Glenn Wrigley, director of Print2Media, introduced the idea of customers being able to pay in Bitcoins, a first for the signage industry
A brave new world
One of the most wonderful things about the signage industry is its constant ability to surprise and innovate, and as the industry’s output spans from traditional hand-painted signage, to the highest of high-tech interactive digital units, it isn’t hard to see why.
One area that has been taking root for a number of years is e-commerce. The concept is simple enough—customers view and order on the sign-maker’s website, the company produces the order to the specifications and the finished product is shipped out. This clearly opens up a much wider, even global, market and streamlines a lot of the ideas of customisation. However, many e-commerce websites go under as soon as they begin.
Not so for Print2Media, a Cornwall-based producer of rigid and vinyl signs, which has something of a gift when it comes to online survival.
The customised wallpaper printed on Print2Media’s new Fujifilm Acuity UV-LED wide-format press is aimed at the home market
The company started in the midst of recession in 2008, when director Glenn Wrigley decided to branch out on his own from his work as an exhibition organiser for Haymarket Publishing. For four years following his move to Cornwall, Wrigley had continued to work as a contractor for Haymarket, organising large signage and banners for events before realising he wanted to have complete control of the signage production.
Like many young businesses, says Wrigley, this involved the purchase of a large machine with little to no space to put it, soon pointed out by Wrigley’s wife, with obvious consequences. “I told my wife that I’d bought the machine, to which she said, ‘Where’s it going to go?’” laughs Wrigley, “It did go in our front room in the end. Though, because we were building our own house at the time, the front room had a bloody great hole in the roof. Then it was about six months until we moved into an industrial unit.”
Wrigley ran the business alone with his Roland 540 for the first year before taking on another pair of hands and a few more Roland presses. Six years later and the company is still small, with only four employees running the website and production floor. However, the condensed team is no reflection on the wealth of skills available. For example, one of their employees has a degree in physics and was able to create an algorithm for the pricing of material per square-metre on the website which made sure no matter how small the selection, it would still be profitable.
Nobody’s actually paid for anything with Bitcoins yet, but it did generate a load of press. From a PR standpoint it was fantastic!”
Another multi-skilled member of the team is Dave Dean, the company’s web designer, and one of the driving forces behind Print2Media’s e-commerce website. Dean came on board when the company was beginning to experiment with its own online commerce—the Cornish town of Liskeard is rather remote, making e-commerce the obvious option for the company—as well as setting up a third-party site alongside the company’s own.
Dean explains: “I knew Glenn prior to working with him and have a back-ground in design and web development, so I joined to generally help out but also to help manage this website that he’d started with a third party. At the same time, we built the Print2media website in-house under our own steam.
Print2Media still does banner and exhibition work for agricultural outdoor events and companies such as JCB
“We then proceeded to work on our website alongside the one with the third party, and we were able to see directly the stark contrast between the two ways of working; one which was quite productive, as we had control over it ourselves, and one simply resulted in conflicts of interest.”
Get yourself Googled
Though coming from a background in web development and understanding the importance of search engine optimisation (SEO), Dean has gleaned a lot in terms of online business development. And, contrary to the popular jargon of keywords, tagging, and meta-descriptions, his answer is good old-fashioned, advertorial content.
Dean says: “I think the best advice I can give to any company managing their own website is to get somebody in-house who understands the product and can write about it in a useful, meaningful way. That is useful to the customers reading about them but is also friendly to Google. I am 100 percent sure that the most important thing for getting through on Google is having useful, authoritative copy.
Having installed the vinyl wallpaper at Sharp’s Brewery, the lads were disappointed not to get paid in beer
“This is why we would never dream about going down route some of these web-to-print storefronts we see advertised a lot now. This market is obviously very lucrative, but the point is you’ve got to be found first before you can get all those orders in. And digital share copy, as we call it, is not the way to get found in the first place. Bring the web design in-house, bring it all in-house.
