Printing United has been one of the most anticipated events in the US printing industry for at least some years. When a new trade-show of this scale is presented, most attendees, exhibitors, media, and of course, the people working with the event, set some expectations. Printing United was fantastic.

Most of the time, exhibitors were very busy, and attendees used the show to gain knowledge, to see new products, to be inspired, and of course, to acquire new products, and services. The show had, in my opinion, fewer innovations than expected. Maybe this made Printing United “just” a perfect trade show because of the size, the optimism, and the fact that the organizers “under one roof” show was right.

We will soon write a more detailed opinion on INKISH.NEWS about the event itself, and what kind of things we would like to see in the future. But here you can hear and see an interview with one of the driving forces behind Printing United, President & CEO Ford Bowers of the SGIA.

This film was recorded LIVE.

All good things comes to an end and a PRINTING United 2019 is on the third day. It’s actually our last episode on this live broadcast today and who is better to give an evaluation of the show then the president himself. So I’m here with a Ford Bowers from the SGIA. First of all, Ford, a very, very warm congratulations on a very, very successful show.

Well, thank you very much. I’m glad you’re here and it has been a fantastic show. We’ve been absolutely thrilled with the warm embrace from the attendees and the exhibitors. It’s been great.

I think that when you, and I don’t know if it was you and Mark Subers that together that came up with this game plan, but I take you have stakes in it anyway, right?

Yes. And that’s right, yeah. Yeah.

Wasn’t that kind of a, that was, we can agree that it’s a very bold move to do something as stupid as this, right?

Well, it wasn’t without some risk and I might have been a very short lived CEO had it not worked out as well as it has. But yeah, it was definitely forward-thinking. It was thinking a bit out of the box and yes, you’re right. I met Mark Subers in January.

Partners in crime?

Partners in crime and January 20th and we saw everything kind of very much the same way. So there’s a little serendipity, you never know who you’re going to meet and how things are going to develop. And then of course our relationship with NAPCO developed over the next couple of years and to the point now where they’re part of our family as it were. So, it’s, but this has been fantastic. And so this has taken about two years to get off the ground, but we couldn’t be more thrilled with the results.

Yeah. We’re going to talk about that in a moment, but we have plenty of time. So I was just thinking that every time somebody is inventing new things, it is, it always starts from a need of change, I guess.

Yeah. Well, yeah, and this is a response to what’s been happening in the marketplace for a number of years. And having come from the printing side, I was a print service provider. I managed a big place in Atlanta. I knew that what printers wanted to see was more adjacencies of technologies. They wanted to see where they could grow and they had to go to multiple shows to do that. And even as a printer some years ago I thought, wouldn’t it be great if I could go to one place and not worry about what was going to be there? That everything I needed to see was going to be there. So I knew that time out of the shop is valuable. So that’s on the one side.

I also knew, because I’d been involved with SGIA and on the board of directors, that the issue that the manufacturers have and the suppliers have in terms of the cost of coming to trade shows, I mean it’s a tremendous cost for them to do this for the printing community and they really have to get a good ROI to continue this. And so to bring all of the audiences together so that they can approach them all at one time makes perfect sense. And of course they, it was a stampede in terms of doing this and it was the really, because SGIA had built a really solid trade show, a foundation of apparel and industrial and graphics providers and NAPCO had the megaphone in terms of the commercial, the implant and the packaging side. All six of those segments are now being brought together. So again, I mean, yeah.

So I guess that United can be interpreted in different ways, right? Because it can be interpreted in this, the one under one roof, what’s it called? One roof approach that you have for the market. But it also could be a signal that the printing industry needs to stand united in order to get growth.

Oh, absolutely. I’ve long thought that our industry, particularly in North America, and I think it’s the same in Europe, but we’re very fragmented. We’re very fractured. And as a result, as an industry, we punch well below our weight. We’re much more powerful as an industry if we work together than if we maintain our distance and everybody stays in their lanes. So this is just really a first step in kind of bringing the communities together.

The next steps will be how do we get everybody to take advantage of this kind of a platform? And how do we extend that into things that are much more critical than… not that trade shows aren’t critical. They’re very critical to me and the exhibitors. But things like workforce-

May be more to you than most.

