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GRAPH EXPO 2010 : Something for Everyone

August 2010 By Erik Cagle
Senior Editor

Like the the swallows returning to Capistrano or the L.A. Lakers reaching the NBA finals, Chuck Stempler can be counted on to make his annual pilgrimage. Come fall, the president and CEO of AlphaGraphics Seattle can be found in the Mecca of U.S. printing trade shows: Chicago's McCormick Place for GRAPH EXPO.

Stempler tracks the industry quite closely, following its politics and economy with an eye toward the impact it may have on his bottom line. As a member of the AlphaGraphics network, he avails himself of any and every educational opportunity that comes down the pike, and the organization provides ample training and informational seminars/classes.

Yet the beauty of GRAPH EXPO, for Stempler, lies in the unknown. Here's a well-read executive of a $10 million printing operation who prepares a comprehensive needs and wish list, yet allows himself to wander the floors of McCormick Place South for two days, completely without preparation, and completely open to what he might stumble on in the next aisle.

"I try to allocate two days to walk, without a specific plan, through as much of the show as possible," Stempler says. "It's what I don't know that I really need to know."

Herein lies the beauty of Chicago in the fall—the joy of discovery.

Suffice to say, 2010 has been an eventful year for Ralph Nappi, president of the Graphic Arts Show Co. (GASC), which stages GRAPH EXPO. The news has been both positive and challenging for Nappi and GASC. The 500-pound gorilla for Nappi is the fact that two of the industry's biggest exhibitor names, Heidelberg and Komori, opted not to take booths at this year's show, but have signed on for future GRAPH EXPO events.

The offset press manufacturers have their reasons for not attending and Nappi is as sympathetic, and empathetic, as anyone in the industry. That the companies didn't opt for a scaled-back presence in Chicago stood as a bit of a disappointment for him.

Acting as a counter balance, the Illinois state government pushed through pivotal legislation that will make McCormick Place more competitive with other convention halls in America. Though this is of little consequence to show-goers, it does provide relief to exhibitors in several areas. And, going forward, it may compel some companies to set up booths and others to go even bigger with their exhibitor space.

As for now, the exhibitor rolls are—at press time—pretty much in line with Nappi's expectations for GRAPH EXPO 2010, which takes place Oct. 3-6. "We're 30 percent off of 2008, the last GRAPH EXPO. But, in fairness, 2008 was one of the largest we've ever had," he points out. "All of the major exhibitors are in except for the two, and a majority are reducing their (booth) sizes. To me, the size of the show is less important than the attendance, because you can't blame anybody for downsizing in this market."

Sensing the economic hangover from 2009, Nappi championed the decision to bring back GASC's exhibitor machinery handling incentive to encourage vendors to bring more equipment. The incentive covers the unloading of machinery from inbound carriers at the show site and delivery to the booth; one-time spotting at the time of unloading; and freight movement from booth to dock and loading of machinery onto outbound carriers at the close of the show.

On the attendee side, Nappi has reason to be optimistic. The economy has already bottomed out and activity is beginning to increase again, he notes. Additionally, he felt that Ipex in England enjoyed a good deal of buzz over its first four days in May, and little (if any) of it was fueled by U.S. attendees.

New to this year's GRAPH EXPO is the newspaper pavilion, dubbed News Print. "We'd been told for a couple of years that the newspaper production people were looking for a home," Nappi notes. The pavilion will feature live demonstrations of the newest industry equipment, and attendees will learn new applications, Web-based approaches to their business, profit-boosting solutions, and cost-effective workflow systems specific to newspaper publishing and printing.

The GREENspace pavilion has also been beefed up for 2010, according to Nappi. Attendees can, among other things, receive free one-on-one consultations with sustainability experts and check out the "Green Theater" for multiple, educational presentations. A GREENspace Directory will provide information on exhibitors that offer sustainability-focused products and services.

