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PRINT 13: Mood: A Breath of Fresh Air

October 2013 By Erik Cagle, Senior Editor
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There was a distinct air of optimism in the halls of McCormick Place South, and Paul Hudson could feel it.

The president and owner of Hudson Printing, a $28 million concern located in Salt Lake City, had attended his first Dscoop event in April of 2012 and even then he could sense a positive transformation was taking place. Hudson's views were validated further when the late summer/early fall of 2013 arrived, and brought with it a PRINT 13 that boasted a vibe and energy severely lacking in the past few Graph Expos.

"To me, there was a palpable difference (in the industry) during Dscoop and PRINT 13," Hudson observes. "There was an energy (in Chicago) like, wow, these people must be making some money. That point of view may have been filtered through my optimistic outlook."

If Hudson is guilty of viewing the show in terms of his own good fortunes, well, he's not alone. While pundits have pointed out in recent years that PRINT/Graph Expo is not a buying show, but an educational event and a networking opportunity, there's an argument to be made that the latest edition of PRINT had a distinct transactional flavor to it. Judging by anecdotal testimony, this was the largest buying show since before the Great Recession.

A 100-year-old company, Hudson Printing has long been known as a heatset offset publication printer. But, in recent years—and with the acquisition of an HP Indigo—the firm has ventured into commercial printing, producing direct mail, promotional materials and compliance work, among other things. When his brother (and former co-owner) retired last year, Paul Hudson wanted to change the company culture and gravitate toward more collaborative executive and management teams. He decided to bring a team to Chicago, rather than go by himself. So, a crew of eight, including managers from the binding, mailing, prepress and pressroom departments, joined Hudson, all attending the show for the first time ever.

"It was fantastic," Hudson says. "I'm trying to help my full management team understand our new collaborative direction, which is a significant change for the company. Industry events we attended (at night) after the show also provided some team-building opportunities. It was great to expose everyone to the full range of vendors inside and outside their specific domains.

"We held a few meetings before the show, to make sure everyone had a sense of why we were all going and what we were hoping accomplish. Sometimes, at a trade show you can walk around and get befuddled. So, we specifically talked to each department, about what kinds of things they should look for in terms of the executive team's vision. We also wanted them to take some time to wander around parts of the floor that were not specific to their department."

Hudson Printing was quite active at the show, putting the finishing touches on a pair of acquisitions: a new HP T-series continuous-feed inkjet press and a Standard Horizon StitchLiner 5500 saddlestitching system (along with inspection accessories).

Since the web press was essentially obtained prior to the show, the focus was on finding finishing gear in the 30˝ inkjet web space. Standard Finishing represented a new vendor for Hudson Printing, and the chief exec sees the importance of meeting representatives face-to-face in order to build and cultivate these relationships. HP helped introduce Hudson and his crew to the finishing partners that it felt addressed the printer's needs.

"Face-to-face events are still important for awareness and networking," Hudson adds. "We see significant opportunities in the market right now, and this show provides the opportunities to meet the right vendors, make the proper connections and to network, which helps you be able to make smart investment decisions to capture those opportunities."

As of now, Hudson plans on bringing his team back to Chicago for Graph Expo in 2014.

Adi Chinai left nothing to chance. The managing director of King Printing, a 36-year-old book printing specialist in Lowell, MA, planned on spending a day and a half at the PRINT 13 show in Chicago's famed McCormick Place. So, he carefully carved out an agenda that would maximize his time with providers of digital finishing technology, while leaving a little time to do some browsing for future endeavors.

"We had a very specific agenda," he says. "We're going to be installing another inkjet press soon, so we spoke to some finishing line partners about where their advancements have come, in order to help us make our decision."

Chinai's objective: Source a high-speed, large-format (30˝ and larger) finishing solution that can operate at higher speeds and in-line with King Printing's digital presses to produce book blocks. While Chinai didn't leave the Windy City with a closed deal, he did note (at press time) that his firm was in the final negotiating stages of acquiring the needed finishing solution.

The dedicated element of the show floor is one of the most attractive propositions that PRINT/Graph Expo offers, he notes. "What we enjoy about the show is that we have all the (vendor teams) there at once; we don't have to battle time zones or schedules. Some of the senior engineers that we needed to speak to were there. And some of the product management, generally based overseas, were on hand. It's very helpful to go over specific technicalities and finalize them in a face-to-face manner."

