Taking the Industry’s Pulse on Merits of Annual Printing Trade Show

Mark Michelson, Editor-in-Chief, Printing Impressions magazine.

“Do We Need Graph Expo Every Year?” That was the provocative question addressed in an Andy Tribute commentary, and official response from GASC, appearing on WTT earlier this week. It’s a timely topic, especially given the current state of the U.S. economy and the printing industry. In conversations with several industry vendors that annually exhibit at Graph Expo and, once every four years, at PRINT, they are openly questioning how to get the most payback from their shrinking marketing and sales budgets. Many have asked me to express my personal opinion on this admittedly touchy subject.

As Ralph Nappi, president of the Graphic Arts Show Co. (GASC), which organizes the trade exhibition, indicated in his response to the commentary, “The heart of the issue…is the ROI that exhibitors and attendees realize from these shows.” I couldn’t agree more.

Unfortunately, though, ROI justification is very different for an exhibitor that signs up for a 10,000- or 20,000-square-foot booth versus a company that pays for 200 square feet. Larger exhibitors typically have the added costs of bringing equipment and supporting staff to the show. The investment for a small stand is minor in comparison, but that exhibitor still reaps the benefits of the crowds generated by the “anchor” exhibitors. Larger exhibitors have also invested heavily in demo centers, road shows and even their own targeted, mini-trade shows as ways to interact more intimately with customers and prospects. So, the opinion of whether the show should be held every year may even vary from one supplier to another.

Either way, Ralph Nappi finds himself in a very tough spot. As President of GASC, he also serves as President of NPES, the association that represents industry manufacturers. If Nappi puts on his NPES hat, he may feel compelled to do something even more drastic than the $3 million stimulus package that was created to keep several PRINT 09 vendors from pulling out of the show completely, or cutting back on their square footage commitments, and/or from electing to scale back or not bring any equipment to the show.

Nappi well knows that most, if not all, of his NPES member companies are being crushed by this recession. Just look at the financial results of the major suppliers to our industry and that tells the whole story. They’re struggling largely because printers, finishers and mailers have severely curtailed their new capital equipment expenditures and because credit markets for financing remain tight.

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  • http://BrianRegan Brian Regan

    I believe the a yearly show is critical. The national show is not just a place for companies to demonstrate their products, but a place were the U.S. printing world all meet and organize. There are many groups, foundations, associations and more that use it for their annual meetings per their by laws.

    You also have a lot of education and training happening and the media buzz goes all over the world. And as much as people grumble and groan about student day it is very needed to engage and recruit the next generation of workers.

    When it comes to ROI and believe me I understand it has to be there, I think a live show WITH EQUIPMENT is important. People LOVE their equipment, it is their pride and join. Seeing the equipment, touching it, feeling it and understanding its inner workings is a huge selling point.

    To lose all that and the thought leadership and creative discussions and networking seems a bit foolish.

    I would hate to see all that go away.

  • http://Jacktheconcernedvendor Jack the concerned vendor


    I agree with you that a yearly show is a perfect place to co-locate many events. The problem I have is that I’m fitting the bill for these “many groups, foundations, associations and more that use it for their annual meetings per their by laws. ”
    I can’t afford to pay for them to have a reason to get together if the people that are coming can’t or won’t buy from me.
    Trust me, if things turn around and the attendees buy my products, I’d be all for continuing this show every year. If the economy doesn’t turn around, it’s tough to justify.

  • http://RayFischer Ray Fischer

    I really enjoy the shows and the opportunity to see the latest and greatest but I think every other year would make more sense in these times. Industry has to adjust for the market and thus get more bang for their buck.

  • http://BrianRegan Brian Regan


    Trust me those groups would still meet regardless of a national show or not. The point was less about a specific group and more about the center of the U.S. print market.

    Indeed, as a vendor you need to make money on it or why do it, no question I understand that logic.

  • http://JanFirszt Jan Firszt

    The European format for specific industry shows is every three years. This allows for actual advances to brought into the marketplace with a plan rather than “something new for the show”. The shows are exciting, busy, successful, and huge! Surely having successful shows every two years is better than poor ROI every year.

  • http://Jim-OutofIndustry Jim-Out of Industry

    How about move it away from Chicago?

