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Noel Ward

Real World Digital

By Noel Ward

About Noel

Noel Ward is Managing Director of Brimstone Hill Associates, which specializes in marketing communications in the printing industry, including video production. He can be reached at 603-672-3635 or via email at His website is, and he has a YouTube channel.

The Weave Factor Signals Business Rebound

At high noon on the opening day of GRAPH EXPO 2012, I was at a client’s booth along the left side wall about 150 feet back from the entrance. Moments after the show floor officially opened, there were people coming down the aisle, even though this location was hardly in a direct route to anywhere. And the traffic kept on coming. It was never crazy busy, but it was steady; and the people stopping in the booth were in ready-to-buy mode.

The traffic flow was much better than last year when maybe 100 people milled about outside the entrance at the opening and filtered slowly into the hall. While official numbers aren’t out yet, this year’s show certainly seemed busier than last year.

My own measure—the Weave Factor, or how much you have to weave around other people while walking the aisles—was much higher than in the past two or three years. I was towing my usual bag of video gear and there weren’t many straight paths to follow. (My apologies to those whose feet I ran over!).

By comparison, a few weeks earlier I attended Labelexpo Americas 2012 at the Rosemont Convention Center by O’Hare Airport. That show had a pretty strong vibe of excitement, but the Weave Factor was almost non-existent, even though the show floor was much smaller.

Could GRAPH EXPO traffic have been better? Sure, but I didn’t find one vendor who wasn’t pleased with the quality of the people cruising the show floor.

“They’re asking the kind of questions people ask when they are ready to buy,” more than one vendor told me. “Some are coming in ready to deal.”

“I got 60 good leads on the first day,” grinned one vendor.

“People are coming here looking for answers,” commented another. “They want to move their businesses forward.”

Runners or doctors?
I heard a few complaints about the show being scheduled on the same weekend as the Chicago Marathon, but aside from needing to make hotel reservations early, this was largely a non-issue. The show shuttle buses used a special bus road to avoid most of the Marathon-day traffic and having the show opening at noon on Sunday instead of the usual 10 a.m. worked out well.

The alternative, by the way, was having the show coincide with the annual conference of the American College of Surgeons, a massive medical show that brings thousands of doctors to the Windy City. That, according to Chris Price, vice president and general manager of the Graphic Arts Show Co. (the show’s organizers), would have subjected attendees to hotel rates as much as 30 percent higher than the ones we all paid while at GRAPH EXPO. By comparison, having to cope with one day of marathon traffic was a no brainer.

The Digital Shift
Grabbing a sandwich in the pressroom on Monday I sat down with Charlie Pesko (founder of InfoTrends, nee CAP Ventures). “What does it remind you of when you walk in the front of the show?” asked Charlie. “Doesn’t it look a lot like the old On Demand Show when we used to have it at Javits in New York? You walk in and all you see is digital press companies.”

Indeed. It used to be that Heidelberg, manroland, Komori and other purveyors of big offset iron dominated the front of GRAPH EXPO. This year, Canon was on the left, Xerox to the right, with Fujifilm, Kodak, HP and Konica Minolta just a few steps up the center aisle. Behind Xerox was EFI and then Ricoh. Heidelberg was still on the main aisle, surrounded by the digital powerhouses of the modern age of print. Last year was little different. Digital print has clearly changed the game.

“There’s no ink companies here!” exclaimed a guy from a company for whom I’d shot video at drupa. We happened to be staying at the same hotel and we would talk on the bus ride back to the hotel at the end of the day. The company manufactures and sells offset printing plates, but it had no booth at the show. He and a couple of colleagues were there to cruise, schmooze and take the pulse of the changing industry—which from their point of view probably seemed discouragingly weak.

“Well, OK, there’s one or two that sell inkjet inks, but no offset ink guys,” the plate guy continued. “But there’s only a couple who sell plates.” He was visibly discouraged to see this fundamental change in the direction of the industry. He’d been very upbeat at drupa where the offset/digital balance is much different, but GRAPH EXPO was showing him a view of the future in which digital presses and software would dominate. One can understand the guy’s emotions.

But that’s just one snapshot. There was a lot of positive energy at McCormick Place and most booths were generally busy. My sense from vendors was that business is (finally) coming back.
  • Their prospects and customers are saying it’s time to make investments in software and equipment that will increase efficiency and productivity.
  • They are seeing print as a medium that continues to change, but is still alive and well, being reinvented, and becoming increasingly related to electronic media in ways where each can support the other.

Next September, the fall show will be PRINT 13—which promises to be bigger and, hopefully, even more vibrant.

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