Category analysis: Presentation and visual communications

The presentation and visual communications sector is growing by embracing new tech systems and cutting-edge design.

Style and substance

In a modern world full of fads, fast-changing technology and fickle consumers we often talk of product design that favours style over substance. But intriguing developments in the presentation and visual communications category show the sector is offering ranges that offer both slick design and a practical function. 

A number of companies are reporting encouraging sales growth and launching innovative products, but in some cases it appears manufacturers are being held back by resellers unwilling to take a chance.

Office accessories manufacturer Sigel has been acknowledged for product design in recent months, picking up a plethora of awards for its artverum Magnetic Glass Board range, such as the UK’s BOSS Federation Product of the Year Award 2011 and Nemo Group’s Office Style Innovation accolade, as well as the prestigious red dot design award in 2011. Sven Reimann, International Business Development Manager at Sigel, says that development in its glass board range has added “substantial value to its visual communications category”. 

“Everything is going towards style for your office and creating a contemporary feel,” he states. “Glass boards will stay a top-of-the-range product, distinct from whiteboards, as design increasingly dictates the purchase choice.”

Sigel is not the only company seeing revenues rise; the President of US-based Ghent Manufacturing’s Visual Communication Products Group, Janet Collins, says that sales so far in 2012 are up 5% year on year.

“We are also seeing more and more dealers willing to get into visual communication products as they are looking for new lines of business,” she explains. “In the past, many smaller dealers have shied away from products like ours that require installation. With easier installation methods and the pressure for new revenue, boards may be a good new line of business.”

Buying visual communication products directly from manufacturers makes sense, she adds, as the number of stockless dealers continues to grow.   

“Because boards are not an everyday sale for many dealers, stocking these rather large products may not make sense. Many manufacturers like Ghent have a quick ship/direct programme where dealers can order a board, and 48 hours later it’s on its way from the manufacturer directly to the end-user.”

Such flexible options may become more important as businesses streamline their operations. OPI spoke to a number of manufacturers at the recent National Stationery Show in London, UK, who said some resellers are unwilling to take the risk of stocking new products, but if manufacturers can offer something different with delivery they may begin to take note.

“This is a great way for dealers to increase their margin and reduce inventory, while still satisfying the needs of their customers,” Collins adds. 

Portugal-based vendor Bi-silque says one major challenge is convincing retailers to stock new visual communications products. Echoing the comments from Sigel, Bi-silque’s Retail Channel Manager Vasco Silva says that easels and flipcharts remain the company’s main revenue driver but new boards, such as those from its recently launched Kamashi range, help show the vitality of the business. “Retailers often focus on the basics, but we want to make them conscious of the importance of design,” he states.

Similarly to many of the challenges most other OP categories are experiencing at present, manufacturers and resellers operating in the visual communications sector must react to consumer purchasing habits that have become influenced by limited discretionary income and a real push to be environmentally friendly.

Jeremy Cohen, VP Sales & Marketing at the Florida-based distributor of Magic Whiteboard Products, said this phenomenon is impacting sales levels of certain ranges, with one-time-use marker and flipcharts now less popular than dry erase sheets equivalents, for example.

He comments: “I think the common thread today is that people want more flexibility in the office products they’re using, and they want to avoid waste for economic and environmental reasons.”   

Products in focus

Texas-based Newline Products’ IdeaMax R5-600 Interactive Whiteboard was the recipient of the Product Innovation of the Year prize at the 2011 North American Office Products Awards (NAOPA). 

Meanwhile, the nominee shortlist for NAOPA 2012 is hot off the press, and two presentation and visual communication products manufacturers are nominated for a prize – highlighting their relevance in today’s OP world.

Iceberg’s Clarity TOO Glass Dry Erase Boards and Bi-silque’s MasterVision EARTH Boards – Dry Erase & Bulletin are up for Best Furniture Product and Best Environmentally Friendly Product respectively. The winners will be revealed and presented with their awards at SP Richards’ Advantage Business Conference in Washington, DC, on 12 July.

Interactive invasion

Interactive whiteboards (IWBs) have become a fixture in the US classroom and are playing a major role in boosting student achievement, according to a new study by market intelligence firm Simba Information. The research report, K-12 Tech Tools and Trends 2012, based on a MCH Strategic Data survey, indicates that IWBs are being used in 29.5% of K-12 classrooms – covering Kindergarten to 12th grade – for at least 5.1 hours a day and in most subject areas, particularly mathematics.

Kathy Mickey, Senior Analyst at Simba, says that an increasing number of educators are using these products, and suggests that technology has become much more prominent in the classroom over the last three years.

“[IWBs] have helped spur the use of a spectrum of devices by enabling users to gain comfort with technology,” she explains.

Bi-silque is one OP company looking to grow its so-called smart board category, with its Bi-Bright subsidiary currently stocking a number of IWBs and other tech solutions for the market. Silva says there is “lots of potential” in this area of the business. However, Magic Whiteboard Products’ Cohen argues that despite the apparent popularity of IWBs in US schools, teachers are still coming to terms with how to use the devices, meaning there is still significant growth potential in this product category.

“IWBs are very expensive and I think many teachers don’t know how to get the most out of them today, especially teachers who have been in the classroom for a long time,” he remarks. “But it is an impressive technology that’s just going to grow in the coming years, especially as prices come down.”

Simba’s research suggests that IWBs are the leading new device within US schools and have become a tool for connecting educators to other new devices, such as clickers, tablets and smartphones. OP firms seeing the bigger picture may yet be able to find fresh ways of boosting sales through the launch of IWB accessories and related gadgets.