PRINTING United CEO Ford Bowers on the Alliance, Expo, and Industry
Q: How does it feel to know the PRINTING United Expo is back?
Honestly, it couldn’t be a bigger relief to both exhibitors and attendees. It’s great to see that social media is abuzz with excitement. I’m so glad it has finally come together.
Q: How did the concept of a unified alliance for the industry come to the fore? For me, the goal of a united industry alliance started when I came into the job, and it was based on a couple of things. When I was working in the industry, we were tired of going to multiple trade shows to see the solutions to meet the needs of the company. We were expanding our capabilities and wanted a more complete view of where the technology was moving. Suppliers wanted fewer trade shows as well, so the consolidation of expos has been good for them.
The challenge has been getting people to understand the spirit of the exercise, and to believe in what we’re doing. We have had to sell it, and I think it’s clearly taking off. The acquisition of NAPCO Media has been huge in connecting us with the broader industry, and we’ve been able to focus on what the market requires now.
As a group, our leadership understands where we are going, and we’re proud of every step we’ve taken. Whether it was NAPCO, acquiring Printing Industries of America and Idealliance — all of it was warmly accepted. If there was any doubt, it was whether we could truly embrace all segments, but that has truly taken hold.
Q: What makes the Alliance so essential?
The value of PRINTING United Alliance plays on two different levels. The first level is to help printers become better printers. This is done through training and information, access to the Alliance’s roster of subject matter experts: advocacy, regulatory compliance, technical know-how, and workforce development efforts — an environment where printers can thrive. The other level is that our industry benefits from an overarching organization that can speak for it. This gains us more clout and gives us stronger influence over how we’re viewed. For instance, printing is difficult to track economically because it is divided up. We’d like to change that.
For individual printing companies, the Alliance has numerous programs and services, and you can choose what you need. This year, we launched our iLearning site, and we maintain certification programs that can increase marketability. Finally, our conferences are great opportunities for learning and networking.
Q: What has changed that has made a single, unified expo the best choice for the industry?
Let’s say you’re a commercial printer, and you have a client who is buying other print from other producers — let’s say packaging, labels, or apparel — then there is a strong opportunity to expand your reach and become more of a one-stop shop. So, when a company comes to PRINTING United, they can explore a variety of vertical markets and search for adjacencies that fit with the direction of their business and expand from there.
When I was working in the industry, we used wide-format equipment to fulfill requests for labels. That presented an opportunity to purchase a designated label printer and make that a true service. The great thing with digital printing is once you have an inkjet workflow in place, it’s all kind of the same thing. The barriers have been broadly reduced and that reduces the pain of accessing other areas.
Q: What responsibility does The Expo hold as the preeminent event in the Americas and one of the largest printing-focused events in the world?
I think the responsibility of The Expo is just continuing to expand its representation of the industry and its segments and niches. They should all be present, and we continue to work on moving the event in that direction. I also think The Expo needs to be an inviting place, and it needs to provide quality contact between printers, suppliers, and vendors — it’s really a marketplace of technology and connections that awards innovation and provides possibilities for printers to remain viable, strengthen, and move forward.
Q: As a trade association, the Alliance needs to balance the specific with the general. What is the strategy to ensure that, for instance, package printers or apparel decorators feel they have a place?
This comes down to the content we produce. For instance, every issue of our PRINTING United Journal has an article aimed at each major printing segment. We also have the brands from NAPCO Media (Printing Impressions, Wide-Format Impressions, Packaging Impressions, In-Plant Impressions, and Apparelist) that play strongly in those spaces. News, analysis, research, information on wages and benefits — content is constantly being produced. It’s a challenge to do, but we’re committed to addressing the specific needs of each segment.
Q: How do you think the industry has changed in the last few years, and how do you think it will look different moving forward?
There has been a burgeoning of technology — tremendous advancement. When inkjet first came to us, it was slow, it was low-resolution. Ten boards per hour was considered good — and now that’s 200, at great quality. Those same capabilities have grown into offset and sheetfed systems for commercial printing, and into packaging, and those advancements bring possibilities. Moving forward, I anticipate the technology will continue to improve, though maybe not at the same rate. There will be less concern whether the print system you buy will print well — the technology will be that good. It will be somewhat of a ‘golden age’ for the industry.
I also see buying patterns changing. Printing companies tend to stay in their markets. But while they’re doing that, others are moving into those spaces, offering different things, such as customization, personalization, and zero-inventory models.
Q: What’s one mindset today’s printing businesses need to have in place to stay competitive, and what are barriers they should expect to encounter?
I think most printers feel that if their business is doing OK, then there is no need to seek change. I think they need to be looking for the next thing. They need to explore exit strategies from their businesses, address barriers to success, and engage quality personnel. In the shorter term, with a looming recession, credit is going to get tighter. So, if anyone is overleveraged, they will want to take care of that.
Mark your calendars for next year’s PRINTING United Expo, Oct. 18-20 at the Georgia World Congress Center, in Atlanta.