Summer holidays – or at least warmer temperatures – may still be a recent memory but it’s never too early to start planning for the festive season Michael Walker looks at some trade print options that should help bring some yuletide cheer.

It’s almost never too soon to start thinking about Christmas, and after another economically challenging year, it’s the period when we hope to make good. The trade printers have already been thinking about it, and have plenty of suggestions.

There is a wide range of products available, from the more obvious staple seasonal items like wrapping paper, cards and calendars to gifts of all kinds, such as snow globes, baubles and gift boxes. Craig Stark at Tradeprint observes, ‘As the holiday season approaches, we witness a significant uptake in the demand for ceramic mugs, coasters, photo calendars, personalised apparel, cushions, and more,’ noting that the company’s recently-launched Online Designer with 3D preview helps customers to check their uploaded artwork will produce the desired product, in addition to the existing automated 40-point artwork check.

Tradeprint has also moved into personalised packaging in a big way, offering an expanded range of products that includes personalised shipping and mailer boxes, custom gift boxes, and bottle boxes. These can be combined with custom packaging tape and sticker products for more complete personalised offerings and suggests that discount offers or even mini catalogues can be included in the box; the company also offers a range of ‘extremely competitively’ priced large for at signage and display products, which it says were very popular last Christmas, perhaps reflecting a return to normality in public events and activities after the Covid restriction period.

Gary Peeling, CEO at Where The Trade Buys (WTTB) reports that ‘Notebooks, mindfulness journals and even diaries are back in fashion. With that in mind we will have a new range with pre-printed stock blocks and proper sewn binding, perfect for brands who want to engage with their customers.’

Holidays are coming

Not your typical Christmas stocking – custom tote bags are within WTTB’s gift

WTTB has also added garments such as hoodies via a new apparel range which can be personalised and could be adapted for events such as Christmas Jumper Day or as branded wear for fundraising events in the run-up to the festive season. Likewise, there are branded aprons on offer and Mr Peeling notes that personalised Advent calendars are as popular with adults as with children.

Leicester-based Flexpress mainly sells Christmas cards and calendars but also offers gift tags, wine boxes and wrapping paper. MD Steve Wenlock says, ‘We’re not planning to add anything new this year, but we’ll probably look to include some fighting lines in our Super Saver range.’

It’s a similar story at Rotherham’s Route 1, where the company’s Macauley Hardeman says, ‘We have made the strategic decision to prioritise our core products, namely greetings cards and calendars, and refrain from expanding our print portfolio this year. Our goal is to solidify our position as market leaders in these key product categories by delivering unparalleled quality and efficient turnarounds.’

Whether their Christmas ranges are being expanded or not, all four have continued to invest in equipment and software to maximise their productivity and efficiency in order to offer competitive pricing and reliable turnaround times. Flexpress has added a Duplo booklet-making machine and three-knife trimmer, plus a big software investment in Rip, imposition and workflow. Route 1 has got its Landa S10P press into full-time production, supported by two new Multigraf Touchline TCF375 creaser/folders and another Autobond Mini laminator.

WTTB has a £1.6 million automated binding line being installed as this article was written, following on from the garment investment in a DTFMagic Pro 60 direct-to-film printer earlier in the year. Tradeprint had a major investment period in 2022 with the addition of a Canon VarioPrint iX3200 sheet-fed digital press and a Heidelberg XL106 LED UV offset press, which respectively have reduced minimum order quantities and turnaround times.


The power of print

But it’s not just about what your customers buy, it’s about what you can sell, and the argument is put succinctly by Mr Wenlock: ‘Most businesses tend to see marketing as a cost rather than an investment so cut back on it, at the time they need it most. As a response we’ll be adding products to our Super Saver range to try to help our clients be able to offer a high-quality, low-cost option.’

However, Mr Peeling points out that ‘Digital marketing costs have increased so both hospitality and retail need to find tangible ways to attract customers at what should be their most profitable time of year. Display and print marketing not only offers great value but will also help drive return.’

Mr Hardeman echoes this theme, saying, ‘Print marketing… becomes especially relevant during Christmas, the most heavily marketed time of the year. In a digital age, print materials can evoke emotions, provide a tactile experience, and stand out from digital clutter,’ while Mr Stark points out that print can be used to support an online presence:

‘Printed advertisements, such as flyers, posters, and banners, can be powerful tools in promoting your website or social media pages. These tangible materials can attract potential customers and drive traffic to your online platforms.’

Other advice revolves around carefully targeted and simple-to-follow offers. Mr Wenlock advocates, ‘sell print as an investment as opposed to an expense. Use every opportunity to deliver proof of concept,’ citing Flexpress’s free raised spot UV and raised foiling sampling service as ways to do that. Mr Stark suggests that consolidating purchasing via a single supplier will streamline procurement, always helpful if and when the desired Christmas rush arrives.

But the main advice is that given at the start, which is to start early. Mr Peeling provides a timeline: ‘Planning is all-important as the main activity takes place in October for delivery in November in time for Christmas. Decide what products you are going to focus on and decide on your target customers. Think about having samples in hand ready to go and make sure that discussions with clients about their marketing and product needs start in early September to raise awareness, with a view to orders being closed in October.’

Mr Hardeman adds further impetus, noting that, ‘The Christmas rush arrives swiftly, and even as early as mid-summer, we’ve seen an influx of Christmas print orders. Ensure your customers know that you’re their go-to printer for all their Christmas printing needs, so they can plan ahead and avoid last-minute stress.’

Since Christmas can often be a stressful time for families, it seems a double win not to let it be one for business. Have a great one!