By Ed Avis
When Zane Sharpe looks at the prospects for his market in 2017, he’s enthused.
“In the Southeast and in North Carolina particularly, the market has been good the last couple of years,” says Sharpe, vice president of Sharpe Images, an APDSP member in North Carolina. “There’s been a lot of multi-family housing work, and we’re seeing more healthcare work pick up. I think with the potential changes in government, and the stabilization of insurance issues, hospitals are feeling more comfortable expanding.”
Sharpe has a lot of company. In a member survey in November, APDSP asked how people were feeling about 2017. Respondents could choose from five levels of optimism, ranging from “very worried” to “great.” The largest number of respondents – 64 percent – reported that they are feeling “pretty good – I expect some growth in 2017.” Another 19 percent reported that they are feeling “great – I think business is going to grow substantially in 2017.”
On the other end of the spectrum, about 8 percent of respondents said they are “a little worried – I think business will fall a bit in 2017,” and about 9 percent said “neutral – I think business will be about flat in 2017.” None of the 54 respondents selected the most pessimistic option: “Very worried. I think our business is going to take a big hit in 2017.”
One reprographics shop owner who selected “a little worried” is Bob Leslie, president of Andrew T. Johnson Company, a reprographics firm in Boston.
“Every year seems like a struggle just to stay flat,” Leslie says. “We’ve been flat since 2010. We’re still old-school reprographics, we still rely on print.”
Leslie explains that his company has adapted to the shrinking print market by adding digital services and some color work, but the bulk of their work is still plan reproduction. And even though Boston’s construction business is strong, those builders and designers are asking for fewer and fewer prints.
“We have more cranes in the air than we did back in the ‘80s, but it’s not equating to prints coming off our equipment,” he says. “So the economy overall is good, but that’s not translating down to volume. I’m not a negative person at all, but when I look at the situation it’s certainly not growth.”
Diversification May be the Difference
Leslie’s company is, as he calls it, “old school.” He does some non-traditional work, but mostly he relies on the kind of work the reprographics industry grew up on.
Sharpe’s business model is different. His company still serves primarily builders and designers, but they offer services well beyond traditional reprographics. For example, in 2014 they launched Sharpe Safety Solutions, which provides those customers with safety equipment, ranging from hard hats to gas monitors. (Read more about this business line here: http://www.apdsp.org/sharpe-on-safety-north-carolina-repro-shop-finds-new-market-/)
Sharpe also does a lot of document asset management for their clients, and they’ve dived into the color world. One of the most successful color areas for Sharpe is CAD color.
“We have found that the contractors in the field still want their prints, but everything is color coded so they need color in the prints,” Sharpe says. “I talked to one electrical contractor who told me he couldn’t do the job without color drawings. And I just met with a paint contractor who had been coloring the drawings by hand to indicate colors, which took them two to four hours for five sheets. Now they love doing it on the computer.”
The growth of color CAD work has helped Sharpe place 40 KIP 800 series printers among his clients, mostly leases.
The reprographics business – and services to contractors beyond reprographics, like safety equipment – is likely to grow if construction grows in 2017.
The Associated Builders and Contractors follows construction trends, and that organization released a press release indicating optimism for the new year:
“Nonresidential construction spending is up approximately 5 percent on a year-over-year basis, and momentum should build further,” said ABC Chief Economist Anirban Basu in the press release. “With a new presidential administration coming to Washington there is a presumption that the economic dynamics of the near-term future will be markedly different than they have been. …. The major source of uncertainty regarding the near-term outlook stems from whether the incoming administration will successfully pass an infrastructure package and how quickly such legislation would translate into stepped-up public construction spending.”
If that happens, it should help validate the optimism APDSP members showed in November’s survey.