Other show highlights include:

• PackPrint, the package printing show within GRAPH EXPO, provides access to seminars, workflow demonstrations, networking opportunities and, of course, technology providers within the package printing and converting realms. Package printing equipment and supplies ranked as the third-highest area of interest in a poll of PRINT 09 attendees, trailing only digital printing and binding and finishing.

• The Mailing & Fulfillment Center features products and information on the electronic and physical processing of mailstream-bound initiatives. It will include a seminar track proctored by the Mailing & Fulfillment Service Association (MFSA). The Mailing & Fulfillment Center embarks on its seventh year at Graph Expo/PRINT and is continuing to grow, with 34 percent of those polled at PRINT 09 indicating they are expanding into this area.

• Future Print will focus on emerging technologies like RFID and printed electronics. Live demonstrations, free training and tutorials, educational opportunities and networking possibilities will be offered.

• Education Main Street will provide access to representatives from educational organizations who will detail their curriculum offerings, scholarships and students who are seeking internships.

Naturally, these special exhibits are in addition to the usual array of prepress, press and finishing equipment and accessories displayed by many of the industry's leading manufacturers. Of particular interest for some attendees will be the burgeoning areas of wide-format printing and digital printing.

Setting the table for GRAPH EXPO 2010 is the traditional pre-game event known as Executive Outlook. This year's program will examine how printers can succeed in the face of a continuing down economy, evolving customer requirements and the obstacles/opportunities presented by electronic alternatives.

One of the aspects of GRAPH EXPO 2010 that Nappi finds most compelling is the trend of print-related organizations co-locating their annual meetings or holding special sessions during the show. Among the reported 19 party goers: quick printers; International Newspaper Group (ING); mailing equipment dealers; digital press user groups; Goss, KBA and manroland web offset user groups; XPLOR Document University; the IDEAlliance/IPA G7 summit; and more.

"We've had a number of organizations say that GRAPH EXPO is the place to be and that they want to hold their event here," Nappi says. In all, 450 exhibitors will be on hand, augmented by the more than 50 seminars focusing on 11 print-related markets.

Craig Lauder, who heads up the Reed College (Portland, OR) Printing Services in-plant, will be making the trek to Chicago for the first time. He has high expectations for Graph Expo.

One of the priorities on Lauder's shopping list is finding a binding solution to replace the channel bind that Reed College's in-plant has relied upon the past 20 or so years for student theses. He's also doing some preliminary investigating for a high-volume digital press as an upgrade to their Canon C1.

"They want to bring more of the short-run color work in-house that we're currently sending out to a broker," he says. "About eight years ago we had offset presses. They decided to outsource all of that stuff, and now they're thinking of bringing it back in. Sound familiar?"

From a $10 million commercial printer to an in-plant with two employees, GRAPH EXPO serves a purpose to its attendees, regardless of the state of the economy. PI

Ralph Nappi doesn't have a problem answering awkward questions. The president of the Graphic Arts Show Co. (GASC), host of GRAPH EXPO and its companion PRINT exhibition, has heard this one before, and he doesn't give it much credence.

In light of the absence of such exhibitor heavyweights as Heidelberg and Komori at GRAPH EXPO 2010, and considering the sluggish economy of the past three years, is it still realistic to expect the U.S. printing industry to support an annual trade show? Nappi scoffs at the suggestion.

"If the largest printing industry in the world—by a factor of two times the next largest—can't support an annual show, I think there's something wrong," Nappi states. "The U.S. printing industry is a $175 billion marketplace, and the next closest is Japan at half of that. I'm hard pressed to believe that the industry can't support one major event a year."

Nappi adds that the marketplace has already experienced a sharp reduction in the number of shows and conferences. As an example, he points toward the decision of associations Printing Industries of America, the National Association for Printing Leadership and NPES to merge their respective spring conferences into one event.

Add Nappi to the list of people who believe that it isn't the size of an exhibitor's booth, but their very presence, that carries the most clout. "The size of the show is not important," he says. "The fact that we have the industry represented at that show is important. I'm not upset that some of our largest exhibitors had to cut their space in half. I'm thankful that they're coming."

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