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Visual Marketing – Manage In-house or Outsource?

Custom store fixtures

As your company grows and evolves, it’s important to have guidelines around where you apply your time, money, and company resources. Case in point – in-store visual marketing (the visual elements in a brick and mortar store that encourage purchase of products). When should you outsource it vs. take on in house? Then, once you’ve made the decision, how do you split the tasks and why? All good questions that we’ll tackle step by step here to help you find some clarity.

This is intended to specifically address visual marketing, however some points can be carried over to apply in other areas of marketing, or general business.

What is Visual Marketing?

First, a simple list of general tasks and definitions surrounding visual marketing:

  1. Design – where is the brand now, where is it headed, and how is that communicated consistently to each element?
  2. Asset Creation – making the actual artwork, taking photographs, etc. to be reproduced at quantity
  3. Testing (aka prototyping) – testing different materials, techniques, visual mockups to see the design idea in person and make tweaks to get just right
  4. Production at scale – optimizing production at scale
  5. Project management – managing cost, timeline, distribution list, shipping and freight logistics, storage, coordination between departments, replacements
  6. Feedback and improvement – revisions, fixes, closeout

It’s all about the people

Whether you produce one or one million items, these general items need to be addressed in order to have a successful outcome. Does your company have the people and technology in place to perform at an acceptable level at these milestones? If so, keep things in-house for better control, consistency, and build it into a process that increases the company’s overall value.

Another way to get at the answer is to ask where your in-house experience ends? Often, when a new product comes to market, marketing typically ends with product packaging. This would draw the line at #2 above: asset creation. Making a great product and creating a recognizable brand is one thing – optimizing and supporting the product in-store to increase sell-through is another. So in this case, it may be better to keep the design and asset creation process in house, then partner with another company to execute from there. This is what we usually see across brands and retailers and it makes total sense. The most important thing in any marketing effort is to protect the brand, and keeping things in-house gives the best chance of doing that.

Quantity and complexity – the main drivers

Quantity typically drives the next factor when considering outsourcing your visual marketing – in a few ways. Are you making five graphics, or five thousand? How many art versions are there? How many final locations will be receiving them? Are the locations owned by the company, or wholesale at a third party location? Is any special kitting involved? Does thinking about it make your head spin, or are you rearing to tackle it head on?

Generally, if your marketing can all be produced in bulk and shipped to a single location, you’re probably best managing it in house. You’d be able to choose the supplier with the best price, and likely won’t need much customer service. A recent example we had was a laminated floor graphic with adhesive for a client tradeshow. Our client needed two with the same art version, which they provided. Our price was 10x more than an online printer. Both could hit the timeline, and it just had to last for two days. Makes total sense to go with an online printer, as in the worst case scenario the graphic just needs to be reprinted.

On the flip side, if you have multiple art versions, graphic sizes, locations, and different footprints that require special kitting – it’s time to engage with an outside company that does this sort of thing everyday. Note that not all printers are created equal. Direct mail is different from large format, vinyl is not the same as fabric, and typically supporting services are also quite different. While graphics are more straightforward, it’s a little different when it comes to store fixtures.

Printing and store fixtures – the core of Visual Merchandising

Renderings, shop drawings, materials, and techniques are quite different from printing – software, education, and general career path to name a few. Compared to printing, these specialized skills are more involved in the design process, and it makes more sense to rely on outside fabricators to manage and develop these assets vs. coming up with your own design only to find that it doesn’t scale due to material availability, special machines required, or time. So, if you have architects on staff, you’d be fine to tackle in-house. If not, best to collaborate and lean on outside suppliers to create the final product.

Cross departmental functions matter

Taking a step back, how often are deliverables for each of these areas produced? Do they integrate with a separate department (purchasing, store development / operations), and is it managed by the parent department? With one to ten stores, a small team could conceivably manage all the details. Beyond that, it’s probably best to split out the team creating the new store locations vs. those optimizing it from there onward. Fortunately, this more or less follows our previous print / fixture guidelines of where to delineate tasks. Something to think about – when you’re at this point, you’ll start to think about additional supporting suppliers: software, warehousing, freight, overseas production, etc. to find the sweet spot for what the company will need for years to come.

