Seeing is believing, which is why this Wiltshire company is creating a shop window for its experimental wide-format retail applications.
If Ronseal got it right with its ‘Does exactly what it says on the tin’ slogan, then Superior Creative has gone one better. Its name is exactly what the company is - superior in terms of creativity. The proof is there for all to see at its Wiltshire base, where the company has leveraged its in-house design team and wide-format print know-how to turn one of its offices into a huge advert for its capabilities.
“It’s such a shame that in the print industry there is such a feeling of doom and gloom because it can actually be a very exciting time if you’re prepared to experiment on varied media and with new application ideas, says Richard Blueitt, commercial and operations director.
“We moved into large-format three years ago because we could see there wasn’t much future in just delivering ink on paper and the litho market was becoming cut-throat. Plus, we were having to farm out a lot of wide-format work for Heineken, one of our biggest clients. We recognised that we could make money there, and bought an Inca Spyder to test the waters.
“But it’s not just about buying a bit of kit. Luckily we have a large design studio and some of those guys had knowledge of wide-format and immediately saw the potential. From the off we wanted to be a complete solutions provider, but more than that, we wanted to be able to offer something different.
“A year ago we bought an Onset S40 because the demand for wide-format had grown significantly and that machine is seven times faster than the Spyder – plus it has many other benefits like its excellent print quality and ink usage. But, importantly, it’s its flexibility in printing onto a huge range of substrates that’s really exciting. Our designers are always telling us to be more creative, and with this machine we can be. We moved into new offices recently and what we’re doing there will demonstrate that.
“The new space was a blank canvas, so we told the creatives to go and be creative. The outcome is a space where everything has been printed digital wide-format. When we started talking to Falconboard about getting materials for the job, it was so interested in what we were doing that it asked us to produce a fully Falconboard printed stand for Fespa 2013.”
It’s a creative strategy that could potentially have a huge impact in helping educate potential customers to the possibilities of wide-format print – and hopefully generate new revenue streams.
“We have three dedicated cardboard engineers within our design team of over 20 and a wealth of creative capability here,” adds Blueitt, “so we think we can come up with some real eye-opening ideas.
“That’s not to say that all our wide-format production is experimental - a lot of what we do is the more standard type of work, mainly for the retail sector where we’ve seen real growth over the last three years.”
In that period, since Superior Creative first got into wide-format with the Spyder in 2009, the company has seen its turnover soar (£15.2m in 2011) and Blueitt echoes managing director Ian O’Connor when saying wide-format is definitely one of the fastest growing parts of the business which is now spread across four sites in close proximity on an industrial estate near Melksham, Wiltshire and encompasses a significant direct mail arm as well as litho and small offset digital. And of course there’s the crucial design studio.
“Large-format now accounts for about 15% of our total turnover and about 26% of our print turnover,” says O’Connor. “There’s no doubt it will grow as a proportion of our business – it’s where the margin is best. We believe that really digital large-format is still in its infancy and there’s still lots of development to see, not just in terms of the technology, but in terms of applications and how the market perceives them.”
“In the retail sector alone, where we have a great deal of knowledge and some very high profile clients, we can see huge scope,” adds Blueitt. “We’re not a print company, but a solutions company and that means delivering something that helps clients sell more. What they’re looking for is something eye-catching and we are putting a lot of resource into making sure we can deliver that. That’s why the creative team has been given funds to experiment. You have to balance ideas with commercial reality, but people will pay for something with a ‘wow’ factor if it’s put in front of them and they can see the benefits.”
Enter Tony Dike, creative head of department, who explains: “The Onset, together with our Zund G3 cutter and the design and prototyping software now available to us, means that we in the design studio can really come up with some novel ideas. Because of the open door policy here too, it’s easy to share information between the designers, management, print production staff and sales teams so everybody feels part of the creative process and understands what we’re trying to achieve to help the business move forward.
“And increasingly the designers are involved in conversations with the client. I can talk to other designers in their language and explain to them what’s possible – better still, show them, which is why we’re producing what we’re calling ‘Popstore’, this office space full of wide-format printed applications that we hope will effectively work as a shop window.
“Basically, it’s a demonstration of what can be achieved through the merger of substrate engineering, 3D design and digital print for modern retail and commercial interiors. The intention is to be able to bring customers in here so they can see for themselves what can be done – show them design concepts that really stretch boundaries. The concept is still in development, and the space will continually change to reflect the new ideas we come up with, but hopefully it will send a really strong message.”
“They’re already getting it,” adds Blueitt. “The fact that we’ll probably buy a second Onset next year and are just about to install what we believe to be the biggest clam shell platen in the UK – with ten times the average production throughput capability of the Zund – reflects that. Demand is growing, especially for what I think of as creative intelligence, and we have that.”
“Some of the whacky things lead you to who knows where and gets your name out there,” adds O’Connor. “It’s true that agencies working with big brands can think we’re muddying their waters because we’re developing ideas targeted directly at the creative market – which is why we prefer to work directly with end clients where possible. But even some of the agencies are beginning to see we can work hand in hand – and with the likes of one of our biggest clients, Heineken, that’s exactly what we do.”
“Very often now customers ask us to put some ideas together for a certain project – perhaps a bronze, silver and gold level package which gives us the opportunity to really scope out our ideas,” says Dike. “Take United Biscuits, for which we’ve just come up with a 3D helter skelter with flashing lights, motorised top etc. That was taken to their innovations days, and though what we end up doing for a POP display may be a trimmed down version of that, it’s still miles away from the usual kind of thing.”
“We will take ideas to the client, but what we really want to do is get them down here to show them a whole array of unusual options. When they see it, they believe it,” enthuses Blueitt.
“When times are tough people stick to what they know and try to cut the fat – often at the expense of creativity. But is that really trimming the fat – or cutting off the best bit. I think it’s crucial to fund creativity and experimentation,” stresses Blueitt. “Being able to communicate creative ideas is how you get new, worthwhile work.”