I recently caught up with Mark Mashiter of Soyang who have been operating now for 11 years in Europe. And as Mark modestly says, from the start of this venture, it has gone ‘quite well’. Now in their third premises, having outgrown the other two, I talked to Mark about growth and change in the use of their products, the building of their business and the markets they serve.
To start with I asked, what is Soyang?
Soyang is a manufacturer of printing materials. And Soyang Europe is the largest stockholder of digital printing media in the UK and possibly Europe. We are a bit like Virgin, in that we are a quiet giant. Soyang has partners in Germany and Portugal that manufacture and this helps us serve our core European market - but the majority of our products are manufactured in China.
Where are you based and when were you formed?
Our European HQ is located in Altham, Lancashire, UK. The company utilises a warehouse that holds stock of in excess of 1.5 million sq. metres of material to distribute premium European and American manufactured products alongside a variety of innovative substrates produced by its high end Far Eastern partners, on a next day service.
Formed in 2005 as a subsidiary of Soyang Technologies Co Ltd, China, the company strives to deliver ‘best in class’ textile, banner, wall and floor covering substrates from carefully selected partners that offer innovative, creative and - wherever possible - solutions that exceed environmental requirements for display companies in the UK and Ireland.
What is it that Soyang does?
Soyang Europe is a leading supplier of digitally printable media for a broad range of industries including the wide format and super wide outdoor, retail POS, flag, and signage sectors.
We produce materials for printing which have traditionally always been point of sale. Originally, nearly all were PVC but this now has changed a lot to textile and we are seeing increase in demand for décor products too. The market is changing so we have to keep moving with it.
We tend to hold a lot of stock in house to be able to readily serve our customer base. In fact, 1.5 million sq metres in our HQ. 2 containers a week come in from Asia and our business covers a lot of ground especially when you consider there are only 20 of us here.
So textile is a core material for you?
Yes and this has grown substantially. 4 years ago we took on Tim Egerton who is a textile expert and with his involvement we have managed to grow this segment hugely. There are a number of compelling reasons that textile is growing. The material itself is 100% polyester and it is easily recyclable as well as it being adaptable, flexible, light-weight and has haptic touch properties which customers like because it increases the value.
Is textile doing something new and has it replaced older materials?
Yes to a large extent it has characteristics that are preferred over rigid substrates. The retail sector and exhibition market are really driving adoption of textile. For exhibitions, it is particularly compelling as the material is very disposable and recyclable as well as a high impact but low build effort in that it doesn’t require a team of people to build. The frequency of change within retail and exhibitions means textile has really grown in its use. This has disrupted rigid board and PVC as these materials are not seen as good for the environment and not as easy to recycle.
Is printing textile more difficult?
Sublimation is slightly harder than printing traditional graphics. You need to have some trials and tribulations! The companies that have persisted through the challenges have had huge success with textile in the last few years. It just takes time to adjust but now the technology is improving all of the time so for a good print company, a new technology should not pose too much of a problem.
Textile is a great proposition when you compare it with the alternative. PVC boards and vinyl graphic displays take a long time to make, and in contrast, the textile literally goes into a frame, it looks classy and has a haptic effect. Our customers tend to use an aluminium frame system with a LED light backdrop looks really effective. Store merchandising professionals love it as it gives them more scope. Some of the retail groups change their images 4- 5 times a year. They basically send out new prints and the visual merchandising team literally drops in the graphic. You don’t have to send a team to fit as it is much easier for everyone.
So this is a growing segment?
Yes, it is hugely and it is not small percentage growth. It has double-digit potential. One of the most interesting things is that every aspect of the market is using it from prestige brands to the lower end. TK Maxx are using it to great effect as well. Textile is replacing the rigid board graphic market considerably. It is comparable cost wise, more portable, lightweight and you can even wash it!
For industrial markets is there any material that you make that is relevant?
Yes, of course, décor is showing strong growth. Retail has become more sophisticated with their use of print. The graphics have come inside, into the walls, and advertising has changed somewhat into brand experiences so less about price advertising and in your face logos and more about subtle and sophisticated imagery to provide customers with a brand experience. This is in some way in line with the growth in out of town retail parks where the emphasis is as much on customer experience.
We introduced a range of materials called ‘SoDecor’ which is a collection of interior decoration materials which sit alongside our sign and graphics ranges suitable for printing to solvent, UV latex technologies.
There is no doubt that for digital print technology, interior décor is a massively popular area. We are continuing to keep Every Surface Covered with possibilities for printing to flooring, canvas, and wallpaper. We cannot stay fixed to one material and market, we have to develop where we see a new opportunity and we certainly can with interior décor. As a business, Soyang really has got everything under one roof to cover material requirements for any size and type of sign makers and digital print companies
Where is So Decor used?
It is being deployed well for wall covering. For example, a customer recently did a project for a 3.2 metre wide seamless covering 80 rolls so quite big over 2 months.
And we also see growth with flooring products. For example, carpets offer another opportunity to give their customers – a very thin cushion floor and it can be walked on and frequently changed which is something that customers like in order to captivate consumers and provide them with an experience.
We also see it being used in corporate headquarters. For example. Some of the big blue chips, they go into one of their reception areas you can have a seamless graphic, wall to floor to ceiling.
So this must be a big opportunity for traditional point of purchase print companies?
It is. And some do it well but the problem with 90% of printers is that they just print. They don’t think of the bigger opportunity that they can exploit with the technology that they already own. They’re not the real idea people. I have to say that HP has pioneered indoor graphics and display but if a print company has a clever graphics guy with a design capability they simply can sell more product with short run specialise décor. The profit margins are greater. They are looking for added value print, not just marketing print. The décor market is a great opportunity and we expect to see it grow for us but for also the wider marketplace.