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Commentary & Analysis

Too Many Trade Shows?

The last couple of years have been difficult for both printers and suppliers to our industry. While there are positive signs that indicate a path to recovery, and many companies are investing to better position themselves for a brighter future, many suppliers to the industry believe that we have too many trade shows and too many of them are too siloed for today’s diverse environment. Hear what they—and GASC—have to say.

By Cary Sherburne
Published: October 8, 2010

Update 10/15/10See SGIA CEO Michael Robertson in a recent video commenting on the topic of this article

My colleague Barb Pellow wrote very eloquently about the value trade shows like Graph Expo have for attendees from a business, educational and networking perspective. I spent some time talking to several executives from the supply side who echo the value the value of trade shows that Barb pointed out but offered a slightly different perspective, especially as it relates to the frequency and configuration of the shows in our industry. I also spoke with Ralph Nappi, CEO of GASC, the show company for Graph Expo, to get his perspective on this issue.

One thing that was very different at Graph Expo 2010 as compared to previous years was the dearth of offset presses. Vince Lapinski, CEO of manroland North America, said, "Having machines running makes the show exciting, and I understand that. But it just doesn't have a payback for us anymore." manroland, with its North American headquarters in Chicago, has not had presses at the show since Print 05. Lapinski adds, "Granted, it is harder to get people to come to your booth without running equipment, and that is the tradeoff. But we use Graph Expo as a platform to show off our technology from an automation and services perspective." manroland offers show attendees who wish to see presses in action the opportunity to visit its local demo center outside of show hours, and a number of attendees have taken advantage of that opportunity. "This approach has been effective for us," he adds. "The ROI to set up a large press for four days and then dismantle it is simply not there."

GASC and show companies from other industries worked hard with McCormick Place and the City of Chicago to change the cost model for exhibitors, and to make the set-up and break down much more efficient and cost effective. GASC also offered a "stimulus package" that offset some of the exhibitor costs associated with the show. Their hard work made a difference in the costs suppliers incurred, and those efforts should be applauded. Yet many suppliers would like to see even more changes. Clearly, I was not able to speak with all 500 exhibitors at this year's show, and this article does not reflect everyone's opinion. But I have heard enough comments on this topic from exhibitors at this show and others, especially this year, that I believe it bears discussion. Please join the conversation by sharing your comments using the comment feature at the end of the article.

Are Silos Obsolete?

Fred Rosenzweig, President of EFI, finds the current proliferation of shows burdensome for his company. He says, "With our diversified business, we end up going to nine or ten fairly good-sized shows a year around the globe, plus Connect, our users' group, and smaller regional events and open houses. That is a huge investment for us, in the multiple millions of dollars, funds that could perhaps be better applied toward research and development that would bring more innovation to the market." EFI typically invests 25% to 28% of revenues back into R&D. Rosenzweig continues, "Trade shows are still important in our industry. They can bring in people that normally don't get to see us, resulting in surprise visits for us as well as existing customers who are surprised by the range of our product offerings. The problem is the number and proliferation of trade shows and the ROI (or lack thereof) on that proliferation. If you look at deals for printers and MIS applications that are signed at the show, we make the investment back. The question becomes whether you would get those sales anyway."

Rosenzweig suggests that while consolidation has driven down the number of printing establishments, the number of trade shows has increased. He says, "GASC has Graph Expo; Tarsus puts on Label Expo; you have Questex with On Demand. And there are several grand format shows, including SGIA, ISA, and now FESPA picking up Graphics of the Americas. That is just in the U.S., and we have to operate globally. The model is not sustainable."

Richard Barham, Vice President of Inkjet for Agfa, adds to the discussion, saying, "We see a big consolidation in the technology platforms across all of the different exhibitors. If you look at what you see at Graph Expo and what you will see next week in Las Vegas at SGIA from Agfa, EFI VUTEk, HP, Canon and others, you will see the same work force and the same products one week later in another part of the country doing the same job all over again. From an industry point of view, the costs are unsustainable and the lack of focus becomes a challenge. The industry as a whole would love to have one major exhibition in the spring and one in the fall in the U.S. If you look at the cross-platform nature of the industry today, the old idea of having an offset printing show or screen printing show is no longer valid. As the boundaries continue to blur, the exhibition industry has to start reflecting that fact by coming together logically to adapt to the way the world is in the 21st century."

