Awards & Engraving

March '16

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A&E MARCH 2016 • a-e-mag.com 45 mation market has changed significantly," explains Cathy Garcia, Marco Awards Group. "We are seeing significant increases in 'polyester' coated product offerings." With so much advancement over the years, awards shops would be wise to take advantage. SOLID SELECTION As noted by sources, the improvement of sublimation equipment has helped increase substrate options. Decorators can now embellish more than T-shirts and socks. As the days move on, the selection only continues to expand. "The offering of acrylic, glass and ceramic (tile) is recent, and it is not just standard shapes. We see ornaments, crosses and octagons—anything with a flat surface," Garcia says of the hard sub- strate options currently available. While the T-shirt still remains one of the most popular items to sublimate, many hard options are hot on its heels. According to Hinton, mugs, name badges, MDF plaques and ceramic tiles are among the most popular hard substrate options. But that's not all. "Increasing in popularity are items like photo panels, phone cases and Subliplex acrylic," he adds. Keep in mind there's some less-pop- ular items in the hard substrate world that still make for a good sell. The Unisub team points out that hardboard is becoming popular in some shops, and natural wood products are also quickly gaining traction. "MDF with a maple veneer produces great results with spe- cific images that work well with a wood grain background," the team notes. All of these options can be over- whelming; how does an awards retailer choose what to carry and offer its cus- tomers? A lot of that decision is based on the customers the shop services. "There are many different realms that sublimation covers, so in many cases the customer base may dictate the items (a retailer) should carry," Hinton points out. He recommends determining a target market for sublima- tion: identification, awards, gifts, etc. After determining the customer base, selecting hard substrates to stock in-house becomes an easier decision. Metal prod- ucts are a good choice for many different awards customers, but there are also some key items you should never leave off your list. "(We recommend stocking) top- selling items such as coasters, keychains, ID tags, plaques and bag tags," says the Unisub team. The team goes on to point out that even if your current customer base doesn't necessarily purchase these items at the moment, showing them something new can inspire a fresh sale. When all else fails, fall back to the basics. "If the retailer establishes a cus- tomer who re-orders certain products, it's advisable to always stock those blanks, but I would always stock the basics: badges, coasters and mugs," Garcia advises. EQUIPMENT REQUIREMENTS Keep in mind that offering to subli- mate hard substrates does require your awards business to have certain equip- ment in the shop. Along with the basics, such as a sublimation printer, software, heat press and paper, it's always good to purchase a few ancillary items. Unisub's recipe for hard surface subli- mation includes tools such as heat gloves, heat tape, tape dispenser, poly fabric, blowout paper, a Nomex pad, and a cloth and all-purpose cleaner. Hinton adds a few items of his own to that list. "You do not want to use a spray adhesive like you would on fabrics because it can leave a haze or spotting," he advises. "A green silicone pad will assist in getting the best results on fishing lures, acrylics and porcelain ornaments." A NOT-SO-HARD SELL The variety of hard substrates avail- able mixed with full-color results make sublimation a fairly easy sell. As a result, it's beneficial for awards retailers to offer this service, or at the very least consider it. "I believe the margins in sublimation are a vast improvement over other mar- kets," states Garcia. "Offering full-color opens doors for the retailer that were not available before the ease and affordability IMAGE COURTESY MARCO AWARDS GROUP Offering full- color options to customers opens the door to higher profit margins.

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