    Take about a city going out of their way to strangle the golden goose. What does Las Vegas, Phoenix, Orlando, Anaheim, Dallas or anywhere else have to offer that Chicago doesn’t? I mean outside of a weeks worth of hotel room charges that rival only my month apartment rent, taxi drivers that not only don’t speak English as a third language but have lived in Chicago less than a week and have no idea where they are driving, union waged casual labor who are long on rules and short of working, and finally $7.00 for a hot dog at McCormick, The printing industry is no longer HQ in Chicago, open your eyes there is life (and reasonably priced exhibit space) outside of the rust belt.

    Do you have any idea how many places in the US are soooo much nicer (and less expensive) than Chicago in the fall?

  • http://BrianWolfenden Brian Wolfenden

    Personally I like the annual show, it provides a great opportunity to meet with people and to see the latest products. As a vendor I can argue that every other year is sufficient and would allow some budget relief especially in today’s economy.

    GASC did help in 09 with their stimulus package – but have not yet announced one for 2010. Will they?

    What about trying the show in a different city?


  • http://LarryVogl Larry Vogl

    Every year is not necessary any more. Equipment manufacturers have many more ways to make printers aware of their new products. Look at the right side of this web page.
    I like the idea of a three year cycle, or four, opposite Drupa.

  • http://ChalieCorr Chalie Corr

    Trade events serve many of the same puruposes as family gatherings. You catch up, you gain insight, you enjoy the company of others.

    At the trade show you also learn and can effectively conduct business.

    Even in down economic times you celebrate holidays with your friends and family.

    Community is important. We should concencrate on making it more affordable (e.g. fewer days, lower cost to exhibit and set up, to stay, etc).

    Broad events are good for the industry. We should work on making them more affordable during these difficult economic times.

  • http://HenryFreedman Henry Freedman

    Trade shows are to educate and sell. If one looks at the rate of innovation over the last ten years and what is on the way, one year today may equal five years of time last decade. So to keep up
    with imaging technology and new software an annual show is essential.

  • http://MichaelJosefowicz Michael Josefowicz


    I think you make very valid points about the value of a large annual meeting.

    The only question is how to create that reality without asking the vendors to foot the bill.

    I think that if the organizations involved colud focus the conversation on what might be a new business model to pay for the value created.

    To me it seems analagous to the reorganization of the newspaper industry. In the old days the comfortable margins from advertising could subsidize journalism.

    No doubt the journalism is important and will grow, but with a different business model.

  • http://MikeHempstead Mike Hempstead

    While I understand the reasons to consider a bi-annual schedule, I think trying another location first makes a lot of sense.

    No doubt Chicago has been taking Graph Expo for granted, and that is reflected in the high prices we are charged for the poor service we receive.

    But two years ago no one was suggesting we abandon ship. In fact, I remember vendors being quite high on the show. So what has changed radically in the past two years? It’s the economy, not the way we shop and communicate.

    This recession is a tough one, but let’s not make it a permanent one.


  • http://KevinMcLaughlin Kevin McLaughlin

    The markets are changing and we need to change with them. We do not have large regional shows any longer and we do not need yearly shows any more. We have already made the decision that we will only do major shows. Drupa, Print, China Print etc. I would recommend that as an industry we get behind a 3 or 4 year cycle that give us one major show per year but each year it is in a different continent. My vote is for Drupa, Print, ChinaPrint. This is the format that we are adopting. I suggest the industry does the same.

  • http://NoelWard Noel Ward

    I’ve posted on this topic on WTT and on Graphic Arts Online, but I’ll make another pass here.

    I’m all for an annual show. It’s educational, good for business, fosters a sense of community, builds relationships and more. And
    most people posting here and elsewhere seem to be thinking the same way. But given the state of the industry and the economy, we need to do things a bit differently.

    Combining shows such as DMA and GraphExpo/PRINT would make huge sense. So would building a strong conference into the event, so the cost of attending is easier to justify. Look no further than Dscoop to see the value of a strong conference. In four years Dscop went from a couple hundred attendees to nearly 1,000. Not too shabby!

    I also don’t have a huge problem with a smaller show floor, which means less expense for vendors, making it easier for them to pull the trigger on attending. While I think Kodak’s hardware-free display went too far, there’s a middle ground between having lots of equipment and none, such as having a few key pieces running compelling applications. Video and good presentations and tutorials can do the rest.

    North America, with 335 million people and about 25,000+ printers of one type or another can certainly support an annual show, but the show has to make sense for vendors, attendees, and the show organizers. It IS time to change the game a bit. As I encourage some of the groups I speak to, it’s not a matter of thinking outside the box, it’s time to redraw the box.

    But we still need an annual print show.