When is the Last Print Trade Show?

noelward

Well-known member
by Noel Ward, Editor@Large

When do you think we’ll see the Last Print Trade Show?

I’m not talking conferences with pipe and drape booths and pop-up backdrops. I’m thinking of the “mine’s bigger than yours” extravaganzas with high-dollar machinery beneath rotating aerial displays. Places where the clatter of finishing equipment battles the whir and thunk of digital printers and the hiss and hum of large format presses, all churning out maps and landscapes, images of cars, motorcycles and video game heroes.

Have such events outlived their time?

The Thing Is
No one suddenly decides to buy a product costing $250K to $2+ million based on seeing it on a trade show floor. We all know this. The big money buys are the long tails of months-long processes that end in a “SOLD!” announcement being taped to a Ricantoro VC600SX. It is the culmination of testing, negotiating, arguing, rationalizing, meetings with bankers, and more. The deal was wrapped long before the press was powered up on the show floor.

So the question of the day is: What do you really get out of a trade show? I ask this every so often because there are some doubts these days about whether shows as we know them are going to survive. The thing is, what will replace them? We may soon find out: drupa has moved to 2021, Labelexpo is headed to next March, and several smaller events have cancelled, postponed, or even made virtual.

If you’re a vendor
A show like PRINT or Printing United is an easy way for a company to drop a lot of money. The always-there problem is rationalizing the spend. It’s one thing to show the brand and be there because a competitor is across the aisle, but a lot of Caroxdicoh CSX 50000 presses have to be sold to justify the checks written to support a show booth.

Still, it is useful to cruise and schmooze, catch up with pals, coworkers and acquaintances. Plus, you often see things you might otherwise miss. I remember seeing a Highcon laser cutter at a show, then a few months later seeing one in the wild. Seeing the big box in both places and hearing the sales pitch and the actual user experience was incredibly informative. Print providers I know get similar experiences, seeing a machine at a show, wondering if it’s a fit for their operation, then talking with people who are using similar machines. And it all starts at a show.

Being virtual
However. Think for a moment about a boat or car show. These are look-and-see events, anyway, because you can’t do a proper test drive or get on the water. You see inside the car or boat, gain a sense of its features and how they work. It helps trim the list of potential candidates for the loan you’ll need and culls the number of yacht brokers or car dealers you’ll have to visit. And you get to dream about the stuff you can never afford, which is always fun.

A virtual show, when properly done, can provide a far better view of cars or boats than is possible with brochures, and this experience can often be transferred to print shows. Because printing and finishing equipment is used in ways that cannot be readily duplicated on a trade show floor, video can be used to show levels of integration that show floors often lack. I think of the “b-roll” footage I have shot at print facilities that is used as filler in a larger story. But different camera angles, adding on-screen copy or changing the talk track helps tell a different story. Then, when the video appears on a customer’s or prospect’s computer, phone or tablet, they can review it and can ask better questions when seeking more information. Some videos I’ve produced use voice-overs and copy points to highlight key features of presses and finishing equipment. Others have been walk-throughs narrated by product experts. All delivered a virtual experience for people who hadn’t made a trip to a show and provided needed information without airplanes, shuttle buses, hotels, and mediocre food.

Meanwhile, if you’re Print Provider…
Shows are a good way to get out of the office, write off a few meals and bar tabs, and play hooky for a couple of days, but you should get more out of it than being wined and dined by a smiling sales rep. It comes down to what you’re looking for.

Xplor, for instance, is a terrific information-driven conference, not a show, and could be done remotely. Its remote learning seminars are well done and serve as a basis for the annual conference. In my opinion, this is the perfect type of event for an entirely virtual existence. So is the Document Strategy Forum. Great info, but no need to physically go to it.

A key advantage of shows, though, assuming they have a solid conference track (like Xplor or Document Strategy), is that they get your butt out the door to some type of show or conference where you can get new perspectives without too many distractions—you know, distractions like the people who poke their head in your office and say, “Got a minute?”

A crucial issue is that technology is transforming our industry and if you don’t adapt and take advantage of the changes you will be left with a business that will fail or not bring a good selling price. The point here is how else are you going to learn about the differences new technologies can make in the way your business operates? Online is one approach but attending carefully selected shows can still be a vital way to learn and network. However, be sure to pick events that are not thinly disguised sales pitches. Napco's equipment-free and sales-driven "Summit" events are actually pretty good but are really just touchy-feely lead generators for the sales process. They work because they are (for the moment) somewhat unique. But they could be replicated remotely—even the one-on-one speed dating portions.

Are There Alternatives?
What’s lacking (so far) are practical and universally accessible ways of gathering prospects into a virtual show that replaces and effectively replicates a physical show. This is much harder to do than filling an exhibition hall and some of the technology to do so in a truly effective way is not yet available. But I'm guessing we'll see it this decade. My guess is that the last "traditional" iron-on-the-floor print industry trade show will be held sometime in the next 10 years. drupa may get all the way to 2030, but it will change, too. After all, equipment aside, drupa is mostly a venue for selling prodigious quantities of beer and brats. I love lunch at drupa: Guten tag! Ein bier und bratwurst, bitte! Danke!