In the end, when to manage in-house vs. outsource is relatively simple – manage it until you can’t!


Jeff Lo is owner of TGS Elevate, a visual marketing / merchandising company that provides printing, point of purchase displays, and store fixture manufacturing, and in-store build outs for companies that have 50-500 locations nationwide.

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You Matter More than the Machines

Imagine that your goal is to increase product sales. Specifically, increasing sell-through at retail. You’ll need signage, displays, promotional items, or other creative products that effectively communicate the essence of your brand.

Maybe you have a larger budget for the holidays—your highest annual revenue for the year—and you want to take your store windows to the next level.

A standard Google search will link you to zillions of possible ideas and suppliers. Sometimes the easy choice is to go to any first-page-result printer or fabricator with an existing product close to your specifications. But will you really get the best possible result, at the best price?

Unfortunately, you probably won’t.

Two not-so-secret secrets in the print, POP display fixtures, and promotional products industries:

  •      Suppliers base the products and services they offer on the specific equipment and people they have on hand.
  •      When your needs don’t align with what their machines and people can do, they’ll often sub out the project for trade work, but still tell you it’s all in house.

These realities mean that supplier recommendations—for everything from design to materials to assembly and installation specifics—will be based on a) which machines they own and expertise they employ; and/or b) who they know in the industry.

As a result, the solution you’re offered may not be the most durable, creative, timely, environmentally friendly, or affordable—in short, it might not hit the “sweet spot” for your project or your priorities.

Let’s take a deeper dive into this issue and investigate alternatives to get exactly what you need.

Feeding the Machine

Things like wide-format printers are expensive. As in millions of dollars each.

Technology is also advancing rapidly. That means, today, new equipment is purchased more often than ever before. Redundancy is necessary to insure against breakdowns, so most suppliers buy multiple machines that can “do the same job.”

All told, we’re talking big money here. And because companies must be profitable, they strive to maximize the return on their huge investments—ideally, the machines are running non-stop.

A company with laser cutters will, therefore, tend to recommend constructing a display out of a material that their lasers can cut. A company with dollars sunk in CNC machines, on the other hand, will recommend that fabrication technique and the materials to make use of their equipment and expertise.

Have a tricked out 3D printer? It starts to look like the right tool for almost any job!

This situation has many implications. Let’s say your goal is to purchase a tabletop display to hold a graphic. A plastic display company may suggest an acrylic, heat-bent angled sign holder. A woodworker, in contrast, might suggest a wood base with a slit—at 5x the cost and 2x the lead time!

While there is no right or wrong, the best option depends on your specific need, which neither shop may actually meet.

A Hidden Middleman

What happens if you have a project that doesn’t feed the right machines? Many suppliers will still bid on the job, but then you are relying on them to serve as a middleman, outsourcing to and managing other shops.

How transparent and effective are they in this role? How hard will they (and can they) negotiate price on your behalf? Will you pay a large markup? Does this handoff introduce potential problems over project management coordination or quality control?

In these cases, you may end up with a half-measure solution, with a full-measure investment of your time and energy.

Or as the saying goes, your mileage may vary.

A Materials Agnostic Approach

None of the above sounds terribly client-centric, does it? But what’s the alternative?

At TGS Elevate, we call it a “materials agnostic approach.” By that, we mean recognizing that each project is unique and requires a tailor-made solution. What’s more, it means understanding that the client is in the best position to choose which option meets their needs.

With a materials agnostic approach, a supplier will typically engage with clients earlier in the process. They can serve as a partner in concept, design, and prototyping and take the project all the way through production and installation.

In other words, they can start with your idea, design and explore various avenues, and reach a result that checks all the boxes.

Why pursue a materials agnostic approach?

