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Investigating Graphics Installation for Retail Markets
By Dan Marx, Vice President of Markets and Technologies, SGIA
Successfully serving retail clients is about much more than simply printing graphics.
Finishing technologies and materials transform the print into the intended product, and shipping and fulfillment deliver the product to one or many worksites. It is at this point that graphics installers take center stage - positioning the graphics in their correct location and ensuring they will stay in place until they are ready to be taken down.
To get a closer look at graphics installation for retail markets, SGIA spoke with three installation professionals with significant experience in this area: Nathan Franzblau of Graphic Application Systems, Bob Jacob of International Installations and Pete Kouchis of VisuCom Graphics.
SGIA: Can you briefly describe your company, which retail markets you currently serve and how long your company has been doing graphic installations for this sector?
Franzblau: Graphic Application Systems is an installation service company based in Jacksonville, Florida. We have no print capability and we prefer point-of-purchase installation programs. We've been in this industry since 1980.
Jacob: International Installations, out of Barbertson, Ohio, has been in business for more than 35 years. The markets we have served are automotive, petroleum, clothing and jewelry as well as architectural graphics. We provide rollout programs for retailers with multiple locations in the US and Canada. We also have done small-scale work in other countries.
Kouchis: VisuCom Graphics is based in Orland Park, Illinois. We have been in the graphics industry for 20 years, but have focused on installations for the past five years. Our primary market is the retail sector, especially flagship and first-tier stores where quality and detail are critical. We also provide vehicle wrap installations, but tend to avoid the fleet semi-trailer market, focusing more on cars and vans.
SGIA: How does your company define retail markets? Does it include indoor and outdoor applications, walls and vehicles, etc., or is it something more specific?
Jacob: For our retail clients, we apply self-adhesive graphics both indoors and outdoors on barricades, vehicles, walls and windows. We also set up and install displays, signage and architectural letters.
Franzblau: For us, retail markets are companies that usually have multiple stores in multiple areas. The installations we do are usually to the building interiors, but can include all exterior surfaces including rough texture surfaces. Vehicles may or may not be included, depending on the job.
Kouchis: The retail markets we serve are typically national retailers compared to locals. We also serve boutique shops that put a focus on visual merchandising and need services beyond what their in-house people can handle effectively. Typically they can include wall, window, floor and fixture graphics - mostly interior. Occasionally they will be exterior barricades or textured surfaces.
SGIA: When serving retail clients, what are some of the primary considerations installation companies should keep in mind?
Kouchis: When doing retail-based jobs, we are representing our client, who typically is out of state and will not be onsite. They rely on our discretion and professionalism to maintain the client relationship and to bring the job to a satisfactory end. Confirming schedules, needs and expectations is very important. Being aware of the installation site and knowing what equipment might be needed, as well as being prepared for the unexpected and thinking outside the box when necessary are all keys to our success.
Franzblau: Working conditions and work area availability must always be considered. Many clients - stores, for instance - are open and serving their clients while we work. This requires coordination with both our client and each facility's management to maximize working efficiencies for us and for the client.
Jacob: An installation company should keep in mind that detailed job information is very important to both the customer as well as the installer. The installation company needs to be on time with all materials necessary to complete the job. The installers should be well versed on the job details. Informing the client if there are problems before the install starts, whenever possible, is also very important. Good appearance and a polite manner are essential in most retail environments.
SGIA: How does your company work to coordinate the logistics behind multiple-location retail rollouts, and what are some of the potential problems that can arise during this type of large-scale job?
Franzblau: Planning for these programs usually comes from the client, since they must coordinate production of point-of-purchase materials with their suppliers, schedule the arrival of graphics and schedule our installation service. We may be called on to assist with installation coordination in our assigned locations. Problems will and do occur in programs, and these are overcome through a high level of communication between us and the store planning staff.
Jacob: We make sure that all pertinent information has been sent to all parties involved, including time requirements, contact information and deadline dates. We make sure that the installer contacts the store before going to the install, and also that digital pictures of the completed job are provided for the customer. Instructions are given to each installation company in a rollout regarding job reporting and what to do if a problem arises. If the instructions are followed, problems are kept to a minimum and are easier to deal with. Customers do not like surprises, so keeping them informed is crucial.