Small is good
Vendors I've talked with over the past few years have consistently told me they find more value in smaller conferences and road shows where they can talk one-on-one with decision-makers and influencers and learn about their business needs, than they do at trade shows. One vendor recently told me his company does summer road shows that go nowhere near the trade show cities. Some prospects drive in from as much as 200 miles away. Many print providers I’ve talked with also like the smaller venues better, because they can talk with vendors and other business owners.

In my opinion we'll soon see more small, targeted, narrow-audience conferences like Canon thINK (which will be virtual this September 1), DSCOOP, EFI Connect, Ricoh Interact, and Xeikon Cafe. I’ve been to nearly all of these are they are a lot more interesting than traditional trade shows. Highly-focused trade associations like Imaging Network Group add to the mix. These will be augmented by one or two large shows, the big ones becoming increasingly virtual as more technology arrives to make equipment-free shows the norm.

What do you think?
 
Last edited:

gordo

Well-known member
RE: "If you’re a vendor"
Trade shows are very expensive, uncontrolled customer environments that provide very few benefits. Much better to have prospects and customers attend solution demos and presentations in a closed environment like a demo site or online event.
I think that's a main reason why so many vendors have abandoned trade shows.

RE: "if you’re Print Provider"
Tradeshows are very valuable events because you can directly compare competing hardware/software offerings as well as have vendors counter their competitor's arguments by simply walking across the aisle. I.e. Vendor X says such about your product - what is your response. It also provides an opportunity to confirm a purchase that’s already decided on prior to the show but not yet actually committed to with the vendor.

04PackagingBar.jpg


One thing about tradeshows that can't really be replicated virtually is the experience of the scale and scope of the print industry provided to graphic arts students during their last show day walk through the show. Not to mention all the Spiderman/Avengers posters they pick up for their rooms at home.
 
Last edited:

kinni88

Active member
by Noel Ward, Editor@Large

When do you think we’ll see the Last Print Trade Show?

I’m not talking conferences with pipe and drape booths and pop-up backdrops. I’m thinking of the “mine’s bigger than yours” extravaganzas with high-dollar machinery beneath rotating aerial displays. Places where the clatter of finishing equipment battles the whir and thunk of digital printers and the hiss and hum of large format presses, all churning out maps and landscapes, images of cars, motorcycles and video game heroes.

Have such events outlived their time?

The Thing Is
No one suddenly decides to buy a product costing $250K to $2+ million based on seeing it on a trade show floor. We all know this. The big money buys are the long tails of months-long processes that end in a “SOLD!” announcement being taped to a Ricantoro VC600SX. It is the culmination of testing, negotiating, arguing, rationalizing, meetings with bankers, and more. The deal was wrapped long before the press was powered up on the show floor.

So the question of the day is: What do you really get out of a trade show? I ask this every so often because there are some doubts these days about whether shows as we know them are going to survive. The thing is, what will replace them? We may soon find out: drupa has moved to 2021, Labelexpo is headed to next March, and several smaller events have cancelled, postponed, or even made virtual.

If you’re a vendor
A show like PRINT or Printing United is an easy way for a company to drop a lot of money. The always-there problem is rationalizing the spend. It’s one thing to show the brand and be there because a competitor is across the aisle, but a lot of Caroxdicoh CSX 50000 presses have to be sold to justify the checks written to support a show booth.

Still, it is useful to cruise and schmooze, catch up with pals, coworkers and acquaintances. Plus, you often see things you might otherwise miss. I remember seeing a Highcon laser cutter at a show, then a few months later seeing one in the wild. Seeing the big box in both places and hearing the sales pitch and the actual user experience was incredibly informative. Print providers I know get similar experiences, seeing a machine at a show, wondering if it’s a fit for their operation, then talking with people who are using similar machines. And it all starts at a show.

Being virtual
However. Think for a moment about a boat or car show. These are look-and-see events, anyway, because you can’t do a proper test drive or get on the water. You see inside the car or boat, gain a sense of its features and how they work. It helps trim the list of potential candidates for the loan you’ll need and culls the number of yacht brokers or car dealers you’ll have to visit. And you get to dream about the stuff you can never afford, which is always fun.

A virtual show, when properly done, can provide a far better view of cars or boats than is possible with brochures, and this experience can often be transferred to print shows. Because printing and finishing equipment is used in ways that cannot be readily duplicated on a trade show floor, video can be used to show levels of integration that show floors often lack. I think of the “b-roll” footage I have shot at print facilities that is used as filler in a larger story. But different camera angles, adding on-screen copy or changing the talk track helps tell a different story. Then, when the video appears on a customer’s or prospect’s computer, phone or tablet, they can review it and can ask better questions when seeking more information. Some videos I’ve produced use voice-overs and copy points to highlight key features of presses and finishing equipment. Others have been walk-throughs narrated by product experts. All delivered a virtual experience for people who hadn’t made a trip to a show and provided needed information without airplanes, shuttle buses, hotels, and mediocre food.

Meanwhile, if you’re Print Provider…
Shows are a good way to get out of the office, write off a few meals and bar tabs, and play hooky for a couple of days, but you should get more out of it than being wined and dined by a smiling sales rep. It comes down to what you’re looking for.

