Friday, May 1st, 2020 SGIA and PIA announced a merger, that will form the biggest and the maybe most influential organization in the US printing industry. CEO & President Ford Bowers from SGIA is going to lead the combined organization, that shortly will get a new name. In this ‘Over the Skype’ session, Ford Bowers talks about the size, the importance of lobbying legislation, NAPCO medias independency and a whole lot of other exciting topics.

As with all our ‘Over the Skype’ interviews, quality is limited to bandwidth, web-cams, and ability to literally LIVE mix the conversations. However, it works, and with Over the Skype, we will bring you more than 20 exciting people, and angles on the industry as it is right now.


This is Morten from Inkish TV and we are here in one of the very final episodes of all the Skype for this time. And the very reason why I decided to take one more round, and this is number 48, is because Friday, SGIA announced that they merged with PIA. Of course, we want to talk to Ford Bowers from SGIA who’s going to lead the combined organization about why and what it’s all about. First of all, welcome very much to my show. And secondly, congratulations on the PIA deal.

Well, thank you for having me. It’s good to see you again Morten. Too bad it can’t be in person, but thank you very much for the congratulations as well.

Just for the people that, I mean the very, very few people in the world that doesn’t or don’t know who you are, can you just introduce yourself very shortly?

I’m sure there’s a lot that don’t know me, but basically, yes, I’m the president and CEO of the Specialty Graphic Imaging Association. We had a trade show called the SGIA Expo, which is now PRINTING United. We also last year acquired NAPCO Media, which is the impressions brands, printing impression, implant impressions, wide format impressions and packaging impressions. We have a media company as well. And of course now we have merged with Printing Industries of America. So getting a bit larger in girth and scope. So hopefully it will all be good.

I’m sure it will. And just before we turned on the recording, I asked if you simply can’t get enough work because it seems that, I mean it’s breathtaking, just the fact that you mentioned all the acquisitions and the mergers you’ve already done, right?

Yeah. And as we were talking about, I mean, when opportunities arise, you can’t space them when you want them. You can’t say, “Well, I’ll do that in a couple of years, when I’m ready for it.” You just have to strike while the iron is hot I think is the expression. And so they’ve come kind of fast and furious. I would like to see a little bit of downtime at some point, but I’ll do what I can to keep things moving.

I think it also could be good to know and understand what is it PIA do and what is it SGIA do, because as you mentioned, a lot of people know the trade shows obviously. PRINTING United, which we found is one of the best trade shows in the industry last year and soon hopefully one in Atlanta again. But what is it you do actually?

SGIA of course is an association and it was originally a screen printing association. So that’s where our roots were. It was founded I think in 1948. So it’s been around for a pretty good while. Because it was screen printing, our historical communities or segments of printing have been the wide format guys, which is where I came from, apparel decorators, as well as industrial printing, functional printing. So historically that’s who our membership has been derived of. That’s where they’ve come from. Printing Industries of America of course, has been the premier commercial association, and they were founded in 1878 I believe. They’re the oldest and the largest printing association in the US. So they’ve been around for a pretty good while.

You and I have talked about this concept of convergence, where everybody’s crossing lanes. The idea is that, you’ve got commercial printers going into wide format, wide format going into labels, and labels doing other things. So the idea of kind of maybe bring together many more resources so that printers don’t have to join three or four different things makes a lot of sense. So that’s kind of the impetus.

I mean when you explain both the background of PIA and SGIA and you look back at PRINTING United where it was kind of concept everything under one roof, it seems to make perfect sense that you’re merging these organizations also from that perspective, right?

Yeah, it is. I mean, it’s, to really … To an extent, it’s an association with everything under one roof or at least that’s the direction we’d like to go. We’d really like to be an association that represents all of the printing segments. And we’ve got a few more to kind of bring under the roof as it were before it’s all over with. But certainly the value that we bring is available to anyone who wants to avail themselves of it, regardless of their segment now.

And it seems that, I mean there’s a certain logic to what you’re saying about, the logic of bringing things together that you just mentioned. But I was just wondering, is size in these times also important just for the fact of being a bigger organization or is more to get bigger influence and more revenue to be able to offer your members services? Or why is size so important?

Well, bigger, I will be the first to tell you, is not always better. We know this. Bigger is not always better. But bigger does provide for more opportunities and more possibilities. So when we’re looking at the breadth of what it is that we would like to accomplish over the next few years, size, revenue streams, the diversity of that revenue is very important to making those plans. So in that regard, size certainly is important for us.

