Category Update: Visualising collaboration

It can be difficult to keep up with the rapidly changing needs of the workplace, but manufacturers of visual communication products are on the ball.

The chameleon nature of the office environment is playing right into the hands of today’s visual communications (viscom) players. As the workplace continues to morph into collaborative spaces with a strong focus on interior design and technology-based functions and features, viscom manufacturers are uniquely placed to take advantage.

Pioneered by business giants such as Google, Amazon and Bloomberg, workplaces now combine open plan concepts with smaller collaborative and relaxation spaces built-in. This desire for replacing the traditional ‘grey’ office cubicle is being driven by the millennial generation and is filtering through to all types of office space.  

Says Bi-silque CEO André Vasconcelos: “Lately, we’ve been witnessing the growth of viscom to enhance innovative workspaces for all types of social human interactions. Communal design solutions reflect the growth of millennials in the workforce, along with the rise of trends such as sustainability, comfort and well-being — with our viscom products as the ultimate collaborative tools.”

Scott Bowers, Director of Product at GMi Companies, agrees: “As we continue to see the shift from traditional office spaces to a more open concept, our products are becoming central design features. People are looking for ways to divide space to create huddle zones or semi-private meeting spaces.”

Effective communication

This shift is boosting sales for multifunctional, mobile viscom solutions with noise-cancelling properties, resulting in the necessity for products that lend themselves to brainstorming sessions and idea-sharing such as boards. Bowers explains that dry-erase boards, for example, are an integral part of group communication as they are a way for colleagues to communicate their thoughts with the ability to visualise different viewpoints and ideas. 

In terms of board sales, there has been an increase in the popularity of more robust and longer-lasting products including glass and information boards, according to Debbie Nice, Category Director for Facilities Supplies at UK wholesaler VOW, while cost-in-use is becoming more of a consideration too. 

GMi’s VP of Sales and Marketing Jim Harter concurs, adding: “We’re really encouraged by how 2018 has started for us. Our product mix continues to push us into higher-style, higher-design items. Demand for glass boards, for example, has never been greater.”

The desire for products that can be easily applied and save time such as digital wallcoverings are also filtering into the interior design space, with this trend anticipated to continue into 2019. These types of applications are becoming more popular across all kinds of businesses, including offices, retail stores, hotels and restaurants, with antibacterial versions available for hospitals. 

As Chris Green, Channel Head for Visual Communications at Antalis UK, explains: “The demand for décor products has significantly grown as interior designers are seeking new and alternative methods to refresh space in a fast-paced environment. More designers are recognising the multitude of benefits that come with digital wallcoverings and personalised wallpapers, and printers and signmakers are utilising this method of instant transformation.”

Meanwhile, VOW is seeing an interesting move towards retro products such as peg boards, particularly in hospitality and retail environments. In addition, traditional products like frames continue to grow, with interesting developments in the area of hanging solutions whereby information can be attached to a wall without causing damage. 

Moving into technology

Keeping up with the pace of change and the need to provide technological solutions in the viscom space, manufacturers are blending the traditional with the latest in technology. Bi-Bright, the viscom technology arm of Bi-silque, launched an interactive whiteboard last year featuring free annotation software. It recently launched an app, Hubing Scan, which can scan notes and save them digitally. Handwritten or text notes can also be added to the digital version as well as voice-over commands.

All that said, technological advancements can be both a blessing and a curse. The increase in home and remote working is a driving force behind the uptake of new ways of conveying collaborative information — Skype, Slack and unified communications spring to mind. The advent of virtual and augmented reality provides other enhanced methods of presenting information (see also Hot Topic, page 26, for more information). The flipside is that traditional products such as projectors are on the wane. As VOW’s Nice says: “Projectors are an essential part of most meetings, and while more portable than ever, advances in technology mean they are being replaced less frequently.” 

Targeting new markets

However, as the viscom product mix changes, it is opening up new markets, giving resellers the opportunity to target other sectors. According to Nice, there is a substantial rise in sales into the education, hospitality and healthcare verticals where effective visual communication is essential. 

Bi-silque has also been concentrating on building its vertical markets and has been effective in segmenting ranges that address the specific needs of customers in the corporate, industrial and personal sectors, in addition to those mentioned by Nice. Its ARCHYI brand, for instance, which targets architects and the contract furniture market, was launched a couple of years ago and, according to Vasconcelos, “aims to demonstrate that you don’t have to choose between efficiency and aesthetics when it comes to workplace solutions”.

In May, the company announced the launch of a new website dedicated to customers in its industrial market, with the goal of offering specific industrial solutions in one place. Bi-silque says customers can expect the launch of new products, promotions and several industrial assets to follow during 2018. “Digital transformation is in our DNA and we have launched specific marketing collateral and digital assets to drive beyond office supply categories,” adds Vasconcelos.

Category confidence

Viscom manufacturers are undoubtedly confident as sales are robust in this burgeoning segment, leading to considerable investments in the category by the majority of vendors. Bi-silque is reporting double-digit sales growth in both the US and Europe. The company recently opened a new state-of-the-art centre in its home country of Portugal, adding 30,000 sq m (3,000 sq ft) and 3,000 additional pallet positions. 

VOW is also seeing sales continue to grow in the viscom area and is putting a renewed focus on the category this year. “We are moving it to our category development team. This enables us to work more closely with proactive suppliers and add specialist resources to help increase sales. We have added a new exclusive brand — Announce — to our range, and will continue to look for new product ideas for the modern workplace,” says Nice. 

All this is good news for resellers as they can offset declining sales in more traditional categories by adding more viscom products into the mix. As GMi’s Harter says: “Visual communication products serve not only the needs of resellers to generate some much-needed income, they also fulfill an important requirement for their clients to make spaces more functional.”

Finally, Vasconcelos advises against a downward trend of selling purely on price in the viscom arena. “Pricing discounts should be replaced by educating and supporting customers during their buying journey. Selling a complete solution, not just a product, is key,” he says. 

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