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A Year in Review

As the sun sets on another busy year in the sign-making and wide-format print markets, Rob Fletcher takes a look back over the past year and picks out some of the key developments in our industry

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Opportunities on the horizon

In a year when Salisbury found itself the attention of the world’s media, Brexit became even more confusing and football nearly came home, we have also seen plenty of developments across the sign-making and wide-format print sectors.

First and foremost, it has been yet another strong year for both of these markets. While uncertainty remains on key issues such as Brexit and the environment, it is safe to say that there is plenty to be positive about in the industry as a whole, with plenty of good news stories flooding the pages of Signlink each month.

That said, there have been some challenges this year and plenty of lessons learnt, which will set us up nicely for another busy 12 months when scaffold-covered Big Ben strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve. Here, we speak with some of the key figures in the industry to find out about their year and gather their thoughts on what might be coming our way in 2019.

Step up to the plate

We begin on home soil with the British Sign & Graphics Associations (BSGA), one of the leading voices on the UK sign industry. Director David Catanach says the developments over the past 12 months can be viewed in a number of ways, depending on how long someone has been working in the industry.

David Catanach, director of the British Sign & Graphics Associations, believes sign-makers are seeing more opportunities away from ‘traditional’ signage

“A lot has happened over the last 10 years compared to the 10 years before that,” he says, adding: “In the main, as we see it, key is technology and the market itself. Technology, I could list faster and better machines, and materials, or the fact that the internet of things has simply changed the way sign-makers work.

“Considering the market, for example, if you told a sign-maker five years ago that today they would be doing interior décor printing, high-resolution images onto material that can cover brick walls, they would have thought you had lost your marbles. But just look and see how much that market has grown, and it is all down to new technology and materials.

“More importantly though is that sign-makers are seeing more opportunities away from ‘traditional’ signage and are stepping up to the plate.”

This will ring true with many signage companies that, over the past few years, have moved away from traditional work and into new markets in order to take advantage of the amount of work on offer. Catanach says this diversification is more important than ever before, if sign-making and wide-formant print firms are to remain both relevant and competitive in the modern market.

In terms of where growth opportunities lie, Catanach picks out certain markets in particular where he expects to see more activity in 2019: “Décor is one key trend that will definitely continue into next year, while LED and Electronic Message Centres will also continue to grow and flourish.

“I can’t remember a time when a sign-maker had so much choice of products and placement opportunities.”

Focusing more on where the industry is heading next year, Catanach says: “The challenge will be coping with the looming downturn in manufacturing and other industries while Brexit is sorting itself out. However, once we know what it will be, businesses can start planning ahead with more confidence. This industry has fantastic opportunities ahead of it.”

The next 12 months will also be an exciting time for the BSGA as it becomes part of the International Sign Association (ISA), switching to the ISA-UK Powered by BSGA.

Catanach explains how this will benefit its members: “We shall be bringing much more to our members such as access to ISA’s industry leading training, including the ISA Online, On-Demand Learning System as well as being a much more viable resource for the sign industry.”

Continuing trends

Also seeking to build on a bright 2018 is Fastsigns, the global franchise network with a heavy presence in the UK. Catherine Monson, global chief executive of Fastsigns, says she has noted a number of key, UK-focused trends in the past year and fully expects these to continue into 2019.

Catherine Monson, global chief executive of Fastsigns, is hoping for a positive outcome from Brexit talks that will allow the company to enjoy “a profitable future that benefits our economy”

Monson says: “In the UK, there has definitely been continued growth in the adoption of digital signage. There’s an ever increasing understanding of the benefits that showing multiple messages throughout the day can bring, targeting different customers at different, crucial times.

O Factoid: Fastsigns has almost 700 franchise sites around the world. Its network stretches across the UK, US, Canada, Mexico, the Cayman Islands, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Australia. O

“Popular signage solutions, such as vehicle graphics, wall graphics and architectural signage remain huge in the industry. We’re also finding our customers are requesting solutions that are almost like interior décor—attractive but also functional.

“In addition to architectural signage for wayfinding purposes, there is a big trend of producing graphics that don’t have any logos, or similar, printed on them. Instead, they transform a surface to replicate wood, stone, steel and all sorts of sophisticated textures.”

Like many other business owners, Monson is hoping for a “very good outcome” in terms of the Brexit negotiations. It is no secret that the majority of businesses both inside and outside of the sign-making sector are less than pleased with the progress that has been made on talks, which has led to a high level of uncertainty as to
what we can expect after March 29th next year.

I hope Brexit will help us grow and to get beyond the uncertainty, enjoying a profitable future that benefits our economy

However, despite this uncertainty, Monson is hopeful Brexit will “bring the UK good trading relationships with the EU and the US”, adding: “I hope Brexit will help us grow and to get beyond the uncertainty, enjoying a profitable future that benefits our economy.”

Fastsigns has noted a spike in demand for digital signage in the past year and expects this trend to continue into 2019

In terms of the Fastsigns business, the company has opened four new franchisees in the UK over the past 12 months and is set to sign its fifth before the end of the year. Monson is keen to enhance this network in 2019.

She says: “For 2019, we aim to sign five to eight new franchisees, with ambitions for up to 10 more in the following year. Our goal is always for continued growth; growing ourselves as a business but also helping our franchisees to grow too and increase their profitable sales volumes.”

Versatile solutions

Looking further afield and Hybrid Services, the exclusive distributor of Mimaki kit in both the UK and Ireland, has also enjoyed a busy year. Brett Newman, chief operations manager, says the industry can look forward to more developments from Mimaki over the next 12 months.

Newman expands: “It’s a busy time at Hybrid on the back of multiple machine launches from Mimaki in 2018 and with more on the horizon, that we anticipate will take the company into new markets and better serve existing sectors with faster, more efficient and creative hardware solutions.”

In terms of how such solutions will help companies grow, Newman picks up on where this machinery will fit in with key trends that are likely to carry over into 2019.

He says: “We anticipate the trend for wide-format print firms seeking a versatile solution will continue—whereby companies invest in print hardware that’s capable of delivering a wide variety of applications. When companies are able to offer a range of products to their customers, they’re better able to retain current business and win new accounts thanks to the ease with which additional revenue generating product lines can be easily produced, which in turn benefits the printer with an improved return on their investment.”

Hybrid Services says technology like the Mimaki UJV55-320 3.2m LED UV cure printer is proving a popular solution for volume production of grand-format printed textiles

Newman also explains how the rise in popularity of UV cure technology has had a substantial impact on the sign-making industry in the past 12 months, citing the Mimaki UCJV Series LED UV printer/cutters as technology that can help open routes to new business.

He adds: “Mimaki’s launch of its UCJV Series LED UV series and the subsequent addition of further models in the range now offers the award-winning solution in sizes from 800mm to 1,610mm, capable of printing to a wide variety of substrates, making it a true Swiss Army Knife for sign-makers and print service providers.”

In short, it has been a positive year for many companies across our industry. Yes, there are plenty of challenges to contend with and some level of uncertainty on some of the key issues impacting industries aside our own. But, with the grit and determination that drives both the sign-making and wide-format print sectors, companies active in these markets can now reflect on the past year and look forward to another busy 12 months.


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