From a Graph Expo perspective, Nappi points out that today's Graph Expo already reflects much of this consolidation and diversification. "There has been huge consolidation already," he says. "This includes mailing and fulfillment, newspapers, packaging. The mailing shows barely exist anymore, and all of the packaging shows except Label Expo as well as the regional shows except Graphics of the Americas are basically gone in the U.S. Those needs are being met by Graph Expo. Our big success with newsprint can be attributed to the fact that NEXPO is gone now. People forget that there has already been huge consolidation and it will continue. But I can't stand here and tell you publically that shows like SGIA, ISA and On Demand will be gone. What I can tell you is that the NPES and GASC boards are engaged in a strategic process to decide where they are going in the future, and Graph Expo is part of that discussion. The decision about the frequency of the show shouldn't be played out in blogs but should be played out with the associations, their members and their boards. We had 500 exhibitors here this year and well over 10,000 attendees, although it is too soon to give you exact numbers. At Print 09 last year, we had over 10,000 companies that attended the show with one or more representatives from each. Whether future shows look, smell and taste like our current Graph Expo is part of the ongoing discussion. If there was anything consistent about this show, it was the fact that the show is continuing to evolve and change. Co-locations, like the international newspaper group, the G7 Summit, and a number of users groups want to come back and want more space. Skip Henk of Xplor has indicated Xplor will be back. All of these dynamics will help us decide what we do with the show as we move into the future." Nappi also stated that Heidelberg and many other exhibitors have already committed to 2011 and that Heidelberg will be back in its front row location in 2011. "Several years ago," he explains, "we established a point system that is based on frequency of exhibiting at the show, booth space, etc., in order to prioritize booth locations. Under that system, Heidelberg will be back in its traditional space next year."

Alternatives …

So what is the answer? Executives floated several ideas that all of the associations and show companies should take into consideration, for their own future success as well as for the health of the industry.

Rosenzweig offered, "Graph Expo used to have three halls and tens of thousands of visitors. The size of the industry has gone down and the diversification within the industry has gone up. Flexo printers have offset and digital; offset printers have moved into grand format. We need to see the various show organizations come together and create, in our opinion, a couple of U.S. trade shows a year, perhaps spring and fall, East Coast/West Coast. Let them be big and let us bring what we want in terms of products and services. We don't need to segment anymore. And customers would benefit from this type of convergence. At Label Expo, we showed Jetrion. But maybe there are flexo printers that want to see other things we and other suppliers offer, things that could help them expand their businesses."

Presstek's Chairman, President & CEO Jeff Jacobson chimed in: "The fact that Heidelberg is not here at Graph Expo 2010 is telling. For us, it is kind of interesting to have had the only three offset presses that were running live, and that is not a bad thing for us. We are here because it is a good way for us to sell presses. This is one way to put it all together. But I certainly wouldn't be averse to shows moving to every other year. It is a big expense, no question about it. We would be willing to spend a little more on a consolidated show. To be candid, packaging and labels is not our focus, but we surely would encounter some customers from those segments that would find value in our offerings, particularly with the larger format and expanded capabilities of products like the 75DI. It could represent an incremental business opportunity for us and for them."

Lapinski echoed those thoughts, saying, "Grouping shows together to result in one strong, powerful show is what we want as an industry. Any vendor that would deny that is crazy. One WOW show is what we need as an industry. That would benefit everyone and would be a positive thing. It would bring more power to print and to the show. Shows are not really a sales event anymore, but rather a marketing event. We have to reach people that we don't already know."

Agfa's Barham would like to see even more diversification in terms of the types of attendees that could be attracted to a combined show: "There is a need to educate brand owners, retailers and other end users of printing and communications technologies on how the many technology advances in our industry affect their businesses and the opportunities they bring. We miss a huge opportunity by not including these folks in our shows and conferences in a meaningful way."

