Trade shows are back, and for a host of good reasons, they’re must-attend events for owners of printing businesses — especially those getting ready to sell. Trade shows help owners to clarify what they need for profitable operation now and for acquisition on favorable terms later. Only at a trade show on the scale of PRINTING United Expo (Oct. 19-21, 2022, in Las Vegas) can owners see and appreciate the range of capabilities that separate the industry’s “haves” from its “have nots.”
This is a crucial distinction in the eyes of buyers. “Haves” are progressive companies committed to diversification, profitability and, above all, growth. Weak business models and the failure to plan strategically keep the “have nots” struggling to tread water in a sea that increasingly consists of red ink. A company whose owner makes the effort of attending an industry trade show probably is a “have,” or is on its way to becoming one.
Trade shows also satisfy printers’ natural inclination to kick the tires and peer under the hoods of new technologies — a form of research that, owing to pandemic restrictions, they’ve had to conduct virtually for far too long. During that time, suppliers to the industry have been busy devising new solutions that make the have/have not distinction even sharper. There’s no substitute for examining these developments in the in-person, hands-on, equipment-rich environments that trade shows provide.
Technology isn’t the only thing that distinguishes the “haves,” which also focus on specializing their products and services, and keeping customer relationships rock-solid. But, having the right mix of manufacturing assets is key to staying out of the “have not” trap of commodity production, minimal profit, and stagnant or negative growth.
Frictionless and Fast
Generally speaking, “have” technologies are the ones that enable a frictionless customer experience and faster time to market. For printing companies, this consists of a robust online job submission solution or e-commerce portal; a workflow that automates as much of prepress as possible; and the right configuration in the production platform, typically a mix of offset and digital. Fulfillment services and an efficient online ordering portal are also vital to keeping customers “sticky.”
Automation in the bindery is another keynote of the “haves.” With the employment market as tight as it is, and with printers obliged to produce more work with fewer people, minimizing manual labor is becoming more important than ever before. Today, the postpress pavilions of trade shows are full of solutions for speeding up production and eliminating the most costly errors in the bindery — errors that drain profit by requiring excessive overprinting or reprinting.
And while “haves” continue to identify as printing businesses, they also know that today’s world is omnichannel. In this world, being able to put together and execute omnichannel campaigns that include print, either with internal resources or through partnerships, is necessary to stay competitive.
As the next generation of marketers enter the workplace, they will insist on one-stop shopping for media. They may be less well educated than their predecessors about how the channels work together, especially when it comes to print.
A printing company that puts together a portfolio capable of meeting these needs will position itself for success in the omnichannel marketplace. A comprehensive trade show like PRINTING United Expo is the right place to find out what belongs in the portfolio, and how to integrate it within the existing operation.
Upholding the Investment
For every printer attending a trade show, but particularly for sellers, the big question is, what justifies taking on the debt that comes with making a major investment in technology? The answer lies in why the asset is being purchased and how quickly the ROI on it can be achieved.
A seller installing a new press, for example, makes a smart move if the equipment is needed to accommodate current growth or will expand the range of products the company can produce. A buyer sizing up the company for acquisition probably will agree that the press was worth investing in — and may be willing to take over paying for it in addition to the price of acquiring the company.
Ideally, the sale of the company should happen about halfway through the ROI period on new technology investments. This reduces the debt that a seller generally needs to cover from sale proceeds and gives the seller enough time to demonstrate how the investment has been paying off. On the other hand, if the press merely replaces existing capacity without adding new value, it is not a wise investment from anyone’s point of view, and certainly not from the prospective buyer’s.
The best way to enhance a “have” position at a trade show is to spend an ample amount of time on the floor. Most shows have online attendance planners that can help owners fine-tune their visits and pinpoint investment opportunities that can help their businesses grow. Showgoers should pay special attention to what’s new from first-time and smaller exhibitors. These vendors often bring greater innovation to the table than some of the more established players.
Make It a Team Effort
Owners should also give serious consideration to bringing staff along. PRINTING United Expo 2022, for example, will be a huge show, and a divide-and-conquer approach can be the right way to get the most from it. Bringing staff also rewards and recognizes them for sticking with the company during difficult times. Making a gesture like this couldn’t be more important to employers in the difficult recruiting environment they’re dealing with.
The only thing I’d advise against doing at a trade show is advertising the fact that the company may be up for sale. This task is best given to an experienced M&A advisory firm that can discreetly seek buyers, separate the wheat from the chaff, and then present the seller with a few selected opportunities that align with his or her objectives. Letting word get around prematurely to employees, customers, and the competition is never a risk worth taking.
Other than that, a trade show can be the ideal setting for advancing a selling strategy to its next stage. So, make the reservations, book the travel and the hotel, and go. Everyone in the industry is long overdue for a return to this essential business experience.
James A. Russell, partner at New Direction Partners, brings over 20 years of experience as a printing company executive having served as CEO of two family-owned graphic communication companies. During his tenure as owner and CEO of Arbor Press, a commercial printing company in Michigan, the company was an eight-time winner of the National Association for Printing Leadership’s (NAPL) prestigious Management Plus Awards program. Arbor Press was also recognized twice during his leadership as one of the 50 fastest growing printers in the country. Contact him at (610) 230-0635, ext. 703.