Recently I was asked by the good folks at A&E Magazine some questions about the awards industry and how it relates to sublimation. Here are my answers:
Q: Could you provide a general state of the industry report, specifically how the growth or decline has affected the market and what that means for the awards and engraving industry?
I have continued to see the sublimation segment of the market grow at a large rate. Sublimation and digital decoration have opened up huge opportunities for many awards companies, not just with their traditional awards business, but by allowing them to be more of a one-stop shop for their customers. The industry as a whole has the ability to be strong and growth oriented, but only for those willing to look outside of the box.
Q: Could you provide specific examples of these influences on the state of the industry?
Many traditional awards companies have faced a great deal of downturn in their core business due to the desire for more personalization and individualization plus the increased competition and pricing pressure from our new economy and influx of services like Alibaba and other Asian companies coming to America. This means companies must find new markets, new ways to create more profit margins and sublimation and digital decoration can be those things. For example, if you have a laser, it is no longer enough to just cut shapes, you must also personalize those shapes. Sports photographers can no longer just offer paper pictures, they must offer plaques, coffee mugs, mouse pads etc.
Q: What’s big in sublimation?
Outside of sublimation itself becoming a main stream term, some specific areas I am seeing growth in are sock decoration and arm sleeves. Those are not tradition awards products, but awards companies have access to the perfect market in youth sports that also want these products.
Q: Any particular industry trends that seem to be emerging in 2016?
I see the rise of 3-dimensional decoration with the use of a vacuum press coming more into the sublimation space. This will allow for even more items to be decorated and even more creativity to be introduced to digital decoration.
Q: Any particular market within the awards and engraving industry that is growing or declining?
The youth sports market seem to be growing to me. All you have to do is drive by any local park and see the mass of kids out playing baseball, soccer or otherwise. With our socially connected society, those kids see the professional athletes wearing arm sleeves, socks, and other items and they want their own. Also, the parents want a plaque they can hang on the wall of their kid playing sports so they have a memory to go along with the hundreds of dollars the shelled out for those kids to play sports.
Q: What trends are you seeing in terms of sublimation equipment and supplies?
As I mentioned, I really see 3D sublimation (vacuum presses) getting better and becoming more common in the US market this year and beyond. US heat press companies are missing out here, but the imported products from Asia are getting better, plus there are a couple European companies that are working very hard on this right now.
Q: What are customers requesting or wanting out of this equipment and substrates?
Full wrap mobile device cases, plates, flasks and other curved items are being decorated with the vacuum presses. Also other really creative thing like computer mice, iWatch bands, sunglasses and more. Customers are still decorating coffee mugs and other drinkware as well. We have also been working with the customer to help them offer other hard surface substrates that are not sublimation coated or are dark colored. By using hard surface laser transfer paper and OKI Data White toner printers our customer is also decorating all sorts of unique items they are finding at the dollar store.
Q: What do their buying habits look like?
We are very fortunate to work with a huge range of different customers and the only real habit we can see across the board is that businesses are growing. In my 16 years in the industry, I have never seen a time with so much growth. The customers are trying their best to manage the growth, so last minute orders are a common occurrence.