separation rule for that task. And the love for floor graphics isn’t new as they have been building up their popularity over the past three years or so with consistent year-over-year growth, Fink noted.
Why the floor, though? Because that’s where everyone tends to look anyway.
“We had a person from Japan that we met at a trade show, and they said the floor graphics are so big in Japan because everyone’s on their phones,” Fink said. “And funny enough as you’re looking down at your phone, your eye will still catch the graphic on the ground. So, I would say people are mainly looking down at their phones and, therefore, it gives that opportunity for the graphic or communication that you’re trying to convey [to be seen].”
Whether it’s floor graphics or banners or any wide-format product your client is eyeing, ensure you’re ready for the ever-changing needs in these weird times. We spoke to Fink; Paul Britten, president of Britten Studios, Traverse City, Mich.; and Lance Luka, president and owner of Ignite Graphics, Elmhurst, Ill., to learn more trends and sales tips for wide format during the pandemic.
Meet the Need for Speed
There is no advanced planning for tomorrow, let alone next month or later this year with reopenings and having to keep pace with so many safety precautions. If there’s a common demand in wide format currently, it’s with the turnaround time.
“Especially with the COVID pandemic, everyone needs something, and they need it now,” Fink said.
To keep up with the lightning-fast turns requested, Luka recently invested in a second wide-format printer, a Fujifilm Acuity Select, after purchasing his initial Fujifilm two years ago.
“We would get a fair amount of opportunity that would come in, and it would be too large of a job or too quick of a turnaround, and we basically—the reason why we bought this brand new machine is it more than doubled our speeds,” he said. “... I think we’re like 10 or 11 boards an hour on this machine and we were like five before. So, if it was something really large, we wouldn’t even be able to produce it in time. And with all the in-store signage and the social distancing stickers and decals and all that stuff, [there] has definitely been bigger sales nowadays because of all of that.”
Follow New Leads
Yes, some of your business may have dried up, but that doesn’t mean your sales overall should be down. Let your clients know you’re there for them when they need you, but then shift to find businesses that need you now. For Signs2Trade.com, any lost business has translated into COVID-19-related sales, so the same can be true for distributors.
“Find businesses that are needing to outfit themselves with social-distance-practicing signage,” Fink said. “At this point, everyone is going to be needing it. It’s been discussed as a new normal. And if you’re able to provide that type of product as a need, then so be it. You should be thriving, I guess you could say. It’s a thriving time for that, unfortunately.”
This might actually include letting your current customers know everything you have to offer. Don’t wait for your clients to come to you with wide-format needs. Educate them on what’s in your arsenal of offerings and then package it with what they’re already purchasing from you.
“I think that this is a segment in our industry that a lot of times distributors don’t think of when they’re talking to their clients, and they don’t realize that their clients probably are doing a fair amount of in-store signage or outside signage that they didn’t think to capture,” Luka said.
Focus on Rebounding Verticals
Vertical markets aren’t all on equal footing during the pandemic, but there are still some creative solutions to offer. Britten noted that traditional advertising hasn’t returned yet, but commercial leasing is back in action, so here are four other verticals and how they’re using wide format right now.
In general, large events don’t have a return in sight. Britten Studios experienced huge cancellations for event projects, including Coachella and Lollapalooza. On the other hand, Luka noticed that Disney reopened to guests and he couldn’t imagine how much social distancing signage the fairytale locale must have purchased, so it’s all about finding the clients who are back in action, like sporting events that mostly returned last month. Though fans are not permitted to attend, leagues have altered their advertising methods to offset the revenue loss as best as they can.
Britten Studios has been working on a variety of seat covers for professional and collegiate stadiums. But these aren’t individual seat covers that block off designated seats to encourage social distancing. These large signs constructed of dye-sublimated flag-knit fabric cover entire sections.
“We’re doing three major stadiums in the New York area for a national championship series,” he said. “And those three stadiums—they’re a substantial amount of print.”