While he had a number of scheduled meetings, Chinai did leave some of his time open to walk the show floor. In the process, he saw "a few devices that we want to bring in for some vertical integration of consumable items used in the binding or finishing/fulfillment process," he says. "We were able to see some nice devices. We're diversifying some of our fulfillment offerings, and we saw some equipment/software that went on our wish list for that part of our business."

There was a confidence among many printers attending PRINT 13—a sense of purpose—and the reticence that accompanied the 2009 mega-recession seems to have all but dissipated. For Chinai, who comes to the show every year, the atmosphere seemed much different than it had in recent years. It was fun. Then again, making investments in areas designed to make your value proposition that much stronger can only bring about a sense of accomplishment. And perhaps a smile.

"The buzz that print is dead is not true," he concludes. "It was a good sign to see that it's alive, well and still going strong."

Paul Beegan has been coming to Chicago's McCormick Place since the Reagan Administration. The owner of Georgetown, MA-based B&W Press has one of the more unique vantage points of any printer here. For one, he had a booth at PRINT 13. Beegan serves other printers "so they don't have to say 'no' to their customers," he says.

When he's not promoting B&W Press' trade printing capabilities, including creative direct response design services, Beegan likes to break away from his booth to see what the equipment vendors are offering. Like many browsers, he liked a lot of what he saw, particularly in areas such as UV drying equipment, inkjet gear, high-speed affixing machines and, naturally, digital presses.

B&W Press runs three shifts in its 80,000-square-foot facility. Beegan says he has purchased equipment off the McCormick Place floor over the years. While he hadn't set a timeline, UV drying equipment seems to be a priority for Beegan, and he's taking into account a particular offering's energy usage, as "UV lamps tend to use a lot of power," he notes.

"I'm here for the innovation," Beegan remarks. "If you come away from the show with an idea that solves a problem, then it was worth the price of admission."

A trend at the Graph Expo/PRINT shows in recent years has been the proliferation of qualified decision makers, executive-level types, coming into the booth with specific challenges they seek to address, notes Grant Miller, vice president, global strategic product management, marketing and North American sales for Pitney Bowes.

"Attendees don't come to Chicago for three days any more," Miller contends. "Many are here for one day; they make appointments in advance and accomplish what they need to get done."

Similarly, Miller points out, companies like his have altered their display proclivities, taking a more focused approach. With the onset of Pitney Bowes' Customer Summit at its Danbury, CT, headquarters—where customers and prospects get an up-close look at their full range of products—the need to bring one example of everything across the product line is no longer necessary.

In McCormick Place, Pitney Bowes showcased what Miller termed a "couple of representative pieces." These days, Pitney Bowes sales representatives rely on their iPads to demonstrate machines, workflows or to pull up a spec sheet.

It was an interesting scene on the second day of the show at the MBM Corp. booth where, in all four corners, prospective clients were engaged with customer service representatives from the finishing equipment manufacturer. Mike Venitelli, senior vice president of sales and marketing, pointed out that a number of customers placed orders for equipment during the show.

A number of manufacturers happily reported the sale of machinery, and some were literally spontaneous purchases, as in there had been no previous contact between the attendee and the exhibitor. That's what brought a smile to the face of many, like Venitelli.

For example, Hohner noted that it sold seven Easy Stitcher benchtop stitching machines in the first three days alone. Graphic Whizard completed deals for a handful of its new PT SCC cutter/creasers. And Spiel Associates, celebrating its 50th anniversary in business, sold at least four of its Digibinder Plus machines off the show floor.

Don Dubuque, who heads the marketing team at Standard Finishing Systems, feels preparation is the key to a successful, profitable trip to Chicago. Regardless of whether the papers are signed just prior to, during or shortly after the trade show, putting together an aggressive appointment schedule can pay dividends.

"We had 225 VIP companies scheduled for appointments, which was up in comparison to last year," Dubuque remarks. "I have to say, there's been a real positive feel, a positive vibe to the show.

"We had the most electrical of any booth and the most trucks bringing equipment to the show," he adds. "The customers and prospects who stopped by ended up staying for a long time. They looked at everything." PI



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