Maybe more to me than most. That’s right. Workforce development is a big issue for our industry. How do we get new people into the industry? How do we train them, cultivate them, allow them to grow? You have legislative issues, regulatory issues. Those have to be dealt with and those are much better dealt with collectively than they are piecemeal. And so the idea is what we’ve tried to do as an organization is to create a platform into which everyone can plug in some form or fashion and thrive and grow as a result. So that’s really what it’s about.

So when you started thinking about this thing, SGIA was one company organization, NAPCO was another one. And I totally get that you have a membership organization and you have a megaphone, as you say. When you started thinking about doing this show, what kind of ideas did you think were as important for the industry? Because I mean one thing is to put a lot of people on a show floor and charge them a bunch of money and get going, right? But another thing is the output of things and how the industry can grow and evolve from this. When have you had considerations about that as well?

Well, I mean that was actually part of the reason for the acquisition. We’ve come up with a number of ideas, might be a little premature to discuss them in detail, but-

I like to hear them anyway.

I’m sure. I’m sure we’ll give you some scoops. We’ll give you definitely some scoops. But there were so many things that we wanted to do as a result of the success of this which, and we knew for some months that it would be successful.

But as a result of this, there are things we want to do moving forward that really required us to be an organically intertwined organization rather than two separate legal entities. It just made it very difficult for us to function and operate. But that said, yes, I mean, again, the next steps are to really figure out how to get other associations and other organizations involved. And here you’ll also see IPMA, AICC, you see a lot of other organizations already participating in this. They’re offering education, they’re having booths and-

So that extends to the United actually?

That’s really the United part of it. And quite honestly PRINTING United is a wonderful aspirational sentiment. Right? And so now what we have to do as an organization is live up to that and be worthy of the name PRINTING United and how do we do that?

I can tell you that the worst fear I had before the show, I had great confident in the management team and a great confident in the show. But worst case scenario, when you had the print show in Chicago a couple of weeks ago and you have this show, I was, if, my worst fear was that both shows were failing.

Oh, okay.

But since you are so successful and it seemed that you saw the trends, right? There was a one roof need, under one roof need. There was a need for something new in the market, right?


I know it’s going to be critical in the U.S. to talk about things. I’m not trying to put anybody on the stake here. I’m just trying to kind of conclude that if both show had zero visitors, then there was no need in the market.

Right, right. Exactly. Right. Yeah.

So that’s more my perspective. Trying to understand the market need you saw.

Yeah. Well I mean, again, as a printer, I think I had some understanding of what was going on in the printing community. We, it was anecdotal evidence. It’s still evidence, but it’s anecdotal. So we did some research on it and we tried to figure out who was crossing what line.

Is that also geographical or because I mean-

No. More segment-wise. Yeah. So it’s more application and technology-wise, who’s crossing into to which lanes, that kind of thing. And how much of that is going on and is it accelerating, is it declining, is it working out? And so we really, I think once we did that research, we realized, okay, well this is solid, this is, there’s not… anything can fail, but we felt like that this would be a pretty good home run.

But at the end of the day, I think that again, we still have a lot of work to do to figure out what’s the next level because this is three days a year. We have 362 more days and so we have some thoughts about how we’re going to deliver there, too, as well.

That’s one thing, but I think from a starting point doing the first show, I mean I know you have the foundation of SGIA to grow from, but under all circumstances with creating a show like this and manage to get it so well positioned. As I said, congratulations. Because I think, yeah, if there wasn’t any room for improvement then we could go home. Right?

Yeah. Well that’s true. Yeah. But one of the best things to come out of this show, from what I’m hearing from industry veterans and newbies alike, is that for something to grow this big in one year of a 20% growth pattern and we’ll do it again next year. I think people are saying, “Oh geez, this is phenomenal,” because we’re used to seeing things slowly decline in print. We’re not used to seeing something vibrant. And everybody kind of bemoans and bewails what it used to be like. And we’ve had people, but I don’t want to quote anybody, but somebody said it’s the best show they’ve been to in North America since 1997.

I heard the same.

Yeah. So, and then you have people saying second only to Drupa in importance, that sort of thing for some of the exhibitors here. Those are the kinds of things that really give people the idea that it’s a viable, vibrant, vital community. And so this is kind of proof of concept that print isn’t really, there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s actually very good, it’s growing and everything’s fantastic really. It’s a great industry to be in.