I’d also like to just kind of touch on one of the things that I think that, and maybe not so mature, maybe so I don’t know as much about it, but certainly in North America, part of the problem that we have here is as an industry we kind of punch below our weight in certain areas. One of those, well just for example, legislative affairs, working on Capitol Hill and so on and so forth.

PIA has kind of dealt with that on behalf of the printing industry, but they only represented a fraction of the printing industry. So to have all of these segments represented under one association where it’s not 160 or 170 billion worth of revenue or GDP, but it’s probably closer to a trillion dollars, that makes a big difference. Instead of 700,000 people, maybe it’s a couple of million people that are employed by printers, if you include the garment guys, the apparel decorators, include industrial printers, you include wide-format guys, all of. If you lump them all together, then we have some heft.

And that is also … Is that something that you have always done, like this kind of lobbying? Or is that something that you intend to do, having the size that you’re talking about right now?

Well, SGIA has not. We have never had a registered lobbyist and we have never really involved ourselves much with that. Now, we have been funding through PIA lobbying efforts for the last several years, but PIA does and has had a lobbyist that’s worked for them for decades. They’ve always had somebody on the Hill. So we’ll be doing hopefully more of that. Not less of that. And of course now, I mean, with the COVID-19 issue, it’s extremely important that, for example, print being declared an essential business was important here because that allowed them to remain open in most states.

Yeah. And I know that one of the things that I really have appreciated about your … I don’t know if it’s a legal entity or daughter company or it’s just part of SGIA, but the NAPCO. They have spent an awful lot of time in positive sense about all the COVID-19 programs and support to the industry. So that is part of what you’re saying, that that gives that opportunity to take advantages and help the industry in a better way, right?

Yeah. So, yeah. So if you look at that resource page that is put together by NAPCO, really what you see there is you see the contributions from SGIA staff through Marci Kinter and Gary Jones, Andy Paparozzi. You get contributions from PIA staff, Lisbeth Lyons who’s our legislative lobbyist, Ronnie Davis, who’s their researcher. And Adrian Harrison, who’s with does HR for PIA. So you get all of this kind of funneled into one thing. So you get the full breadth of the experience of two pretty large associations, as well as the media side of it as well. So it’s a really good example of how fragmentation is a problem and coming together is more lively, it’s more vital [inaudible 00:09:06] to the company.

And maybe we also owe to the authors who wants to see you and I having a chat, that even though the merger between SGIA and PIA is new, you have been cooperating with each other for some time, right?

Yes. Yeah. We started working together. It probably happened before my time as well. Bu over the last few years, we’ve been contributing to their legislative lobbying efforts. We’ve worked with them on their conferences. So we’ve been escalating that process of collaboration and cooperation over the last few years and coming together on a number of different things. Yeah, so this is kind of, organically, it’s kind of grown up into something that allowed this merger to take place.

If you look at the two organizations and the work, obviously you represent two different segments in the market and then you have the crossovers as you just spoke about. But I was just wondering, as organization, do you have a lot other jobs that are done in both organizations that you have to merge into new functions and things like that? Or is it two separate organization that really works well from how you’re organized already?

Well, so May 1st was the date of the merger. That’s legally when we came together. It will take about a year for us to understand really all this. But if you look at it, if you look at each of the things that we do, for example, there’s environmental health and safety, commentary and consulting, they have … OSHA is OSHA, whether you’re a commercial printer or you’re an apparel printer. So that can be combined into something that translates across segments.

Research can be done depending on what the subject is across segments. But other times it has to be confined to a particular segment. Ratio studies for an apparel guy versus ratio studies for a commercial guy, different things there. Even wages and benefit surveys have to be done at the segment level. But it doesn’t mean that they can’t operate as a single research unit. That’s the thing.

Yeah, yeah, I understand that.

We have to kind of see where each of these things goes and which ones really need to have separate focuses versus which ones are really the same thing. And I’m going to task those staff members with coming up with a plan as it were over the next year or two and figuring out that stuff. Some things are beyond my camp.

One of the things I was wondering when you mentioned also before that sometimes you have to take the opportunities when they appear, right?


