Welcome to A&E Asks: Five Minutes with… where one-on-one interviews with industry professionals are featured in a Q&A format. These interviews share the experiences, opinions and ideas of some of the industry’s best-known individuals.
In these interviews, we’ll discuss the industry’s current events, as well as what the future holds for each company. We are very pleased to interview sublimation expert Aaron Montgomery of Coastal Business Supplies.
Q: Could you provide a general state of the industry report, specifically how the growth or decline has affected the market and what that means for the awards and engraving industry?
A: I have continued to see the segment of the market I’m involved in grow at a large rate. Sublimation and digital decoration has opened up huge opportunities for many awards companies, not just with their traditional awards business, but by allowing them to be more of a one-stop shop for their customers. The industry as a whole has the ability to be strong and growth oriented, but only for those willing to look outside of the box.
Q: Could you provide specific examples of these influences on the state of the industry?
A: Many traditional awards companies have faced a great deal of downturn in their core business due to the desire for more personalization and individualization. This is in addition to the increased competition and pricing pressure from our new economy and influx of services like Alibaba and other Asian companies coming to America. This means companies must find new markets, new ways to create more profit margins. Sublimation and digital decoration can be those things. For example, if you have a laser, it is no longer enough to just cut shapes, you must also personalize those shapes. Sports photographers can no longer just offer paper pictures, they must offer plaques, coffee mugs, mouse pads, etc.
Q: What’s big in sublimation?
A: Outside of sublimation itself becoming more mainstream, some specific areas I am seeing growth in are sock decoration and arm sleeves. Those are not traditional awards products, but awards companies have access to the perfect market in youth sports that also want these products.
Q: Any particular industry trends that seem to be emerging in 2016?
A: I see the rise of 3-dimensional decoration with the use of a vacuum press coming more into the sublimation space. This will allow for even more items to be decorated and even more creativity to be introduced to digital decoration.
Q: What are customers requesting or wanting out of this equipment and substrates?
A: Full wrap mobile device cases, plates, flasks and other curved items are being decorated with the vacuum presses. They also want other really creative things like computer mice, iWatch bands, sunglasses and more. Customers are still decorating coffee mugs and other drinkware as well.
Q: Any particular market within the awards and engraving industry that is growing or declining?
A: The youth sports market seems to be growing to me. With our socially connected society, those kids see the professional athletes wearing arm sleeves, socks and other items and they want their own. Also, the parents want a plaque they can hang on the wall of their kid playing sports so they have a memory to go along with the hundreds of dollars they shelled out for those kids to play sports.
Q: What do your customers’ buying habits look like?
A: We are very fortunate to work with a huge range of different customers and the only real habit we can see across the board is that businesses are growing. In my 16 years in the industry, I have never seen a time with so much growth. The customers are trying their best to manage the growth, so last minute orders are a common occurrence.
Q: Are there any big plans for 2016? Any announcements of new hires, retirements, anniversaries, charity events, etc.?
A: Coastal Business continues to donate a portion of our proceeds at Coastal Business quarterly to our group of charitable organizations that are close to our employees’ hearts. This has been something the company has done continually since its inception 26 years ago. Our company continues to grow and we expect to add three to four employees before the end of 2016. We will be adding more technical support and install staff, and new account manager and service staff. If anyone is looking for a job, let me know.