Yeah. And when you are in an industry and you have a show where you have this extreme positivism that I have experienced during these three days, maybe the visitors, the guests here, they go home and think that this is not after all such a bad industry to be in. So we, let’s do something so we can grow our industry, right?

Right. Yeah, absolutely. And here, not a lot of time for networking, but you see your friends, you talk to them, you talk to the exhibitors, whatever your assumptions are, you can have them validated or invalidated. I mean, it’s just, it’s a crucible of sorts of where your next ideas are going to come from, very concentrated period where you can really kind of look at the scope, the landscape of what’s possible. And then you sort that out over the next month or two or three and then you move on and then you repeat that cycle a year from now.

Let’s talk about the just final here about this show because this is of course we’re live right now, so I guess some might be interested in listening. So I guess that you’ve been talking to a lot of exhibitors here. So what is the first impressions you hear from them?

The first impressions I hear from them is that they are for the most part exceeding their lead gen quotas that they set out. Somebody who said we had a really good show last year, one of the exhibitors said we got more leads this year than we did in all three days last year. And so those are the kinds of things you go, “Okay, well this is good. This has got some legs on it.” There, pretty big sales are taking place on the show floor. I haven’t, I literally haven’t talked to an exhibitor yet who’s just been down about it.

We just made an interview with an Andre from Riso. They sold 26 machines on the [inaudible 00:11:27] show.

Oh wow. That means our booth space costs are going to up next year.

He kind of promised that they will be here next year as well.

Yeah. Okay. Well, interestingly enough, we’ve… next year’s bookings for Atlanta 2020, we’ve almost sold as much space for next year as we have on the floor this year.

And that was actually the one thing I was a little curious about because the next year is a Drupa year. So I was wondering if you were worried whether that would affect the signups.

Apparently not. Yeah. So I’m-

Are you expecting to grow next year then?

Yes, we expect to grow. So next… this hall is 724,000 square feet. In Atlanta, we have over a million square feet.

So you’re busy the next couple months.

I’m going to be busy. Yeah. Well, actually I’ve got people, they’ll be busy.

So you will be on the golf court if they need any help.

I’m going to be taking a nap. That’s what I’m going to be doing.

I think I will take a nap when we’re done here as well. So first impression seems to be extremely good. So I guess that what is really the measurements is that when people get home and do the follow up on the leads and see the quality of the leads here, that is the second [crosstalk 00:12:29].

And we have a supplier manufacturer’s council and we’ll actually be having a call in a couple of weeks and we’re going to pick their brains about what went well and what can be improved and they’re going to give us unvarnished feedback about what the experience was like for them and what they thought it was like for the attendees.

We’ve done a few other things this year. We put Beacon technology on the floor.

I saw that.

So we’re going to be… which is a way to map the flow of the visitors. Where do they go? How do they congregate? Where do they stand? Some of the booths, some of the larger booths, it’s actually at the machine level so we know who’s standing in front of the machine for more than a minute, that kind of thing. So it’s experimental to a certain extent, but we think this is going to give us a lot of information about how to improve the experience across the board. So we really want to be a world-class trade show.

Do you, I mean sometimes when I… I’d been at Drupa two, three times, four times maybe. And when I am at Drupa I always blew my mind away about the [inaudible 00:13:27] and the size and things like that. And I remember the first time I came to a Graph Expo show here in the U.S. I was just like, “Oh, it’s so tiny.” And I was just like, “I would have thought that in America there was almost the size for our market, for not maybe as big, but-”

Right, right. Yeah. I mean, and of course we don’t really have, I guess they had a four year cycle with the international version Print and Graph Expo, that kind of things. But yeah, but we’ve, Drupa is much more than one roof approach. Maybe they don’t have as much in terms of textile and screen printing but everything else is represented there. And so this is in a sense it’s that model and I think it’s much needed. It certainly works there. And that’s the thrill of going to Drupa because it’s a candy store for printers because you get to see everything in one place.

Obviously that size is difficult for the exhibitors to do on an annual basis. So that’s really for major technology pushes, that everybody gets their stuff ready for Drupa. This is… but you also need I think an annual cadence because digital technology improves every year and has a faster cadence in terms of the R&D and the go to market cycle for them. So an annual show that’s under one roof for North America is good. Drupa is good for that big four year push, so…

Thank you for the time and once more, congratulations.

Thank you so much.

Ford Bowers · Over The Skype · SGIA/PIA

6 May 2020