  •       When the machines aren’t driving the decisions, creativity is unleashed. Want a design that curves and bows, features engraved and painted text, and is made light, modular, and easily assembled for shipping to your outlets? With a materials agnostic approach, that’s a “yep, can do!”
  •       When the machines aren’t the primary consideration, the client’s priorities take center stage. For instance, many brands are increasing their sustainability and social justice aims. Such objectives affect the materials to be used, production locations, and more. A materials agnostic partner can present corresponding options.
  •       When company-owned machines aren’t a limitation, projects can be bid out to an array of pre-vetted, reliable partners, which maximizes price leverage and helps to stay within your budget.

The keys to making this model work are transparency, collaboration, and technology. With the right mindset and project management tools, a provider can work hand in hand with the client from concept to completion. End-to-end coordination and service enhance the experience and minimize the burden on your team.

Turn to TGS Elevate

If this sounds like an entirely different approach than the one you’re used to—well, you’re right!

The materials agnostic model is our response to the often unquestioned, “old school” way of doing things in our industry. And it’s fueled by innovation at every step.

Your creative products are meant to attract, engage, inspire, motivate, and captivate human audiences. Don’t allow decisions about them to be driven by the needs of the machines.

Want to explore how a materials agnostic approach can transform your creative capabilities and output? Check out our website at

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Good, Better, Best

holiday tree with gifts, graphic illustration

Life is all about options. In order to find the sweet spot for each project, our team provides good, better, and best options for you to choose from, as well as a recommendation based on our extensive experience. Let’s say you’re looking to integrate the clean aesthetic of white oak into your space. A good option would be to print a white oak pattern onto an inexpensive material like paper or sintra. This gives you the look, without breaking the bank. A better option would be to use a wood laminate, then mount it to a less expensive material, like MDF or styrene. The best option then would be to produce out of actual white oak.What other supplier in your arsenal can move fluidly between graphics, design, materials, wood, and metal? When you work with TGS Elevate, all options are on the table. That’s what we mean by materials agnostic, and you’re supported with white glove service every step of the way.Are you ready to up your game?

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Meet Jeff Lo, COO of TGS Elevate

Jeff Lo Photo Mockup on blue background

If you have ever spoken with Jeff Lo you know how passionate he is about TGS Elevate. He provides a the overall company vision and still pays attention to the details that help TGSE outshine their competition. How did Jeff get to where he is today? Here is his professional bio with a little background…

Jeff is the owner and COO of TGS Elevate, the premier provider of print, store fixture manufacturing, promotional products, and global sourcing solutions to the retail industry. As leader of a mature company founded in 1996 that supports Fortune 500 companies, Jeff’s daily focus is business development, while he also leads the sales, production, and administrative departments.

Self-described as a hammer looking for a nail, Jeff’s diverse background has provided all the know-how to run a small business. Initially attending UC Davis on the electrical engineering track, Jeff later switched to pre-law before ultimately graduating with a pre-med Bachelor’s degree in Biological Science. Out of school, Jeff pivoted away from medicine and worked for a registered investment advisor before transitioning to a professional services company in Marin County where he soon led an eight-person accounting team.

Hired by TGS Elevate in 2012 to prepare the company for sale, Jeff developed and implemented best practices for hiring, managing, accounting, payroll, finance, sales, and marketing. Along the way, Jeff led all day-to-day functions of the company, and realized an average of 20% year over year gross revenue growth and 15% bottom line profitability growth for three consecutive years before purchasing the company outright in 2015. Jeff lives in San Anselmo, California with his wife and two kids and enjoys golf, photography, traveling, and motorsports.

Five Fun Facts about Jeff:

  1. He has three sisters, no brothers
  2. Has impeccable handwriting
  3. He is an Eagle Scout with the Boy Scouts of America
  4. Has extensive high performance driving experience
  5. Willing to talk about food, any time, anywhere


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One Email to Rule Them All. Easy Printing, Fixtures + Installation

TGS Elevate makes it easy for clients to create outstanding marketing and engaging store fronts. Not only are they experts in commercial printing, building custom displays and installing bespoke fixtures, they also have simplified the entire process down to a single email!

