When Valley Graphics in Essex saw scope to diversify into digitally printed wallcoverings it set up a sister operation with an independent identity - The Printed Wallpaper Company.
I met with founder and MD Matthew Adams-Eaton to talk about the diversification strategy.
By Lesley Simpson
Given the wide-format inkjet technology now available, there’s a huge potential for printers to diversify into new markets, and you did just that in forming The Printed Wallpaper Company. Can you put that development in context for us?
Yes, well Valley Graphics has been trading since 2000, and we had started supplying wallcoverings to customers we already had on our books about five years ago. As Valley Graphics we relied quite heavily on one big customer and we wanted to spread our risk, so having realised that there was real potential in wallcoverings, especially given the higher margins we were making there, we started The Printed Wallpaper Company a couple of years ago to maximise that - and with a view to reaching the much bigger consumer market.
How important to the success of the project is the fact that The Printed Wallpaper Company has its own branding, website, sales channel etc?
To reach the consumer market it was important for us to rebrand the wallcoverings arm of Valley Graphics and start a separate company, as in The Printed Wallpaper Company. We knew that consumers wouldn’t necessarily go to a print company for a digitally printed wallcoverings, so it was important to have a whole new Web presence and branding that would attract them specifically.
Does it actually operate as a totally separate company from Valley Graphics?
The Wallpaper Company is a completely separate entity from Valley Graphics in that they each have their own accounts etc. The reason for that was we wanted to make sure we could quite clearly see what the situation was in terms of jobs, who we were supplying to etc. But we do use the same equipment. A lot of the time some of the Valley Graphics’ kit would be lying dormant and we wanted to keep that running 24 hours a day. And I still deal with sales and marketing for both companies as there are only three of us in the business.
What proportion of the two operations’ joint turnover now comes from The Printed Wallpaper Company – and do you expect that ratio to change over time?
Because The Printed Wallpaper Company is quite a new company its contribution to the overall turnover - which is about £190,000 - is still quite small, about 20%, but we can see potential growth there.
I met up with you at the 100% Design show at London’s Earls Court where the Printed Wallpaper Company had a stand. How important is it to put yourself directly in front of potential customers like this?
It’s really great to be able to put yourself out there when you’re attempting to get into new markets. With Valley Graphics, we already know the customer-base and vice-versa, but with The Printed Wallpaper Company we’re trying to get to new people like architects and designers so we have to get in front of them. It is important when printers are diversifying to get to shows like 100% Design and show what we can do.
You have said that at some point the consumer is going to become the main customer base for The Printed wallpaper Company. Can you say more about that?
Initially most of our sales did come through to us online and it was a mix of trade, designers and consumers, and since the 100% Design show we’ve had more calls from specifiers etc. I’d say about 50% of sales are currently from trade, but we do want to get into the consumer space. To do that we know it’s important to get to exhibition that they attend – we’ve done Grand Designs, The Surface Design Show… those events where we can get in front of architects and specifiers, and the consumer too. And we’re massively pushing our online presence.
Given you have a creative background and your partner is an interior designer, do you think you’ll introduce any other separately branded projects like The Printed Wallpaper Co?
Well we are actually looking into creating another arm of the business in regards to printing blinds. As you say, with my partner working in interior design and given that we are now supplying wallcoverings, blinds is almost a natural progression. We have bought a website and started research into the market etc. and we have the kit already that can print onto the right materials, but at the moment the focus is on developing the wallpaper business – we really need to concentrate on that first.
What lessons have you learned along the way about diversifying into new markets - and what would be your key message to others looking to do so?
There are a lot of stumbling blocks, especially in regards to profiling new materials for new applications and markets. And also in actually sourcing them really. We are always looking for new substrates to print on, but once you’ve found them you then obviously have to profile all your equipment to print them.
And of course you have to spend time and effort on researching the markets, and on what shows to attend etc.- something we’ve not had to think about as Valley Graphics.
Also, you have to be a lot more time critical in dealing with consumers, so managing staff and production flow is something that needs to be worked out. Plus, dealing with the trade means they know what you’re talking about - consumers don’t. They don’t understand about artwork files etc. so we’ve learned that we have to do a lot more handholding through the process. At the moment we’re updating The Printed Wallpaper’s website to make it easier for Joe Public to use. We built it off the back of the Valley Graphics’ website where most of the users/customers are trade, so we’re having to reduce the print jargon and make it a bit more user friendly for the consumer market.