Another stadium seating option is fake fans in the stands—die-cut printouts with round corners—that teams are using to recognize health care workers or as a revenue generator by allowing fans to submit photos of themselves to turn into a one-dimensional version of themselves that can safely attend the games. Luka saw these in use on TV during the Cubs versus White Sox exhibition game in Chicago, and has been giving quotes for similar orders at Ignite Graphics.
“They were doing cutouts of people to make it look like the seats were filled,” he said. “Then they were playing sounds of the crowd cheering when someone would hit a ball or something to try to make it seem as realistic as possible.”
Some retailers were open as essential businesses, while others are just reopening and in need of signage. However, some have opened and reclosed, and others may be still awaiting the go-ahead. At Britten Studios, the printer assisted Wal-Mart with its wayfinding and COVID-19 messaging signage.
“There’s some COVID directional signage and wayfinding signage where people are coming in and they’re saying, ‘Start here,’ ‘Go here,’ ‘Aisles only going one direction’—the stores need to be able to direct people in multi-directions and get them around more than they used to,” he said. “And so we’re seeing some of that.”
In the first quarter, Luka had large retailer in-store signage projects that were cancelled at the start of the pandemic, but he’s hopeful about their return down the line.
“I do believe it’s coming back,” he said. “It’s not like it’s been killed or cancelled. We have very competitive rates and ... it’s a good client, so we believe we’ll get it when they relaunch it, reinstitute it.”
Bars and Restaurants
Britten Studios created large banners with patterns printed on each side that hung from the ceiling to separate booths at a restaurant so it could reopen safely, but for the most part, bars and restaurants with little or no outdoor footprints are finding they have more freedom with outdoor dining as it is considered safer during the pandemic.
About three years ago, Britten Studios started offering infrastructure for outdoor solutions in addition to signage, like the multimillion dollar Piazza Pod Park in Philadelphia. To help a brewpub near Comerica Park, home of the Detroit Tigers, conform to social distancing restrictions, Britten Studios embarked on another infrastructure project by modifying shipping containers and adding full-coverage graphics to create an outdoor bar. The company also added 4x16' dye-sublimated polyester flags on 25' portable flagpoles around the perimeter of the space.
“That’s been a bright spot during this pandemic,” Britten said. “Those visions have been a bright spot because people are trying to create outdoor venues. They can’t bring people inside the restaurants.”
When transitioning signage that was previously for indoor use only, there are some new considerations in play and it’s important to make your printer aware of the promotion’s outdoor duration.
“Both of our machines are brand new LED UV presses,” Luka said. “So, they’re instantly dry, they’re weather-resistant, they can get rained on and so forth, so that’s really one of the reasons why we also wanted to go with that so it can do outdoor signage.”
This election campaign season will look much different since in-person events go against social distancing recommendations, but don’t count campaign-themed, wide-format signage out completely. Typically, it would be in high demand now as presidential campaigns hold large rallies and fundraisers throughout the country, but since state and local candidates don’t get as much free air time (and don’t have the big budgets for TV ads), they are still relying on signage to get name recognition.
“A lot of the things we’re seeing is still the local shops who are trying to fulfill things for their local candidate,” Fink said. “And then on the large scale, we haven’t seen nearly as [many] quotes or bids for your presidential campaigns by any means. We still get one or two here and there that might be for something of large scale, but mostly [it’s] been pretty dialed down.”
This vertical aside, Luka is starting to see the return of normal business as their books are filling up again.
“We’re already seeing in August and September, just a massive influx of work that people have already committed to—that you can tell people have been holding onto for several months and they say, ‘OK, now I need it in two weeks’—that kind of thing,” he said. “I think there’s going to be a backlog, logjam of work all at the same time coming in so I think people should start looking for that work now.”
Regardless of the coronavirus signage, Signs2Trade.com is looking for a return to pre-pandemic business.
“We just hope that things can get back to normal, and the events that we were talking about get to where people can go outside—everything to just open up because once things open up, they’ll need their signage again and a different message to go out,” Fink said.