Decorators in the collectibles market face a somewhat greater challenge. Sales of all types of collectibles have been declining, with a drastic sales decrease of 9.2% in 2001, according to Unity Marketing, Stevens, Pa. Glass and ceramic decorators who produce ceramic figurines and collector plates have struggled in the past year to overcome market conditions.
Although domestic suppliers often can’t compete with Chinese pricing, logistics and product quality remain prime customer concerns. “Today’s communications technology makes it easier to do business overseas,” says Dave Weimer of Houze Glass, Point Marion, Pa. “However, overseas companies can’t do a quick turnaround, especially for small orders. Shipping can take a month and thus usually requires large orders.”
Brian Deszell of Custom Deco South, Orlando, Fla., agrees. “If time is of the essence, overseas companies can’t compete with domestic suppliers,” he says.
In the collectibles market, plate decorators are focusing more on basic round, oval or square/rectangular substrates, since production costs of exotic shapes are too high and demand is dropping. However, unusual shapes still attract attention if the design is well targeted. The Bradford Exchange offers a Heaven’s Little Star plate featuring delicately scalloped edges, and The Franklin Mint offers a shamrock-shaped plate with an Irish blessing. For such higher-end collectibles, special effects remain popular, including precious metal applications, two-sided decals, raised paint and glow-in-the-dark designs.
“The increasing pressure on price has forced us to be more innovative and do more with less,” says Mike McCall of Heinrich Ceramic Decal, Worcester, Mass. “We are looking at techniques that can give us different looks at lower cost; for instance, simpler techniques like heat-release instead of water-slide decals.” Some of the company’s new designs incorporate high-profile raised print and custom formulated micas.
Decorators must continue to capitalize on new design trends while maximizing their businesses around core products to survive. This means working closely with suppliers to develop new technology to meet these trends, while also keeping production costs down.