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Connecting printed fabrics and hardware

Features, Graphics | January 1, 2009 | By:

Installation hardware is part of the package print shops now offer.

There’s a symbiotic relationship between printed fabrics and the hardware used to display those colorful materials. Neither element can truly succeed without the expected performance of the other. Imagine the deadline-challenged printer, who has delivered against a time-sensitive deadline, and then gets a call from a frantic client unable to properly set up a trade show exhibit. If the printer had supplied hardware that he or she knew would work, this would not happen. Instead, the printer would have a happy customer and a lot less stress.

While selling hardware as part of a complete graphics package can bring in some additional revenue, printers often consider that service a cost of doing business. Rich Thompson, president of Ad Graphics Inc. in Pompano Beach, Fla., says, “Sometimes selling hardware is a headache and hassle because it’s a necessary evil to be able to sell the graphics. We’re not able to mark it up very well.”

Fitting fabric to frame

Thompson points out that downward pressure on prices can come from customers as well as competitors. “There are a lot of folks who will go online and start searching for hardware or banner stands to see what it costs,” he explains. “They think we should only mark it up so much. A lot of times they can find prices online actually cheaper than what we can buy it from the manufacturers we use. They don’t know the difference between the hardware. To them a banner stand or roll-up display is six of one, half-dozen of the other. They are all the same to them. They don’t realize there is a big difference in quality.”

Nora Norby, president of Banner Creations Inc. in Minneapolis, Minn., has faced challenges from customers who purchase display hardware separately. “We have customers that want to fit what we make to an existing frame,” she says. “Over the years of experience, we decided we wouldn’t warrant anything we make unless we have the frame in-house. You can’t make something fit to something you don’t have. Each fabric acts a little differently.” Thompson shares this experience, “In one case a customer insisted on purchasing hardware separately. We made the graphics and it didn’t fit. It was an instance where our fears played out.”

The one-stop shop

On the other end of the spectrum, many customers are looking for a single resource for printed graphics and display hardware. Tony Schmitt, product development director, Optima Graphics, Fenton, Mo., reports, “We’re finding more and more that our customers are looking for the one-stop shop. They don’t want to have to go to one source to find graphics and another source for hardware or this component or that component. They want to get that in as few places as possible. We try to meet that need.

“Historically we’ve partnered with hardware companies,” Schmitt continues. “Over time the market has changed such that a lot of those hardware companies are now getting into graphics. Now, by default, if our customers need graphics and hardware together, we need to find hardware to offer. We take the approach that we are a graphics company and the hardware is not necessarily intended to be a source of revenue but necessary for the display of the graphics.”

Since most printers work with distributors or manufacturers to source their installation hardware, finding a trustworthy, reliable partner is critical. Hardware can be the smallest part of the package but vital to success. Mike Kurilec, managing director for Expolinc in Mount Gilead, Ohio, points out that providing hardware can lead to revenue growth, as well as a customer service benefit. “It’s another way to strengthen your relationship with your customers as a single source.

The customers don’t have to buy the hardware, get the graphics and hope they match up, and avoid the headaches that go along with that.”

Banner Creations works with a short list of companies. “We have good working relationships with them,” Norby says. “It’s about going with the same people over and over because you trust what they do. We spend a lot of time and energy trying to find the best hardware suppliers. At some point it doesn’t make sense to keep trying to source a better or cheaper vendor. Go with what you know and what works. I’m sure there are many companies that are good, but we would rather work with just a few that we know and trust. We’ve worked with some for 15 years or more.”

Consistent quality counts

Finding trusted partners can also alleviate quality problems that can frustrate printers. “To be competitive you need to be able to provide a range of different types of hardware,” Schmitt says. “Inevitably there’s going to be that concern about quality. A lot of it is a commodity-based item so you need to make sure the quality is consistent, not only within
a particular order that you receive but from order to order to order.”

Quality issues have affected the range of products Banner Creations offers. “There are some things we’ve simply stopped selling because of quality issues,” Norby says. “We don’t carry that product anymore. It’s just not worth it. It’s hard to get a sense of comfort when you get burned several times.”

Kurilec confirms the role reliability plays in building trust and long-term business relationships. “We design from three perspectives: the producer, the user and, most important, the person who has to view the graphics,” he says. “From the producer’s standpoint, we try to design our products so they are consistent. Buy one today, buy one next year and they are the same.”

Addressing the quality issue, Thompson says, “We make a concerted effort to purchase from people that we know and trust and have a relationship with. That’s what’s most important in the long run. If the hardware is faulty, it’s a reflection on the graphics even if it shouldn’t be. The customers see it as that.”

Continued growth of digitally printed fabrics will require a close and mutually beneficial relationship with the manufacturers and distributors who market the display and installation hardware. One can’t succeed without the other.

Lou Dzierzak is a freelance writer based in Richfield, Minn.

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