The Dealer’s Dilemma

There is still a pretty vibrant community of graphic arts equipment dealers serving the U.S. print industry. But as the industry changes, so too must the dealer network in order to survive. The finishing equipment “mainstays” of the past—buckle folders, perfect binders, stitchers, etc.— have all taken a hit as the print industry has consolidated and many smaller shops have gone under.

The big question facing many dealers now is, “What’s going to be in demand for the next five years?” Equipment dealers used to the traditional commercial printing market are having to deal with the new digital reality. That means they’re now dealing with non-traditional core customers who are employing digital print. Examples include in-plant print shops, packaging printers and a whole slew of design and signage shops using wide-format inkjet printing systems.

This terrain is shifting all the time, and it presents new challenges for graphic arts equipment dealers as they try to figure out everyone’s real needs. A major unknown lies in the digital world. Digital printing systems have now evolved to run 24/7, and at much higher speeds. The existing “digital” binders, stitchers, folders and such were not designed either for these speeds or work volumes. This has left your average dealer searching for machines that are capable of dealing with the required duty cycle, and also the wider web widths of the new inkjet continuous printers.

(Not to mention that the new continuous inkjet digital presses are sold directly by their manufacturers, bypassing dealer networks. This has left dealers with few options as they search for digital print options to replace slowing offset press sales.)

On the plus side, digital print has created high demand for laminators, UV curing systems and creasing/slitting machines, giving dealers much-needed revenue. But dealers also will face challenging times as they attempt to figure out the new digital press and finishing workflows, and how they can offer credible solutions to their prospects to keep them in the game.

Don has worked in technical support, sales, engineering, and management during a career in both the commercial offset and digital finishing sectors. He is the North American representative for IBIS Bindery Systems, Ltd. of The United Kingdom.
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