And I was just thinking. Obviously when you’ve been working with PIA, you know the people there and you know of course the management and you know some of the values of the organization, which I believe has led to some kind of understanding that there might be an opportunity together. But I was thinking that when you say now that you have like a year to implement things, is that also because that even though that you have all these, let’s say, positive ongoing things in the past and now, that it still requires a lot of work to figure out the real benefits of the merger?

Yeah. I think that’s fair to say it that way. We’re two businesses, right? So even if two businesses, you can have two commercial printers that come together that have two entirely different cultures. So we have two associations that are coming together, and there are different cultural understandings. The language that we use, what we emphasize or prioritize in terms of the values that we have and how that translates into everything that we do on a daily basis. So yeah, there’s going to be some time there in order to get everything. We just acquired NAPCO six or seven months ago. We’re still dealing with that as well. So there are cultural issues there. So we haven’t even sorted all that out and then we have this other group of folks to sort out.

So there are challenges at that level of operations that I think that are interesting. I think the good news is that whether it’s NAPCO, which technically is a for-profit LLC, you have two 501c sectors which are two trade associations and you have two foundations as well, which are 501c3s. So it’s really, you’ve got all these different entities, but at the end of the day, everybody has really got the industry in mind. How do we help the industry? How do we move it forward, and still feed the people who work for it?

Yeah, of course. And I think that it sounds, because you said there’s still room for more collaboration and being. Because I mean, when I heard the first time that you used the name UNITED as part of your exhibition, like PRINTING United, I think that it’s … I can’t remember who I spoke to last week, but I mentioned that. It was kind of funny that if you look at Europe, obviously we have a lot of different organizations because we have a lot of different cultures and languages.

And it’s been kind of strange because drupa is, for example, one example of a very big organization that can thrive or at least until now for a market that is so diverse in languages and things like that. And in America it’s be like tiny little things, two, three days shows and hundreds of different organizations and everybody seemed to be, we manage to get along with it. And industry is consolidating, the markets are changing and all these kinds of things. So is that … I mean, does it resonate in the long-term perspective, how you see the industry that you can get stronger by uniting older assets into bigger entities to become strong, not just in the service to legislation, but also in service to the customers?

Yes. I mean, I’m a big believer, just very, I don’t want to get too philosophical here, but when-

You can. You’re welcome Ford. You can just [crosstalk 00:15:24]

Okay, I can get little. So yeah. So essentially when things come together, you get growth, you get life. So whether it’s cells or more … If you look at it from an organic point of view, an organism, when it has the ability to do addition and you get growth from that, right? And when things fall apart, disintegration, that’s the same thing as death. So for me, it’s about coming together.

Now, the caveat being is we don’t have to merge with everybody or control everything. It could be more of a European Union type of an arrangement. But I would love to see the many diverse associations and industry professionals, figure out a way to work more closely in the US because while we’ve got some cultural differences between printing segments, we have the same language. We have much of the same thing. The OEMs service most of the segments, that very few were confined to one at this point. They usually serve multiple segments. So there’s no real reason for us not to do that, other than our inability to agree on priorities.

Obviously, there are economic models that we each have. PIA, they have a different type of membership. They have a different economic model than SGIA does. Yeah, both associations. So those have to be squared away. And there’s a lot of nervousness around what does that mean.

Yeah, I can imagine that. One of the things I was wondering about because, for example, and not really comparable, but the Federation of Printers in Denmark, because it’s a very small country and because the federation was shrinking, the new president, he had kind of same kind of go to as you have, where he say that, “Okay, let’s merge more organizations into stronger ones so we have political influence, as well as also being able to offer the members the right services.” But I was just wandering, both … I can’t recall if I asked him, but now I ask you.


In that going forward, see if you can make it attractive to get more members, maybe acquiring, maybe merging, maybe do things like that. Doesn’t it also make sometimes a little hard life for when you, I wouldn’t say go on the street, but in the sense of people that think that you are too hungry basically?

Yes. Well, certainly there are those who think, “Oh well, okay, he’s building an empire. That’s what he’s about.”

They say you’re big enough, right?

Yeah, big enough. You don’t need to get any bigger. That sort of thing. So there are people who, when they see what we’ve done over the last few years, which is, in this country, in this industry has really changed a lot of the dynamics and has changed the face of how people view things here. Not so much for the day to day printer.


They don’t care, honestly. They really don’t care.

And you being a printer yourself, so you should know, right?

