Category analysis: Marking and stamping

Impulse buy or necessity, marking and stamping products need to evolve with today's technological and economic trends. And they do so with gusto.

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The marking and stamping category can sometimes appear to be a big extended family. Cosco Industries’ recent purchase of certain assets of United Marking and the subsequent formation of the Consolidated Marking subsidiary is a case in point and certainly adds another layer to the company’s overall portfolio. 

The move also puts some of the best-known names in the category under one roof, so to speak, as it means that Consolidated Marking now offers a wide range of brands, including 2000Plus, Accustamp, evostamp+, Official & Elite Seals plus the US-made Pullman and Comet brands. It will also continue as the distribution partner for Trodat and Shachihata-branded products.

Having said that, the category remains a fiercely competitive product segment, in which economic growth remains a core driver for demand. And in the US, for one, demand has been unexceptional, says Shachihata USA’s National Sales Manager Martin Clemente. “We estimate that the current economic conditions in the US have caused industry sales to decline by approximately 15% in the past year.”

High unemployment rates, the company believes, have certainly slowed purchases in this category, but as these rates go down, Shachihata anticipates a lift in sales as new employees are set up with new products. 

From a worldwide perspective, the market has been more or less stable, with stagnating or declining trends mostly in developed regions, but good opportunities in several emerging markets, most notably the BRIC countries where customers increasingly demand high-quality products.

And at last, Europe is on an upward curve again too, says Markus Würcher, Managing Director of Austrian player Trodat. “We are very satisfied with our business development. With up to 130 active markets in any given year there will always be regional differences, but we are very pleased that Europe is back on a growth path for us, despite some very difficult economic conditions, particularly in southern Europe.”

In terms of industry trends, self-inking remains the category’s favourite product type and that is unlikely to change any time soon, Würcher adds. “We firmly believe that product conversion will continue to favour self-inking as it is the superior technology to deliver an impression and also makes the most economical sense for stamp makers. This is confirmed by the share of self-inking products – we estimate this segment to account for 20-25% of all stamps sold worldwide in unit terms.”

There’s also no doubt that innovation needn’t stop with the big players, with opportunities available for all those involved in the market, according to Clemente. 

“Companies that make stamping equipment recognise that not all stamp manufacturers can afford a large capital investment so they are offering more options at different price points,” he says. “Newer low-cost manufacturing methods are allowing smaller players to compete with the larger ones. There are now several different processes in the market, from top-of-the-line laser engraving machines suited to the largest manufacturers to photopolymer self-inking programmes where products can be manufactured by a stamp maker’s existing machines.” 

In addition to a ferocious appetite for ‘green’ stamps – all the major manufacturers now have an ‘eco’ range, with Shiny Stamp saying that its ECO Line introduced two years ago continues to see double-digit sales increases – and the growing focus on antimicrobial protection (see box above), digitisation is perhaps the biggest trend at the moment and the one that is going to change the category the most going forward. 

COLOP’s CEO Ernst Faber says: “With budgets becoming ever more limited, we notice that sales via the internet are increasingly important and there’s definitely much demand for online business solutions. And as the purchasing of stamps is often impulse-driven, clever online solutions can push sales a lot.

“To create a good-looking stamp online is not a simple process and to run an online solution successfully, you need the same attention as you would running a physical store somewhere. For those global players, stamp makers and dealers that are aware of that, online sales offer a lot of potential.”

“Direct to end-consumer marketing – on- and offline – is key,” adds Würcher, “but for our customers, not us! There would be a huge conversion and up-selling potential if only more of our customers were willing to actively market and sell to end-users. It is often mind-boggling how current demand is seen as a given by many. I can only hope that customers do not underestimate the importance of active sales. The internet will add huge pressures here and it will take time for those who are not there yet to acquire the necessary competencies.”  

Pre-ink or self-ink?

The most successful types of marking and stamping products today are self-inking stamps. But there’s also a huge market for pre-inked stamps. Both types are refillable and come in many colours. So what’s the difference between the two? 

In a nutshell, it’s the quality of the impression and how long the stamp lasts between re-inkings, hence the often considerable price difference: 

Self-ink:

Good quality image

Lasts for 10,000 impressions

Refillable

Water-based ink

Economical price 

Pre-ink: 

Best quality image

Lasts for 50,000 impressions

Refillable

Oil-based ink

Lifetime guaranteed

Good for stamps with logos  

Many pre-inked stamps today use technology that give customers the option to design bespoke products. Says COLOP’s CEO Ernst Faber: “We’re seeing more and more demand for Flash stamps. These stamps have a pre-inked text plate and, as the name suggests, are produced using Flash technology. COLOP’s range of Flash stamps is called the EOS-Line and includes a wide range of different sizes and formats as well as the complete system to produce this kind of stamp.”

Antimicrobial or not?

Antimicrobial protection has crept into many OP categories over the last few years and marking and stamping products are no exception. Interestingly, however, opinions on the necessity and even validity of this particular ‘enhancer’ can be divided. OPI asked four well-known companies in the category to give their view: 

Markus Würcher, Managing Director at Trodat, says: “We have a clear view on antimicrobial properties of stamps. Firstly, a stamp, usually a personal item, does not lend itself in principle to be ‘enriched’ with such properties. Secondly, we follow the view of numerous authorities that take a critical position with regards to the innocuousness of the substances used in this area.”

For fellow Austrian stamp maker COLOP meanwhile, it has become an important part of its business, with three of its product groups featuring built-in Microban antimicrobial protection. Says CEO Ernst Faber: “People are increasingly aware that products handled and touched by different people have a lot of micro-organisms on their surface which can cause anything from bad odour to cross-contamination of harmful bacteria. 

“Basically, office products and especially stamps with antibacterial protection should be used by many different people such as offices, warehouses, factories and shops as well as for governments, banks and so on. In terms of sales, these new products have surpassed our expectations.”

Jimmy Chen, Deputy Executive Manager of Taiwan-based Shiny Stamp, concurs with Faber’s view, saying that certain customer groups are exposed to higher risk categories and as such have greater demand for products with antimicrobial protection. The company launched its NTbac line which integrates fungistatic agents into the manufacturing process as an alternative range just over a year ago.

But while these various antimicrobial ranges may be selling well, they don’t seem to be increasing overall demand for stamps, believes President/CEO of Shachihata USA, Bob Ally: “Value-added attributes like antimicrobial or eco-based properties have not increased the demand for stamps. In most cases, users simply switch from the non-value-added product because there is little if any price differentiation. That being said, these new attributes are required to maintain a competitive edge and are sometimes the tipping point in a bid situation.”