A Look at GRAPH EXPO and CPP EXPO 15 from the Perspective of Printers
It’s Monday afternoon, and the halls at Chicago’s McCormick Place South are abuzz with activity. There are plenty of Lookie Lous and tire kickers, national high-rollers and husband-and-wife tandems who pull down $750,000 to $1.25 million in annual sales. Chief executives and operational vice presidents fix intent glances on the faces of vendors during Q&A sessions, while a plant manager from a suburban plant and his top bindery tech tuck freshly printed posters into plastic bags, thankful to get out of the plant for an afternoon.
The changes taking place at the GRAPH EXPO/PRINT trade show are fairly subtle. Some printing manufacturers and vendors have opted out of the show in recent years. One observer even suggested that a certain absent European press manufacturer was moving away from printing technology. In this case, the truth was a moot point; its absence spoke louder. Skip GRAPH, and face the consequences.
But one of the more faithful narratives to come from McCormick Place is on the practice of opening the show on a Sunday. In this case, the show’s opening coincided with Rosh Hashanah—the Jewish New Year. On a more secular level, Opening Day of GRAPH EXPO 15 butted heads with Opening Day of the NFL. What’s more, the hometown Bears waged war against their bitter rivals from Green Bay—insert your own “blood on the moon” analogy.
The result was a Sunday that was eminently forgettable from a turnstile count perspective, even by “light Sunday” standards. But if attendees were raindrops, there was puddling in all of the expected places.
“Do you think so?” asked one vendor, who peered up from his list of appointments when asked about the paltry weekend performance. “We did really well on Sunday. There were a number of key executives, the really high-level decision makers. Some were booked appointments, but there were plenty of walk-ups. They’re customers and prospects in various stages of the sales cycle. Plus, we’ve sold a number of the low-end machines off the floor.
“But a bad Sunday? Not from our perspective.”
We touched base with a sampling of printers in Chicago to provide insight as to why they were there and what technologies they were checking out. For many, GRAPH EXPO is a printer’s holiday, not to be missed for any reason.
“We’re looking at technology in general; there’s a few smaller items on our wish list,” notes Joe Straka, president of Priority Press. “To be honest, we come to Chicago to see things we weren’t expecting to see as much as to see the things that we were expecting to see.”
Straka spoke from the comfortable confines of an EFI conference room within the exhibitor’s booth. Aside from gear, the chief exec liked the opportunity to visit with companies like EFI and catch up with them on what is currently being touted, along with those technologies still in development.
But from a shopping perspective, Straka’s cart was rather small. “[EFI] has a number of technologies on the periphery of our MIS system that we’re interested in, so we’re looking at those. We’re also looking at periphery equipment in the wide-format printing space. We were at the Canon Expo [in New York] last week, and we’re interested in seeing the advances some of the other folks are making with inkjet.”
Indianapolis-based Priority Press services the health care, sports entertainment, apparel, automotive and higher education spaces with a full line of commercial products. Straka is also proud to note that while many businesses have taken a more conservative capex tact during the post-recession period, his has been bullish on the printing industry.
“Our business continues to grow at a double-digit rate, year on year,” he says. “We just purchased another six-color, 40˝ Heidelberg CD press, which is being installed now. In a world where brand equity has increasing value and importance, and where business communications are becoming more and more complex, there’s still a role for printing companies who understand how to help marketers. From our perspective, it’s a great time to be in the business.”
Another printer that enjoys using GRAPH EXPO as a barometer for what’s going on in the world of technology is J.S. McCarthy Printers of Augusta, Maine. The company brings a number of employees to the show each year and sends them to booths representing their department’s respective technologies. Although the printer only budgeted two people for this year’s show, President Rick Tardiff expects to take four or five key personnel to drupa next spring.
J.S. McCarthy Printers is a $35 million a year commercial firm backed by 200 employees. It is a 40˝ commercial sheetfed operation that includes digital, wide-format printing and fulfillment, among other offerings. Its customers include higher education and high-end agency work for the fashion and real estate spaces.
Like Straka, Tardiff enjoys the surprise of the unknown. “I walked into one booth [Standard Finishing] and saw a piece of equipment that’s becoming available in the first quarter [of 2016],” he says. “It was something I didn’t know they would have. This show is a good way to catch up with the vendors all in one spot.”
Tardiff was also particularly interested in visiting the CPP EXPO portion of GRAPH EXPO, as packaging represents a chunk of his business. In addition to dropping in on vendors, J.S. McCarthy Printers makes the most of its time by attending peer meetings and a number of the educational sessions.
Moving forward, Tardiff will continue to explore the possibility of implementing production inkjet into his company’s workflow. A wide-format flatbed printer could be in the offering, particularly for rigid work, while software solutions that address productivity also appeal to Tardiff.
Keeping Abreast of Technology
Incepture Print Solutions is a printing and mailing operation in Jacksonville, Florida, that churns out 325,000 mail pieces per day. Most of its clients are in the health and casualty insurance spaces—all transactional work. In 2014, the company manufactured about 20 million checks and about 67 million statements and bills.
Angelo Tauro, director for Incepture, echoes his commercial colleagues regarding the value of attending GRAPH EXPO in person. “It’s important to stay on top of technology,” he explains. “I need to see it, feel it, touch it, watch it run, ask questions. I also maintain almost all of my equipment, so I like to get up into it, look inside, see how complicated or easy it is, and ask a lot of questions of the sales force. We lease our equipment and that’s the way we stay up-to-date on technology.
“In today’s HIPAA compliance world, if we do not stay up on technology and embrace automation, we’ll wind up [as an article] in the newspapers for all of the wrong reasons.”
Previously, Tauro would attend the National Postal Forum, but he bemoaned the event’s movement away from equipment being showcased. GRAPH EXPO offers the ability to see a full gamut of hardware, software and services. Tauro drew an analogy to visiting AutoNation, the only place where he can see a Ford, a Chevy and a Dodge under one roof.
Tauro’s firm provides tours of its facilities to prospective clients, and a lion’s share of Incepture’s new business originates from these tours. The shop is spotless and prospects are often taken by the technology the printer has on hand—leased in order to keep it fresh, which is necessary given the changing nature of HIPAA and other health/insurance regulations. Thus, with a fluid equipment list, keeping an eye open for future additions is a way of life for Tauro.
“I was at the Standard Finishing booth looking at their binding equipment. I don’t have a need for it right this minute, but then again, you never know what you’re going to need and when you’re going to need it. So, instead of starting from scratch, I already have a high level of understanding about what’s out there.” PI