Right, exactly. Yes. I mean, yeah. So they don’t care who owns Printing Impressions magazines. They don’t. They simply just, they want what they want. They don’t care where their services come from, as long as they’re valuable and they feel like it’s worth what they pay for them, that sort of thing.

So all of these machinations that we look at because we’re in the media or because we’re in the association world, that sort of thing, I just think the rank and file printer doesn’t have a dog in that fight. So I look to that.

Certainly there are … The difference is when you’re a printer, you have a thousand competitors, right?


And the name and face of those competitors generally is lost on you. You just know you’re competing against a very large pool of people. In the trade show business, you have a handful. So everybody knows everybody. And in the association business you have a handful and everybody knows everybody. So it gets down to a level that’s different than if you’re just fighting the blind masses of printers out there.

So I would say certainly there are some people who applaud what I’m doing. That’s the majority, the vast majority. And there are some who probably are worried about it. But, I mean our goal is not to worry people. Our goal is to strengthen the industry, and we do it the best way we know how.

One of the things I congratulated you on when I interviewed you at PRINTING United was I think that when you, I was just about to say go into war with an open face. I was just about to say that if it wasn’t a success, it could have been a tremendous failure for SGIA. But fortunately it happened to be an extreme success because what I heard from people at the show and after the show was it gave kind of a … And of course it’s a sad thing with the COVID-19 because that pushes things a little bit back, but I think that after PRINTING United, a lot of people was like, “Hmm,” there is a belief in the future in the printing industry and this one roof approach was in many ways extremely good for people.

I mean, that must fuel you, and also I know Mark Subers say it must fuel both of you a lot that it was a success, right?

Yeah, it does. I mean, we heard many of the same comments. Of course, I was looking at it. It needed to be a financial success for us. It needed to be a public relations success for us. But the thing that really surprised me was that it seemed to be almost a cathartic experience for the printing community in general to see something that big in North America that grew 20% year over year and that attracted so many people to it. And it was, there were people that said, “We haven’t seen anything like this since the 1990s in this country.”

So that moment in time fortunately has been overshadowed a bit with COVID-19, but certainly that was … We loved hearing those comments. And it also validates that I believe that we’re doing this for good reasons and that there’s value to it, and that people understand this concept of we’re really one very large community. We might have a diversity of applications, a diversity of clientele, a diversity of technology. But we’re one huge community. And if we can come together where it makes sense to come together, then we’ll be that much better off rather than so fragmented.

And as you said, obviously a trade show is very visible or a battlefield basically because you said with a few players in that market, you can’t just grow and expect, when you have a industry that in some extent is decreasing a little bit maybe in some segments, of course there will be a need also to consolidate on the exhibition and maybe even on the media side, right?

Yeah. And I want to be very careful here because my goal is not to put anybody out of business. It’s never been to put anybody out of business. So I don’t put a crosshair on anybody and say you’re next. What I want to do is I want to build what I think the industry needs. And quite honestly, it’s not within my power to get all of the OEMs and suppliers to stop going to other shows. I mean, I don’t have that authority or power or influence.

But the idea is, if we can bring the audiences together and you can bring the suppliers together, at least for that moment in time, you have something outstanding. And I do think that trade shows over the next five to 10 years and I have concerns about what this viral pandemic is going to do to the value of trade shows as quite honestly I think there could be a long tail on the damage that this inflicts to trade shows.

So I think there will be consolidation. I hope obviously to be one of the points of consolidation in some way, shape, or form. So I think we’ll have to wait and see what the future holds.

But I mean, to be honest, maybe it’s been a well-played strategy from the beginning, but to have a members’ organization like PIA where you represent a huge amount of printing companies, you own a very strong group of media, you own a very important trade show in America. I think that that combination also with the lobbying and research and all the things that you do, sounds like that you’re positioning yourself at least to be on the winning team. Right?

Well, I sure, I’d like to think that that’s how we positioned ourselves. So yes, we’ve diversified our revenue. We have the ability to do a lot of things that most associations can’t do. In terms of media, we have the most influential voice in media that’s part of our team. They operate independently, but it doesn’t mean that we don’t have them as a channel and access. So Dave Leskusky operates that. Mark Subers operates PRINTING United and the Events Team that we have. We have over 30 events now, so …

Oh man, that’s many.