Whether you know exactly what you want to order or if you need help with the initial design, TGS Elevate has you covered. Here’s what you need to do:

Here’s what TGS Elevate will do:

  • Everything else!!

Our team of experts will work with you throughout the entire process. Here are the services we offer.

  1. Design
  2. Printing
  3. Manufacture
  4. Promote
  5. Launch
  6.  Fulfill
  7. Manage
  8. Give you all the credit!

Give us a call at 415-482-9000 or schedule a call through our online calendar. We look forward to hearing from you,

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You Might Be Eligible for a Tax Credit When You Hire TGS Elevate

TGS Elevate started as a certified Woman-Owned Enterprise (WBE) in 1996, and in 2016 also became a certified Minority-Owned Enterprise (MBE). When you work with us, you satisfy supplier diversity requirements, which entitles you to receive federal and/or state tax credits. On top of that, our design and prototyping work is considered as R&D, which qualifies your company for additional tax credits! Read on for more details.

What is a Minority-Owned Business?

According to the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC), in the U.S., a minority business enterprise is defined as a company that is at least 51% owned and operated by an individual U.S. citizen that is at least 25% African American, Asian, Hispanic, or Native American, or in the case of a publicly owned business, at least 51% of the stock is owned by one or more such individuals. Companies must go through a long and rigorous process to become a certified MBE member. This leaves out any guessing when choosing a business to hire. A business with a MBE certificate has been well vetted, is trustworthy, and is highly skilled and valued.

Tax Credits

Working with a minority owned business allows you to claim tax credits with federal and state agencies. In addition, design and prototyping is considered research and development, which qualifies entitled parties for an additional tax credit. Federal and state laws differ, so contacting your tax professional is the best way to see what you qualify for.

To learn more, read this article.

Why These are Seldom Used

Larger companies, who are eligible for these tax credits but seldom ever redeem them, commonly have different departments between new vendor intake, budget approval, and tax preparation. This leads to a lot of opportunities to lose the message in translation. It’s also common that any savings that could come from a tax credit are provided under a separate GL or cost center from the person making the purchase, so there is no direct incentive to pass the word along and take the free money.

For example, let’s say marketing approves a new fixture rollout. After going through design iterations, prototypes, shipping and creative time, directly with the supplier, the final invoice passed to the accounting department does not have the R&D cost itemized separately. In turn, accounting does not have enough specific information to pass along to the tax department. So, the cycle breaks.

Why Does it Matter?

Diversity is better for communities and corporations alike. In today’s changing world, being a company that is aware and proactive about inclusivity is the next step. If you don’t have an internal supplier diversity program, here are some reasons from the Harvard Business Review of why you should consider it.

Hop to It!

When you work with us, not only are you satisfying those requirements but also you are contributing to a social initiative that promotes equality and diversity. Reach out to us today about your next project!


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TGS Elevate Launches Newsletter and gives Subscribers a 10% Discount

Did you know you could get up to $1000 off your next purchase with TGS Elevate? As a celebration of their new brand and newsletter, TGSE is giving all of their newsletter subscribers 10% off their next order.

There are many reasons to join the TGSE mailing list. Jeff Lo, Owner and + VP, shares how to get the best results for the lowest cost on commercial printing, fixtures, installations and manufacturing. Learn the best times of the year to make big purchases, how to leverage overseas productions and why Summer is the best time to plan your holiday marketing. If you haven’t already, subscribe to the TGSE Newsletter. You save 10% when you sign up and will continue to benefit from the expert advice in each email.

As always, we would love to hear from you. Let us know if there are specific topics you would like Jeff to address in the next newsletter. We are here to help make your marketing dreams come true. Send Jeff an email.

To receive 10% off your next order, sign up for the TGSE Newsletter and mention the promo code that you will receive upon subscription to our newsletter at time of placing order. Single use only. Offer valid to new and returning clients. Maximum discount value of $1,000. Credit applied on final invoice, excludes taxes. Valid through 9/30/21. Client must remain on our email list to qualify. Valid through 9/30/21.