Xplor, for instance, is a terrific information-driven conference, not a show, and could be done remotely. Its remote learning seminars are well done and serve as a basis for the annual conference. In my opinion, this is the perfect type of event for an entirely virtual existence. So is the Document Strategy Forum. Great info, but no need to physically go to it.

A key advantage of shows, though, assuming they have a solid conference track (like Xplor or Document Strategy), is that they get your butt out the door to some type of show or conference where you can get new perspectives without too many distractions—you know, distractions like the people who poke their head in your office and say, “Got a minute?”

A crucial issue is that technology is transforming our industry and if you don’t adapt and take advantage of the changes you will be left with a business that will fail or not bring a good selling price. The point here is how else are you going to learn about the differences new technologies can make in the way your business operates? Online is one approach but attending carefully selected shows can still be a vital way to learn and network. However, be sure to pick events that are not thinly disguised sales pitches. Napco's equipment-free and sales-driven "Summit" events are actually pretty good but are really just touchy-feely lead generators for the sales process. They work because they are (for the moment) somewhat unique. But they could be replicated remotely—even the one-on-one speed dating portions.

Are There Alternatives?
What’s lacking (so far) are practical and universally accessible ways of gathering prospects into a virtual show that replaces and effectively replicates a physical show. This is much harder to do than filling an exhibition hall and some of the technology to do so in a truly effective way is not yet available. But I'm guessing we'll see it this decade. My guess is that the last "traditional" iron-on-the-floor print industry trade show will be held sometime in the next 10 years. drupa may get all the way to 2030, but it will change, too. After all, equipment aside, drupa is mostly a venue for selling prodigious quantities of beer and brats. I love lunch at drupa: Guten tag! Ein bier und bratwurst, bitte! Danke!

Small is good
Vendors I've talked with over the past few years have consistently told me they find more value in smaller conferences and road shows where they can talk one-on-one with decision-makers and influencers and learn about their business needs, than they do at trade shows. One vendor recently told me his company does summer road shows that go nowhere near the trade show cities. Some prospects drive in from as much as 200 miles away. Many print providers I’ve talked with also like the smaller venues better, because they can talk with vendors and other business owners.

In my opinion we'll soon see more small, targeted, narrow-audience conferences like Canon thINK (which will be virtual this September 1), DSCOOP, EFI Connect, Ricoh Interact, and Xeikon Cafe. I’ve been to nearly all of these are they are a lot more interesting than traditional trade shows. Highly-focused trade associations like Imaging Network Group add to the mix. These will be augmented by one or two large shows, the big ones becoming increasingly virtual as more technology arrives to make equipment-free shows the norm.

What do you think?
Noel -- 'good stuff. It really makes you think. I recall attending Drupa 2000 and Harry Quaddracci showed up in person to see the MAN Roland webs operating. He spent close to $80 million that day. MAN Roland was happy to exhibit that show. In contrast, Harry also used to purchase Heidelberg presses by fax machine messages as well.
What it comes down to is a "return on investment". As a producer can you see enough vendors to refine your decision making capability. Can you invest a $million on something that you have seen only on Microsoft Teams? Can you trust a company with the future of your business by their YouTube video or by a pleasant phone call? I think Printing United was a very good show last year for buying equipment. However I do think the days are over for shows at the McCormick Center. Who wants to pay $300 per night for a hotel, $50 a day for parking, when Orlando, Vegas, and other cities are 1/2 the price and the weather is much better.
As a vendor can you see enough people to pay for the show by minimizing travel expenses and receiving orders? You will be more effective in a sales presentation in person, then you will be by telephone or video; but you need a good target audience and attendance. We have scouted the shows a year before prior to exhibiting the following year.
I do like attending conferences in person. I like to meet or question companies or presenters after their talks or discussions to pick their brain.
I think there are still enough people that like to try on shoes or test drive a car before they buy one.
 

noelward

Well-known member
Thanks, kinni.
Excellent points, although Mr. Quadracci may be something of an exception. He knew what he was getting and had the pockets to cut a deal. And the clout and brand name to make vendors pay attention. See how it works for a guy buying one Indigo 10000, a single iGen 5, or a lone Ricoh 60000.

Drupa is a different animal, and is probably the last of the big shows. Plus, I'm sure a lot of homework and conversations took place before Harry got to Dusseldorf. But on the other hand, the days of big offset presses are fading fast. And a company like HP will spend north of $30 million to be at a show like drupa. That's a lot of Indigos and wide format presses.

Sure, no one is going to buy a press based on a YT video or Microsoft Teams, but all the big vendors bring prospects to their demo centers. I've been to most of them and know printers who have, too. It's a lot better to bring a customer in and have them test drive the equipment. The initial engagement may start at a show, but it goes on for a while after the show closes. Software and hardware vendors generally tell me they prefer smaller conferences to trade shows. And some vendors are no longer bringing large equipment to shows.

I want to test drive a car first, but I do the due diligence and research ahead of time. Press buyers are doing the same thing, but some of the leg work does not have to be at a show.
 

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