Yeah, we did well. So yeah. And a lot of those were actually NAPCO Media events. So they actually were as much an events’ organization as they were a media organization, because after 2007 to 2009 they diversified because ad sales used to be 80-something-percent of their revenue. Now it’s down to 22%. So they’ve tremendously diversified now. But we don’t know what the next few years looks like. Obviously now that we derive a lot of our money from events, this is not a good year for events. So we might have to reinvent ourselves yet again before [inaudible 00:25:47]

But you have-

I’d like to think our position is strong at this point.

But you have also proven that you’re not … that you’re willing to take risks in diversifying and getting a new business, and you’re actually implementing. I think that, I was talking to a guy from Canada the other day, and I said, I think the major difference is between people who say they want to do something and people that actually do something, right?

Yes. Yeah. Well I definitely, I’ve been very far out on the limb a number of times in the last few years. So far out on the limb I could not see the trunk of the tree anymore. That’s how far out I was at various points. And, it hasn’t been mistake free. I’ve made some mistakes and there are some things I wish I could do over, but you can’t always do that. But by and large, the bigger issues have come about very well. And I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve met a lot of people who were like-minded and who saw the industry the same way. And as a result, I’ve been able to build a group of people that are very much on board with where we’d like to go.

Four and a half years ago when I first started, I felt very alone with this vision. But now I have a very large team of folks and they all are, they all have their oars in the water on this stuff. That’s good.

A final thing in that roundabout NAPCO and PIA and SGIA. I was just curious because you said that NAPCO is an independent LLC and operates on commercial terms. I mean, maybe you didn’t say that. I just, I take that for granted that it’s a commercial term. But from your perspective, because I’m trying to elevate it a little bit, I don’t know if you can do it, but having a group of so many interests, do you believe that NAPCO is able to be the independent voice or is it seen more as an SGIA-PIA channel?

Well, that’s a good question. I think time will tell how other people view it. Certainly there are … We’ve wrestled with this. They’re owned by SGIA and now we have PIA as it were. And PRINTING United is part of that mix. But if you look around, this is not an unusual situation. We’re not the first association to own media companies or to buy media companies. PMMI did it. Tarsus is a media company. NBM is a media company. I mean, we’re actually late to the party.

Poor you. That’s not your style, is it?

No, exactly. So it’s not. And of course a lot of media companies are getting into events. So I think that the proof is in, if you look at the editorial coverage, the editors in chief, Mark Michelson and Bob Neubauer and Cory Francer and Steve Duccilli and Denise Gustavson, if you look at the folks that create the content.

Oh yeah.

They are not working at my direction. They have an independent voice. Now, that’s not to say that we don’t use the megaphone, that is NAPCO Media, as an association to promote those things that we do.

That would be stupid not to, right? Because I mean independency is not measured whether you use it as a channel. I think that independency is that let’s say that you do something that is really bad. I think that … Not really bad, but you’re making a mistake, right? And then your own channels and your media would also be able and allow to actually question those decisions. That is I guess the real test, whether you’re independent or not, right?

Yeah. And we haven’t seen a lot of that. I mean, quite honestly, they have been so focused on reporting that providing their own opinions. I would like to see them be a little more opinionated in some cases. I think it would, most of it would be in our favor. It wouldn’t necessarily always be in our favor. But I do think that obviously it’s a challenge and it’s one that we’re keenly aware of and how this develops over time.

So are there potential negatives? Yes, but we obviously think that the positives far outweigh the negatives in this particular case. So we look forward to seeing how this develops over time.

I am sure that things are under control and we have now been talking for half an hour, so I want to thank you very much for the time. It was interesting to get your insights and I’m pretty sure that it will not be the last time that we talk, first of all, I hope. And secondly, also an opportunity to see what the next chapter of the ever-growing SGIA and … Oh, by the way, you’re coming up with a new name soon, aren’t you?

Yes. It will be announced probably towards the end of this week actually.

I have a suggestion. It could be something like the American Printing Industry United.

It might be something like that. Yep, it might be similar to that. We’ll see. We’ll see.

Ford Bowers, it was a pleasure to talk to you. Thank you very much for your time and I wish you all the best. Thank you.

Well, thank you Morten. I appreciate being here. And stay safe, stay inside as much as you can, and we’ll talk to you next time.

Sure. Thank you. Bye.

STATUS: Printing United 2019 · Ford Bowers ...

26 Oct 2019