Almost one year on from joining Antalis as its new visual communications strategic development director, Frank Moran talks to LFR about how the company’s offering has been developing and predicts what the future holds for the viscomm sector.
Thanks to the rapid developments within the visual communications sector, my first year with Antalis has proved both refreshing and exciting. I joined the company in May last year, bringing with me over 30 years of sector experience. With innovations in technology continuing to drive change and create new opportunities for the diversifying viscomm customer base, it is pivotal that we continue to be at the forefront of innovative new products and services.
The foundations of the Antalis team’s in-depth knowledge of changing market trends and how this information was analysed and used for the benefit of our customers are really impressive, but we wanted to take this to the next level.
Innovate to accumulate
Last year we brought ‘Power to the Printers’ to the market. Our ambition here was to highlight the ability of our customers to create commercial opportunities in alternative markets, using new products and technologies. This was in response to seeing existing customers, as well as newcomers to the visual communications sector, seeking genuine innovation and ways to diversify.
This burgeoning appetite for diversification meant that 2016 spawned a great deal of interest in easy-apply products. Time, after all, is money – an important consideration for any business operating in today’s challenging economic climate. We’ve worked hard with our suppliers to introduce a number of products which offer our customers the ability to apply products faster – and without the need for skilled application.
Continued growth of formidable brands such as Orafol, 3A, Drytac and Coala has delivered an enhanced level of customer penetration. In terms of easy-apply solutions, we have introduced a number of Drytac printable films (SpotOn™, ReTac®, ViziPrint® Illuminate and FloorTac™), Coala plain and textured wallcoverings (allowing personalisation into the commercial and domestic markets) and several new products from the Orafol self-adhesive vinyls range.
Another exciting product development was in the sustainability space. With government legislation and taxes on waste disposal placing an ever-increasing burden on companies, making the right choice regarding product selection is crucial. With the associated cost of sending product to landfill now standing at around £250/T, we believe it’s important to help customers choose products that can be recycled and, in some cases, can even be a revenue generator at the end of its life.
As a result, there has been a drive within Antalis to develop a strong portfolio of environmentally-friendly products. 3A’s Dispa, for example, is a bright white, smooth, flat board with a unique embossed paper core that is 100% recyclable and FSC-certified. It is rigid and moisture stable, making it ideal for hanging signage or POS applications where image and impact are essential.
Other products such as Smart-X have been in our environmental portfolio for a number of years, but have continued to grow in popularity as the requirement for non-PVC products continues to be specified by the end user.
Looking ahead, we will be expanding our range of wallcoverings, banners and textiles in response to the renewed interest in these materials for alternative applications. We’re increasingly seeing a demand for innovative ways to achieve personalisation, mostly within interior design but also in the commercial space – from customised printed textiles and kitchen cabinet doors wrapped with bespoke vinyls, to creative textures on walls, windows and both interior and exterior surfaces.
We’ve also developed a brand new online product catalogue, an easy-to-use digital tool which will allow customers to easily browse our extensive range of products. With the rise of e-commerce and the growing demand for live information, we think our customers will value being able to create their own personalised, downloadable catalogue using helpful markers such as favourites, digital post-it notes and bookmarks. Customers can request a hard copy of the Big Book through their Antalis Account Manager or by visiting antalis.co.uk/bigbook.
Honing in on hardware
At Sign & Digital UK 2017, we launched our new hardware partnership programme. Our customers are now able to purchase from leading hardware manufacturers, complemented by our wide range of roll and rigid media, and supported by independent training from our Digital Academy.
Not only are we a fully national business, we are now a complete one-stop-shop for even the most complex visual communications needs, offering digital technical support and training, consumables and hardware – all under one national umbrella – and adding value to the all-important customer relationship.
We have achieved this by building close associations with our hardware suppliers and making the most of these valued partnerships. Whether a customer is looking for an entry-level machine of around £3,000, or a £0.5 million high end production platform, our combined expertise will make sure they have access to a comprehensive range of equipment across all price bands, machine types and sizes, and ink technologies. We are very excited about the opportunities which exist for hardware within our customer bases.
Alongside product development, we have also significantly invested in training, both for our customers and the expert Antalis team. Our Digital Academy was originally created in 2014 to enhance the skills and knowledge of our own people. Making sure our staff have high quality training on the latest products, printing equipment and technologies enables them to offer customers informed and qualified guidance and advice, bringing them added value by encouraging them to up-skill and equipping them with the skills to diversify.
Three years on, the Digital Academy now actively and directly benefits our customers, with over 25 different courses available for them to subscribe to and all led by independent experts who can bring industry-leading coaching to the sessions. Today, the Digital Academy has grown to such an extent that Antalis has been appointed FESPA UK’s training partner of choice. It offers customers a wide range of workshops covering the full flow of the digital inkjet market – from graphic design, colour management, colour profiling and printing techniques, through to product selection, applications and related technical expertise.
Various additional visual communications courses are planned for 2017, two of which have already been launched. January saw the introduction of ‘Graphic Design for Sign and Display’ which guides attendees on the differences between designing artwork for commercial print and signage, under the tutelage of experienced signmaker Paul Hughes. In February, we launched ‘Laminating and Finishing’ with Drytac’s Marc Hansing, aimed at companies who are looking to install large format laminators and will need to maximise the effectiveness and productivity of this equipment.
Other workshops in development for 2017 include textile printing, interior decorations and wallpapers. All these areas offer huge B2B and B2C market opportunities for those printers in pursuit of diversification within the viscomm realm.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my first year here. I said before that my objective upon joining Antalis was to take its viscomm channel to the next level. Already, we’ve made significant progress in expanding and developing our offer, securing our position as a key solutions provider in this sector. Continuous improvement and being the best at what we do remain firm objectives for us as a business. We believe we have a significant opportunity for continued growth within the sector and we have clear strategies in place to deliver this. To achieve this though, we need to remain ahead of the curve and will continue working with all our suppliers, looking ahead and understanding changes in trends and customer requirements.