The wide format signage and display industry is highly competitive but still enjoys excellent growth demand as businesses increase their use of both indoor and outdoor signage to advertise and inform. The inevitable shift to digital inkjet from screen process and some offset has also stimulated growth.
In any high-demand hyper-competitive market, three things become important differentiators - quality, service and price. Some customers might tolerate poor or inconsistent quality if they are paying below market rates but ultimately quality, with good service and at the right price point will win every time.
Nowhere is sign quality judged more severely than in the area of colour. Big brands invest millions in establishing their images in the consciousness of consumers and yet, so often signs and displays are seen that have no control over colour whatsoever. Internally, sign producers are faced with trying to match colour between different machines, inks and processes. Solvent inks behave differently to UV while aqueous inks behave differently to Latex. Even different software Rips can deliver different colour.
On the outer fringes of Sydney, at Ingleburn; Easy Signs has conquered colour consistency by calling in the Colour Doctor - David Crowther of Colour Graphic Services. Easy Signs was established in 2006 at Miranda, 26 kilometers to the East, closer to Sydney CBD. In November 2014, the lure of high-growth Western Sydney and more availability of larger premises necessitated a move to sparkling new premises with increased warehouse space. Staff count, many of who are in customer service and design, has risen to 36.
Web-to-print Drives Sales
However, unlike many sign business serving local communities only, Easy Signs' reach is Australia-wide because they have fully embraced online commerce. Their website is clear and quick to navigate with all pricing calculations transparently online for both resellers and end users. The majority of orders are shipped within 24 hours of receipt, so there is little time for lengthy colour adjustments or re-dos.
"We don't go out and chase business at all. We're shipping signs, A-frames, banners, stickers and teardrop flags from coast-to-coast - all with our $14 flat rate delivery charge on most orders," says director Andy Fryer who, with high school colleague Adam Parnell, established the company following a venture in online commerce. "I have an IT and web design background while Adam is all about finance, so it's a great combination.
As an online business, approximately 50% of orders arrive directly from the website, with the other 50% from resellers and regular customers via email and phone. "It's a very robust and secure business model," notes Parnell.
Demand for Colour Control
As an IT professional, Fryer is used to using measured data metrics to know exactly where the business is at. After several attempts, this was not the case with colour management and re-prints were not uncommon.
"We basically needed colour consistency between machines, substrates and between repeat jobs. Customers expect to see the same colour on a job printed this month as they did last month and the month before. Until our new CIO - Chief Innovation Officer - Mark McInnes joined in late 2016, we were experiencing colour shifts and, despite investing in an expensive chart-reading spectrophotometer, were unable to get colour completely under control. Mark introduced us to David Crowther, who he had worked with in the past. David performed a free colour health check using a special target print, measured it through Mellow Colour's PrintSpec and produced a numerical report that identified the root causes of our colour variations.
Crowther takes up the story: "Following the colour health check measurements, PrintSpec was able to reveal colour vagaries across Easy Signs' two SwissQPrint Nyalas, two HP Latex 360s and recently acquired HP Latex 3100. However, most often I find processes and procedures need addressing first in order to introduce a 'culture of great colour' into any print business. So, we started with training in printer calibration and ICC profiling. In conjunction with this training, I advocated using Color Logic's ColorAnt for measuring, analyzing and optimising to profile chart measurement data, and Copra for creating very high quality ICC profiles themselves.
A Confident Future
He continues: "Next, further training covering monitoring and evaluation of on-going colour quality took place. With this, I advocated Mellow Colour's PrintSpec which produces clear and accurate reports on how a print organisation's colour is tracking. This is the invaluable management tool that identifies issues before they become problems and saves a great deal of time and money in re-prints and consumables. The fact that we can utilise ISO 12647 as a standard reference point for any print process, offset, flexo, digital and wide format is of great benefit."
Easy Signs' Andy Fryer says: "We are always trying to do things better than our competitors and our goal is to automate as much as possible from front-end web storefront to print and fulfillment. We are currently implementing workflow enhancements that will further automate job management. For die-cutting, we use Esko Kongsberg and peak demands mean that we may need to expand cutting capacity in the near future."
Easy Sign's success, driven by IT and finance-savvy vision rather than trade 'signies' is such that they have recently become the first company in Australia to upgrade one of their 2 SwissQPrint Nyala 2 UV Flatbed printers to the newly released 4x4 printhead configuration, giving them nearly double the previous print speed to cope with demand for their own line of SignFlute™ corrugated plastic boards.
"One thing for certain," says Andy Fryer, "whatever production direction we head into in the future, we know that we will have colour quality totally under control, thanks to David and Colour Graphic Services."