In the past year, there were lots of changes occurring in the industry and many new products were introduced, and we did a terrible job of keeping our customers up-to-date on all of it, so this blog is an attempt to get caught up.
The Latest Equipment
As always, we continued to update our printing and finishing equipment to stay on the cutting edge of the industry and to be able to provide the best quality, timeliness and value to our customers. In the past year we added new printing equipment for fine art printing to make sure we're always offering the best quality and longevity, as well as expanding our fabric printing and finishing capabilities to meet the demands of that market. We are now able to laser cut our fabric prints so the edges are sealed and won't fray while being trimmed quickly and accurately. We also added an additional fabric printer to increase the amount of printing we can complete each day, as well as new high end sewing equipment that makes it easier for us to achieve the quality we demand in less time. All of this helps speed up the printing and finishing processes so we can continue to improve the turnaround time on these displays without sacrificing quality. Everyone wants great quality, and we want to be able to offer that to as many customers as possible, even those with a tight deadline.
There was a noticeable movement on the part of some of the larger display manufacturers to make their products cheaper. Knowing what kind of markup these companies take on their products, there is definitely room for them to reduce their prices, but instead they are cutting costs by cutting corners to make the products themselves lower quality. We've always believed that there should be products at all quality levels on the market so customers can choose the products that fit their needs and budget. However, what's been happening in many cases is that the quality of existing products has been sacrificed in order to make the cost lower, and that seems like a huge mistake. I think we've all experienced this type of quality erosion, whether it's a consumer product, a restaurant or even a candy bar, where over time the quality declines, the portions get smaller for the same price, or some other change happens to take a product we liked and make it worse. Usually this is being done to squeeze out more profits for the company or to offset a potential cost increase to the end user. For whatever reason, it seems a mistake but we can only control the quality and pricing of our own products, and not those of the other manufacturers we sell. The best we can do it keep our customers up date on the changes so they can make informed decisions when they choose a product.
With our own products, if we think we need a lower priced option to offer our customers, we'll introduce a new lower priced product instead of trashing a better product to make it cheap. That's the reason we originally introduced our Budget Roll Up banner stands many years ago, so we'd have a less expensive product for customers who needed that. We didn't make our better stand lower quality to compete with cheaper stands on price, and we didn't try pass off cheap stands as something better. It's sad to see some of the products that have been on the market for years decline in quality to save a few dollars when there are already plenty of lower priced products to fill that need. You can be sure our display products, like the QuickSilver and Expo Pro won't suffer the same fate and if anything we are always working to improve their quality, not reduce it.
Another unfortunate trend has been for some of these same companies to eliminate some of their best products from the market. We've seen sizes and models of stands and displays discontinued and we're told it's because they don't sell as well as the cheap products. This has always seemed like a ridiculous argument to make, since cheaper products are always going to outsell expensive products. Hyundai sells almost twice as many cars in the US as Mercedes Benz, yet both companies are very successful. We think there is a need for high quality products on the market, and for sizes other than the ones that sell in the greatest quantities so we'll continue to fight that type of thinking and offer the best selection of sizes and prices we can.
One notable exception to these trends has been Expolinc. Their excellent Roll Up Classic and Roll Up Professional banner stands are still going strong and they've made no attempt to reduce the high quality construction of these professional level products, or to eliminate any of the range of sizes they offer. While we haven't had them available on our website before, they also make what is considered to be the highest quality pop up display that is the easiest to set up, but we're in the process of correcting that so these displays can be purchased on our website. Their Fabric System display is also one of the easiest to set up and they are about to introduce a new SEG fabric display that, you guessed it, will be the easiest one to set up on the market. We love their constant innovation, attention to detail and how they keep the end user in mind when they create these products, so we're excited to continue to be a partner and to offer their products.
New Printing Materials
We probably removed more printing materials than we added over the past year. There were a lot of products that were discontinued by their manufacturers that caused us to scramble, because for some reason none of these companies give any kind of advanced notice when they do this. In most cases we were able to find replacement products, but that's not always the case so we've had to remove some of them from our site when we couldn't find a suitable alternative.
For fine art printing we added a new metallic canvas. Metallic prints offer a unique look that seems especially well suited to black and white images, but also adds a different dimension to color images. This is mostly used for photography, but could add a different element to fine art prints as well.
Many of the new materials we added were fabrics. It seems most of the movement in the fabric market is to cheaper and cheaper materials, which is no surprise since that's what happens in every segment. There is so much fabric printing being done in China at a ridiculously low cost that it's making people scramble to match those prices by lowering the quality of both the printing and the materials. In a lot of cases the Chinese have opened warehouses in the US to store the displays and when they get an order it's printed in China and shipped overnight to the US, so it looks like it's produced here. We've never tried to compete with Chinese printing on price and continue to use quality fabrics and strive for the very best quality possible while offering them at a fair price. It's hard to explain to customers who are price shopping why some of our prints are more expensive than what would appear to be the same thing from a different company, because until you can see them together whatever we say just sounds like a sales pitch. But, we've had some of these prints from other companies, and it's what we used to offer before we did the printing ourselves, and it's what caused us to bring dye sub fabric printing in-house in the first place. The constantly falling quality and inconsistent color is not what we wanted to offer our customers, so now we do almost everything in-house. The extra equipment we've added, that was discussed above, was so we could try to speed up our production time and to keep from falling behind or missing deadlines if a printer went down, and to be able to handle large or rush orders without causing delays for other customers.
