Xeikon Café: Sharing Ideas and Experiences

By Noel Ward, Editor@Large

Just about all the major equipment and software vendors these days hold annual events to connect with customers and prospects, talk about new technologies, and try to bring a personal touch to what can otherwise be a somewhat distant relationship. These shindigs span the globe, take on all formats and some are decidedly better than others. I’ve been to many of them over the years and have found some are crafted to address the needs of customers. Which, you’d think, would be the idea.

Most of these events gather up a variety of partner companies who get space on a micro trade show floor, replete with pipe and drape or portable booths, making the overall experience more casual, much lower key, and less frenetic than a normal trade show. Still, there are a couple of vendor-hosted events that have morphed into semi-exclusive clubs with full-on show floors, and where the KoolAid is in the beverages available during breaks.

In this age of evolving media choices, the most valuable events in my opinion are built around relaxed atmospheres that let all attendees talk about the business of making money with print and electronic media. One of the better of these in my experience is Xeikon Café, which has now taken place five or six times, beginning in Lier, Belgium and now twice at Xeikon’s U.S. headquarters outside of Chicago. The Belgian versions are larger, have great beer, and because they are at the factory many of the company’s “Aura Partners” are on hand with actual equipment so you can see how the various technologies work together. Although the partners are also on hand in Chicago the absence of the factory floor makes some demonstrations impractical, yet both versions of the Café retain a flavor, a je ne sais quois, most other vendor-run events lack.

In my opinion, what sets the Café apart is that it is less about selling iron and more about sharing ideas, experiences, and networking among press owners and encouraging conversations between the attendees and various Xeikon execs. The Café has a feel that is not unlike the close-knit collegiality Imaging Network Group members share with that organization’s vendor partners. They all know each other both personally and professionally, and work together to figure out business challenges.

It’s not about the press
What I thought was especially interesting in Chicago was that in some of the business-related break-out sessions the name Xeikon was never even mentioned. Instead, problems or challenges would be described, and ways of addressing them discussed. As someone who has listened to far too many pitches about speeds and feeds and the wonders of technology, this is always a refreshing alternative.

For example, the final two sessions were especially good. In one, Vicki Strull of Vicki Strull Design (https://vickistrull.com) in Atlanta talked about solving the challenges of integrating graphic design and electronic media—in an age of shrinking attention spans—never mentioning any vendor’s print engines. Then Eileen Mullen of The Boathouse Group (http://www.boathouseinc.com), a Boston advertising and marketing powerhouse, did much the same thing, noting how important it is for print providers to connect with advertising and marketing agencies if they wish to reach decision-makers in brand-driven companies. This makes total sense, because agency folks already have the ear of clients’ CMOs, ears which average print providers may not be able to access. From my perspective, having once been associate creative director in a Boston mar-comm firm, I totally agree with Ms. Mullen’s advice.

Unexpected insight
Another interesting moment at the Café came not in a break-out session or on the visit to the Customer Experience Center where all the goodies were on display, but in a meeting with Xeikon execs and a roomful of Jetrion label press owners. Members of the press weren’t invited, but curiosity got the better of me so I took an inconspicuous seat and observed. This meeting was actually a big deal because of Xeikon’s acquisition of Jetrion from EFI some months ago. As you might expect, the Jetrion owners were apprehensive and wanted to hear what Xeikon had to say. And being a fan of both kinds of press, so did I.

Q&A is always the best part of a meeting or presentation and this was no different. The Jetrion owners voiced concerns about what they could expect for support and new presses. The Xeikon execs—President and CEO Benoit Chatelard, VP of Global Marketing Filip Weymans, and U.S VP of Marketing and Sales Dave Wilkins—made it clear that they fully understood the concerns and assured Jetrion customers that they could continue to count on the company for support. In particular, they noted that Xeikon has increased the number of technicians who support Jetrion machines. This follows the Xeikon support strategy I’ve observed when talking with Xeikon press owners over the past 20 years. Moreover, I thought the candor of the Xeikon’s execs—in this potentially contentious setting—was a big step above that of similar sessions I’d been in with other vendors at the front of the room.

Just a reporter
As a mere writer and analyst, I don’t have a horse in the race or a dog in the hunt. I just report what I see and hear. So when I go to events like this one or talk with vendors’ customers, I try to get both sides of the story about how service and support is promised and delivered. To be honest, the promises and delivery at shows and conferences are generally all over the map for every equipment and software supplier. No one is perfect. No one. But I look at events like Xeikon Cafe and see the effort to listen and learn from customers, understand concerns and perhaps incorporate newfound knowledge into upcoming product or support offerings, and come away encouraged.

We are all part of a fantastic industry that is undergoing massive change. Some parts are doing well while other elements are struggling. Yet as I visit print providers around the U.S. and talk with their counterparts in Europe I am encouraged by the resilience they possess, as well as the resilience of print and its relevance in an age of increasing media choices. To be sure, print is not the huge force it once was, but thanks to pros I talk with and events like Xeikon Café, I got on the plane for home knowing that some great days are still ahead.


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