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SEPTEMBER 2012





GROW

With Rigid Media

InfoTrends is projecting the digitally printed rigid media business to grow at a 22% compound annual growth rate in revenue terms from 2012 to 2017. The growth of the wide format UV-curable inkjet market, particularly the flatbed segment, has driven the growth in the rigid media market.

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Mark Kramer, the CEO of Laird Plastics, one of the top rigid substrate suppliers in the country says, "We're certainly seeing that shift from solvent inkjet production to UV-curable as a big trend, which in turn has led to demand for a wider variety of materials to be printed on."

Kramer should know, he has been the CEO of Laird, which has 54 locations in the U.S. and Canada, for 10 years. Laird Plastics is big, but is very decentralized, which enables both high service levels and a degree of differentiation from other suppliers.

"Those individual locations are empowered to make all the commercial decisions" says Kramer, "the nature of the signage and graphics business, the speed of it, demands that kind of decentralized control. Around 70% of the orders we get have to be fulfilled within 48 hours so a structure that slows down decisions just won't cut it".

Laird has seen some ups and downs too, Kramer suggests that the end of 2008 to the beginning of 2010 was a "tough period", but since then the company has been "growing relentlessly" which is a testament to the Laird organization and philosophy but also its partners.

Laird sells print media from Avery, 3A, Coroplast, Mactac, and Vycom - some of the strongest brands in the digital print media, and particularly in the rigid media business.

Laird Plastics has a very principled growth philosophy "we're not chasing after every trend and we're not out there doing a whole lot of experimenting" Kramer says "we try to do the very best job at representing the products, brands, and vendors that we represent".

Accordingly, Laird has not pursued any "white-box" or private-label media strategy which would run counter to its core philosophy. One area that is growing and that Laird has embraced wholeheartedly is sustainability.

Wide format signage and graphics printers are acutely aware of the need to address sustainability because some of the key products that wide format signage and graphics producers use are very hard or difficult to recycle.

Addressing this issue is especially important with some customers that place a lot of emphasis on the topic.

Laird works with its manufacturers to try to identify products that offer more environmentally preferable solutions and the company has established a recycling program for products that have historically been problematic to recycling efforts such as Styrene and PVC-based materials.

Kramer offers a strong 3-point framework for the concept of sustainability as it relates to print media: Laird Plastics has become one of the biggest names in signage and graphics print media distribution and there is a lot to admire about Laird's model.

What can dealers learn from what Laird does? One piece of advice from Kramer "the conditions of the market, the speed of business, the overcapacity of suppliers, the lower acceptance of errors by our customers - these aren't trends that will diminish, so we think the future profitability of channel players can be enhanced by the notion of collaboration (versus competition). We're not going to get more profitable by beating each other up." DC

Author: Tim Greene, Director of Wide Format Printing Consulting Services, InfoTrends, will field your questions, comments or arguments by email: tim_greene@infotrends.com

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