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Printing Industry Exchange (printindustry.com) is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Large Format Printing: A Change in the Malls and Shops

I’m seeing a change in the malls and retail shops. Mind you, I seldom buy things in malls, so I have—perhaps—a more objective view than many other people. What I’m seeing is the more creative use of large format print signage.

It seems that not that long ago, when a shop in a mall went out of business and had to be rebuilt and rebranded, a large, ugly sheetrock wall went up to block off the construction. Not only was it ugly, but it didn’t fit in with the rest of the décor in the mall, nor did it use the potential display space for anything productive.

But over the last few years I have seen a change for the better. As large format print signage has become more prevalent, showing up on the sides of buildings as well as on buses and cars, the wall space blocking off construction sites in malls has taken on the function of a huge advertisement.

In most cases the signage has maintained the “look” of the mall, in terms of color palettes, imagery, and fonts. In some cases the space has been used as a press release, advertising the upcoming opening of a new store, perhaps even a new brand. Graphic designers have spread huge, glamorous models across the walls to entice onlookers to buy once the store has opened, or reopened in the case of remodeling.

Benefits of This New Approach

  1. For a mall, a vacancy can be the kiss of death. Vacancies often breed more vacancies, and the point comes when the mall dies. Obviously it is in the vested interest of the mall owner to avoid the appearance of a vacancy. Fortunately, the splash of color and imagery that has become the norm for build-outs of new mall stores avoids this look of dereliction completely, and even suggests that something new and exciting is about to happen.
  2. Safety is another issue. People tend to feel less safe around construction sites, and this concern could slow down mall traffic. Large format print signage used in this way can mask the appearance of construction, while showing that the mall management is both aware of and sensitive to the concerns of its clients.
  3. Promotional opportunities are a third benefit. A savvy marketer can see a construction wall in a mall not as an eye sore but as a potential billboard to inform passersby of the kind of store coming to the new location, what it will be selling, and when it will open. Advertising: now that’s a good use of space.
  4. A sense of cohesiveness. A large format print display covering the construction site gives a feeling of unity within the mall, a sense that all of the diverse shops are part of a unified shopping experience. Even the currently unused space is important because it is on the way to becoming a new and important destination.
  5. Privacy. This really applies more to street corner drug stores and the like than to retail clothing establishments found in a mall. Sometimes people in a store want to avoid being in a fish bowl. They want privacy. In such cases a large format print display covering the windows of such a store can give passersby a good idea of what to expect inside while shielding those doing business within the building.
  6. New branding opportunities abound, and high-flying brands like Starbucks and Chipotle can establish a presence even before the opening day. I recently saw a Chipotle on a local street corner, not in a mall but within a shopping district. The signage for the upcoming burritos, bowls, tacos, and salads prepared the neighborhood for the opening while reinforcing the brand. It was as though the store was already there satisfying hungry customers. The large format print signage—clearly more so than any blank, vacant windows on the street—gave the sense that Chipotle was robust and expanding into all the neighborhoods.

What You Can Learn from This

Don’t waste any opportunity to advertise, to keep the public informed.

In an age where even the shopping carts in the local grocery stores have advertising emblazoned on them, it is prudent to not let empty space go to waste. This awareness can inform your own graphic design and print buying, in terms of the marketing opportunities you suggest to those higher up in your organization. If you come up with new ways for them to make money–such as creative uses for large format print signage–they’ll love you for it.

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