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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.

The Show Will Go On

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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