Wrigley agrees, saying: “You can throw thousands of pounds at web development which is not in-house and you may not get the results you want.
"If you can, bring it in-house. We are quite lucky with Dave and his design background, as he doesn’t just have to work on the website; there’s this natural crossover between design and web development; it’s just got to be in house.”
I am 100 percent sure that the most important thing for getting through on Google is having useful, authoritative copy”
In terms of ‘being found’, Print2Media is also no stranger to publicising itself. Earlier this month, the team announced the company was to become the first
e-commerce sign-maker to accept Bit-coins as payment online.
"We’re really into new technology, all of us here are geeky, some more than others," laughs Wrigley, adding: "Nobody’s actually paid for anything with Bitcoins yet, but it did generate a load of press. From a PR standpoint it was fantastic."
Reaching for new markets
Print2Media is clearly forward-looking with no fear of taking risks, a rare quality to find in any post-recession business. Having already started branching out beyond rigid signs and banners, the company will soon be launching two new websites aimed at the home market, Tailor Made Living and Prestige Maps, which deal in wide-format customised wallpapers, posters, and canvases.
Wrigley comments: “As sign-makers, this is a sensible market to move into because we are used to producing one-off products. Every sign is unique, so low-run, low-volume jobs are within the skill set we have anyway. Also, they are all products that a wide-format printer can produce and jobs that we can quite easily do long distance.
“There are also products that we are used to producing as signs—Dibond is a good example—which are starting to be used in the home as well. The printed piece takes on a timeless quality. It’s a traditional production which, actually in a different setting, could also be used as a piece of art.”
Print2Media provide vinyl wallpapers and banners for big names, such as Sharp's Brewery in Cornwall, JCB, and St Pancras London
However, Wrigley is not blind to the potential problems with the customised home market, leading him to be careful as to what the company offers as customisable goods. For example, he says: “Our experience of vinyl in the home is OK, but you have to remember the people that buy it aren’t used to installing it, and inevitably that leads to complaints, through no fault
of the customer. Really they are just
not experienced with doing it. It’s very hard to just say, “You’re doing it wrong.”
Dean picks up on this point: “The business-to-customer (B2C) market has much higher expectations as well. For example, John Lewis will receive the smallest complaint and they will respond with immediate free returns or free exchanges. It’s really hard for a small sign company—especially one used to working into the B2B market—to build that element into the business and still sell it at a price that B2C customers expect.
As soon as you start making things bespoke to the customer, people are willing to pay that much more for it and the margins become much better”
“Also, for custom-based work, rather than using a library of images, we’ve found that as soon as you start making things bespoke to the customer, people are willing to pay that much more for it and the margins become much better.”
With such big plans for such a little company, there is obviously a danger of overreaching capacity. What has helped drastically, says Wrigley, is the purchase of a new Fujifilm Acuity UV-LED wide-format press earlier this year: “It’s just a growth thing. The UV printer just allows us to do so much more. For the price of it we could have has two top end Roland DG printers, but it actually wouldn’t change what we’ve done.”
Dave Dean says: "As we specialise in outdoor agricultural exhibitions we’ve been called upon a surprising number of times to produce cut-out cows, bulls, and sheep!"
The biggest difference he has seen is in the turnaround times for the events customers that Wrigley has retained since his days with Haymarket. He says: “With the old roll press, it would have been a real challenge to produce signage, printing straight onto board made the job actually achievable. We took on a number of exhibitions this year and they all happened within about three weeks of each other in May. Without the Fuji coming in in April, we would have failed, without a doubt. It was a Godsend.”
Though Wrigley may credit a lot of success this year to the new machine at his command, the Print2Media team is itself a powerful machine, deftly balancing both traditional and modern demands on sign-makers. With big names such as Sharp’s Brewery, JCB, and St Pancras London, this plucky young company, at only six-years-old, could be the precocious child of the industry and will doubtlessly soon be raking in the Bitcoins.
To find out more about Print2Media, visit the website at www.print-2-media.com