Kouchis: Handling large-scale rollouts requires more skill than most people realize. There are several installation companies which specialize in this service. We typically focus on multiple locations within our service region and leave the national programs to those with the experience and resources to handle them correctly. The most important part of these rollouts is good communication, accountability and accurate, thorough information about the project, materials and timetables.
SGIA: Among the retail installations your company does, what types of applications and materials do you see on the rise, and what do you see as declining in use?
Jacob: For our business, wraps and air egress materials are certainly on the rise. Our business has seen a very large decline in both bus and trailer wraps.
Kouchis: We have seen a sharp rise in the amount of UV-printed materials. I believe this will continue, as the end product can be more cost effective and better for the environment. Sustainability is now becoming more of a reality than just rhetoric. We have seen an increase in direct-to-substrate printing as well.
Franzblau: Clients are always looking for cutting-edge point-of-purchase display materials to attract and inform their customers. This is market and economy-driven, and is the decision of the client as to how much and when they want to move these programs along.
SGIA: How have recent developments in the materials used to create applied graphics changed the current retail installation landscape, and what has your company done to address these changes?
Franzblau: In our case, the retailers themselves are making material choices. We keep abreast of all of the materials available to the marketplace, so that we can provide any and all installations the client may ask for.
Kouchis: I believe the advances in adhesive systems and the increased product range utilizing air egress technology has given a false sense of confidence to many retailers who believe they might be able to facilitate more of their own installations. I have respected the client's efforts to control costs, and at times revisited them to review the results of their efforts. Often, we need to let them "test the waters" in order for them to realize that there is more to our installation services than simply dragging a squeegee across the vinyl.
Jacob: Along with the popularity of air egress materials and the speed in which they are produced comes a need to react faster and be more aware of the quality issues that may arise. My company has tried to learn to recognize these problems and to pass this information on to the producing company before they actually start production.
SGIA: What are three things any installation company can do to better serve the needs of retail clients, and how can graphics producers help them achieve this goal?
Kouchis: Be informed: Know what the expectations are, who the site contact is, what the schedule requirements are and what materials you will be installing. Be prepared: Communicate with the producer and ask questions when necessary. Have the tools and supplies required to complete the installation. Plan for the unexpected and be ready to adapt to unforeseen problems. Be committed: Always remember that you are the frosting on the cake. Successful completion of your installation is critical to the overall success of the project and the health of the client/producer relationship.
A "hurry up" mentality is a recipe for disaster. Take the time to inform the installer of the materials, the scope of work, provide detailed plans and pictures, and be clear about any special needs or requirements. Completing the installation successfully helps ensure future work for all of us.
Franzblau: First and foremost we have to listen to what they are saying and asking of us. We have to always be in step with their requirements and be flexible and ready when the rollouts are set to begin. Graphic producers must do the same so that time, products and installation all arrive at the same spot and at the same moment they are needed.
Jacob: Installers need to be more knowledgeable of the materials they use as well as the surfaces with which they are working. My number one complaint with most jobs is that a survey is rarely done and the job info is almost always wrong. I would advise a survey be required for most jobs. The graphics producer needs to be more aware of the right material needed for the job. Too often the wrong material is used and the installers must fight to make it work. For instance, putting an air egress material on a wall painted with flat paint is a recipe for disaster.
Nathan Franzblau is president of Graphic Application Systems, a full-service graphics installation company based in Jacksonville, Florida.
An installation industry veteran, Bob Jacob has provided large and small volume installations for more than 25 years. A large number of these installations have been large rollout programs both in the US and worldwide.
Pete Kouchis has nearly 20 years of experience in the vinyl graphics industry. His company, VisuCom Graphics, specializes in vehicle wraps and graphic installation, including retail installations with a focus on servicing the high-end client.
This article appeared in the SGIA Journal, March/April 2011 Issue and is reprinted with permission. Copyright 2011 Specialty Graphic Imaging Association (www.sgia.org). All Rights Reserved.
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