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EDITOR'S notebook

November 2004
Graph Expo Delivers

Major trade shows like Graph Expo and Converting Expo 2004, held in Chicago last month, historically served as a good indicator of current market conditions in the U.S. printing industry. All you had to do was walk up and down several aisles, taking stock of visitor traffic on the show floor and, even more telling, observing to see if salespeople representing the various exhibitors were busy talking up customers and prospects or just largely chitchatting among themselves and commiserating with their competitors.

But times are changing. The new industry paradigm is quality over quantity. Unlike the go-go '90s, don't expect to see packed crowds clamoring to descend on the show floor when an event opens. Trade exhibitions in today's world of tightened travel budgets, reduced head counts and increased workloads back at the plant translate into fewer attendees. And some printers, during the past few years, even stopped going to industry shows altogether because they knew deep down that they were in no position to upgrade their facilities anyway.

Despite this new reality, Graph Expo 2004 exceeded expectations. Although the exhibition seemed to get off to a rather slow start the opening day—perhaps due to nearby streets being closed off for runners competing in the Chicago Marathon—activity during the remaining three days built to a crescendo. In fact, the Graphic Arts Show Co. (GASC), organizers of Graph Expo and Converting Expo, reported total attendance at nearly 40,000 people, an increase from 2003.

Even more heartening was widespread agreement among the more than 600 exhibitors that the visitors who came to the show were actually purchasing, or at least seriously contemplating, new hardware and software. Some even reported that they had hit their four-day show sales quotas as early as the second day of the exhibition. Maybe their quotas weren't excessively high given these tough economic times, but it was still very encouraging news for an industry that hasn't had a lot to cheer about lately.

The fact that 2004 is a Drupa year (the graphic arts industry's largest show, held in Germany every four years) also helped make Graph Expo so successful. Only a small percentage of the several hundred thousand visitors who converged on Drupa in May hailed from North America. Thus, Graph Expo 2004 served as the first North American showing for many of the products that debuted at Drupa. And, since savvy printers know that manufacturers typically choose Drupa to debut or overhaul major products, many awaited Graph Expo to acquire the most state-of-the-art systems commercially available.


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