An Opportunity to Change the Industry for the Better
In considering my life in print, I must say I was not born into it, I did not achieve it, nor did I have it thrust upon me, but rather I would venture a fourth category, namely, I “stumbled into it accidentally.”
At various points I had brief encounters with the world of print in some way. When I was very young, my father - a newspaper man - took me to work and showed me how newspapers were printed. I thought the presses were impressive, but what I found even more fascinating was the man sitting in the dark, little room in the back setting down the lead type to form the pages of the paper (he could read backwards!).
Twenty years later, my father showed me this new software that replaced the only process I had ever seen - a thing called PageMaker. He was very excited that he could lay out a smallish newspaper in less than a day.
First Exposure to the Industry
A few years after that, in the late ’80s, a friend of mine started running a small print shop out of a strip mall in Georgia. Being young and needing all the extra income I could get my hands on, I worked for him during my days off and in the evenings. I learned to run a small, two-color Ryobi and most of the finishing and binding equipment you’d find in any quick print shop.
Alas, I did not yet think print was a career for me. Too bad. My friend sold his shop at the age of 50 and moved to Ecuador to live a life of leisure and adventure. (End note on that story: he moved back a few years later; leisure apparently not being everything it’s cracked up to be.)
Fast forward another 15 years or so. I was still figuring out ways to make money and was in between jobs when a friend, who was a manager at a color separation outfit in the flexographic printing world, asked me to help out. I responded, “Sure, but what’s flexographic printing?” After being properly schooled on the fine craft of platemaking, I went on to do that, as well as assemble color keys, go on press checks and manage accounts, for the next two years. And, thus, my printing career was born.
Well, not quite. It seems that there was change afoot in the world of platemaking. Many clients were installing their digital sparks for platemaking and cutting out the middlemen. It was not the last time I would hear the word “digital” and how it was disrupting the printing world.
Reading the tea leaves, I decided to make a job move and subsequently wound up at another printing company - but this time in the retail space as a project manager. I was once-removed from the printing process, but since I knew some of the lingo, they handed me print-heavy accounts. After two years, I was plucked from obscurity to run their graphics printing division.
I’m still not sure why the COO took a chance handing over an eight-figure operation to an avowed novice, but I’m very happy she did.
For the next eight years I spent my days, and quite a few nights, immersed in the business of running a 75-worker print shop, which was part of a larger, 300-employee company. I learned a lot about screen printing. We also had offset capabilities and, with my appointment, we began the process of migrating to digital printing as much, and as fast, as possible. By the time I left, the vast majority (90%) of our output was digitally printed and finished. We also adopted a new MIS and scheduling system; Web-to-print interface; and were just in the process of automating and integrating our file prep, job tracking and workflows when I departed. It was quite a hectic period.
An Ever-Evolving World of Print
So, when I left that job to take over the reins at SGIA, I came with a bit of historical insight, however brief, and some definite notions about what the future of the printing industry might look like - both for an association and a trade show. The first thing I knew was that print was ever-changing. You can’t stop it; you can’t even slow it down. The best you can do is figure out the best way to take advantage of it.
I also knew that printers no longer fit into neatly defined categories like they once did. With the advent of digital printing technologies, the ability to enter adjacent markets and launch new product offerings became much easier than in the past. I did it, and so could others.
Suppliers, Printers Share Same Stresses
Similarly, I understood that suppliers and manufacturers were subject to the same convergence stresses and strains that any printer, in a shifting market, faces. Their marketing dollars now have to perform better than ever - OEMs and printers simply have more markets and audiences to address. And, from this confluence of market forces, came the concept for the PRINTING United exhibition. At least in theory, anyway.
What I wasn’t sure about, though, was how to bring all of the various printer audiences together in the same venue with all of the relevant suppliers and their wide breadth of offerings. That is, until I met my kindred spirits at NAPCO Media in the persons of Mark Subers and Dave Leskusky who - through a much longer history and even deeper understanding - saw the evolving marketplace that was occurring and an opportunity to change the industry for the better the same way that I did.
By establishing a partnership, we knew we had the opportunity to create something that would be a credible, strategic and potent answer to the market forces shaping our industry. And PRINTING United is that something.
With NAPCO Media’s audience of commercial, in-plant and packaging printers, combined with SGIA’s audience of graphics, garment and industrial printers — as well as our collective reach into the supplier bases that serve these same communities - the opportunity to bring these audiences together with the full range of solutions that are now available to them is clear. In fact, it’s compelling.
The only question left for those reading their own tea leaves: How will you respond to change?
Ford Bowers serves as the president and CEO of the Specialty Graphic Imaging Association (SGIA).