So while we've resisted the efforts to get us to switch to cheaper fabrics, we constantly evaluate new options, because if something less expensive does come along that's just as good, we'll always take advantage of the opportunity to offer lower prices to our customers. It's not surprising that cheaper options are rarely as good or better, but it does happen so we keep looking and testing just in case.
Some of that testing caused to find a new black backed fabric that's completely opaque for situations where that's important. We also use it as a reflector on the back side of backlit displays so it keeps the front of the display lit without light escaping the back. It's not required, but it makes our backlit displays a little bit better, and that's the kind of thing we're always looking to do.
As always, we introduced many new display products over the past year. We added a 72" wide QuickSilver Pro retractable banner stand to the already wide range of sizes we offer for that model. There were very options at that size and customers were requesting more options, so we felt it was worth having the QuickSilver made in that size to fill a potential need.
Fabric displays continue to grow in popularity and we introduced new options in almost every category. With the popular fabric pop up display, we now have two lines available to give our customers a choice of quality, the original Hopup display and the new Premium Fabric Popup line. We added more sizes to our tube frame fabric displays, so we now have a 6' straight wall since that was a size that many of our customers were requesting. We started producing the hardware for the Tube Frame Banner Stands ourselves so we could have better control over the sizes and quality, and in doing so, we added a new 31" model since that's a popular size for retractable banner stands as well. Soon we'll be adding an economy version of the Tube Frame Banner Stand displays for people who need a less expensive version for large volume purchases or have tight budget restrictions.
Earlier in the year we introduced our Emporium fabric displays. These displays combine a fabric graphic with display elements such as shelves, hanging bars and iPad holders to allow customers who need to showcase various merchandise a compact, affordable and attractive display option. We also introduced the Simplicity fabric display. Like the name suggests, this is a simple fabric backdrop that's inexpensive and easy to set up. Another new, simple display is the Table Perch. It's an aluminum frame that attaches to a 6' or 8' table and is covered with a fabric pillowcase. It can be configured as just a header so the space under it is open for a person to stand behind the table without being blocked, or as a solid backdrop for situations where no one will be standing behind the table.
We also added the Great Wall fabric displays. These are unique in that the aluminum frame that makes up this display is 20" deep for a very substantial appearance and excellent stability. The deep frame also allows for the addition of internal lighting to turn the Great Wall into a backlit display, which is one of the most popular options for displays today. In fact, we added quite a few backlit display options last year because of this. The smallest option is the Illuminator Backlit Banner Display, which holds a 29.4" x 76.75" fabric graphic, so it's basically a backlit banner stand. It's inexpensive, easy to set up and can fit into small spaces so it's great for a wide range of uses where the extra attention-getting power of a backlit display is needed.
The Lumos and Backlit Embrace displays are illuminated SEG pop up display hybrids that are very similar, but with enough differences that we decided to offer both. The Lumos is less expensive and used primarily as a single sided display, where the Embrace is a more premium product that is designed to be either single or double sided. They are both easy to set up and come in a range of shapes and size. The Lumos has curtain lights that face forward to directly light the graphic, but it relies on light reflected from the front to light up the back. This works, but the graphic on the back side isn't lit with the same amount of light, where the Embrace is edge lit so the light is consistent on both the front and back.
The WaveLight line of displays are some of our favorites. The main displays in this line up are illuminated tube frame displays. They use an extra thick tubing to make up the frame that allows enough space for curtain lights that make these displays the easiest backlit displays to set up, and also the brightest. They're only for single sided use, though, so for a double sided backlit display you'd have to look at one of our other option. In addition to the backlit tube frame walls, there are also backlit inflatable counters. These are very unique products that have an inner inflatable core that provides the structure to the podium and allows it to collapse to small, lightweight size that's easy to transport. Once inflated, a stretch fabric graphic that attaches to the top and bottom of the counter makes up the exterior surface of the counter and perimeter LED lights at the bottom provide the illumination. There's even an option to add USB charging ports in the counter top to give a place to power a table presentation, or to give your customers a place to recharge their phones while you have an opportunity to tell them about your products or services. All lightweight portable counters have some amount of wobble to them, compared with larger, heavier counters, and that's always been the trade off with these kinds of displays. In that regard, the inflatable WaveLight counters are the most stable we've seen when they're properly inflated. In the near future we'll have more inflatable products from the same manufacturer including towers, walls and a unique inflatable bench to provide a compact seating option with a stretch fabric surface that gives you an additional place for branding.
We also added some Trade Show Kits that combine several elements such as a back wall, case and counter, or banner stands with a table cover and a table top display. We'll be adding more because customers seem to like them, both because they offer some additional discounts and because they provide some ideas on how to combine different products to make up a booth space.
There's a new outdoor aluminum tube a-frame display that we added as an alternative to the our popular pop-up a-frame banners. The pop-ups are made in China and are one of the few things we don't do in house, so we wanted to offer a US made option. These displays also offer the benefit of being able to replace the graphics instead of having to purchase a new display when the graphic wears out or needs to be changed. This makes them less expensive in the long run, and more durable, but they don't have the advantage of collapsing if someone falls on them like the pop up style that uses fiberglass poles to hold the shape, so those are still better around sports fields where players could run into them.
On The Horizon
There are lots of exciting new things we're going to be offering this year, and we're committed to doing a better job of announcing when they become available. A few were mentioned above, including a new SEG display from Expolinc that's easier to set up than anything else on the market, new inflatable towers, bench and walls, and new counters and towers made from aluminum tubing with pillowcase fabric covering as well as new hanging fabric display options. There are also magnetic displays and lots of other things we're evaluating, so stay tuned for what's new.