Timing is Everything

The supply-side executives I spoke with were definitely in agreement: There are too many shows and they are too siloed. As a result, all of the shows suffer from declining attendance. And the suppliers suffer from having to stretch both human resources and operating capital to have a presence at all of these shows. Rosenzweig pointed out that in the fall, a good portion of his marketing team is consumed for 35 days or more just with shows, taking focus away from other activities that might, in the end, have more value to the company and its customers.

Whether the answer is two large consolidated shows per year in the U.S. or one large consolidated show every other year, or some other configuration, certainly many of the suppliers would like to see the show companies collaborate to reduce the overall number of shows as well as the specialization of these shows. I also heard objections to holding shows on weekend days causing higher costs in drayage and other fees, with a strong preference for Tuesday through Thursday show days, although Nappi indicates he has not heard that complaint. Shows held during weekend days present many inconveniences for suppliers, not the least of which is the added labor expense of set-up and break-down during these overtime hours.

Rosenzweig points out, "Associations are supported by the manufacturers, and we are at a point where they don't want us to solve the problem, let me put it like that. If we solve the problem, it may be more painful than if they solve it themselves. We value the associations, we want to go to them and be part of the solution. We need them to recognize that the respective technologies are not competing against each other. We are competing against Internet, email , radio, TV, often perceived as more efficient communication devices than print. So we have to be really good at what we do, and we need innovation to make us more efficient. The show companies and industry associations need to realize that we are not competing against ourselves, and we will be stronger as a holistic industry. Printers can't afford the time and money to go to all the shows, either. Let's bring 100,000 people to a trade show instead of 10,000 or 20,000 and make the printing industry stronger, more cost effective and more efficient."

Agfa's Barham agrees, saying, "Trade shows are crucial. Particularly where you have rapid technology change, trade shows play a critical role in allowing our customers to actually see, feel, and get a first-hand sense of the technology. You can look at a brochure, but new technology needs human interaction. We are firm believers in trade shows, but there are just too many. If we could bring it down to one, we can do a far better job for the customer, bringing more products and more effectively explaining the technology and the business opportunities rather than spreading ourselves paper thin over a large number of shows."

Not Everyone Agrees

In an interview with WhatTheyThink's Patrick Henry, Xerox Chairman & CEO Ursula Burns said her company remained committed to yearly events at McCormick Place because people like to see Xerox's wares in the hands-on setting that a trade show provides. What's more, she said, Xerox welcomes the opportunity to be compared by showgoers to competitive vendors across the aisle. "As long as this is useful to us, we will be here," said Burns, but she added that Graph Expo's usefulness as a marketing venue isn't something about which her opinion could never change. "I ask the question all the time," she said.

Nappi concludes, "The key message from my perspective is this: how Graph Expo should be configured in the future is being discussed and debated, and the strategic process underway within GASC and NPES is the right way to go about it. We get input from all of our members. It is an industry event and the group will take into consideration the needs of the entire industry."

Join the Conversation

What do you think? Let us hear from you.

Cary Sherburne is a well-known author, journalist and marketing consultant whose practice is focused on marketing communications strategies for the printing and publishing industries.

Cary Sherburne is available for speaking engagements and consulting projects. To get more information contact us.

Please offer your feedback to Cary. She can be reached at cary@whattheythink.com.



By Charles Corr on Oct 08, 2010

Having a show start on Sunday with pre-events on Saturday makes no sense. The explanation I have received in the past for the start date of Expo/Print is that print providers are busy and want to go to the show on Sunday. I doubt it and I have both voiced and heard these complaints for some time. Buyers will show up mid-week. For years the Monday attendance is higher than Sunday.

These major events are like reunions. As I walked into Executive Outlook someone remarked it is like weddings and funerals, you meet and know you can catch up with people you haven't seen in a while.

The social value (networking) of these events is important to the industry. You can quickly check out what one vendor says against another, you can efficiently meet with vendors and kick the tires.

The marketplace nature of these bigger shows is quite different than the vendor/hostage events. One goal of those events is to claim your attention. Shows afford you the ability to follow your own interests.

How many are enough is a more difficult question. Probably two mega-events a year is enough. This would include all types of print technology and focus from PMA to Xplor. But who is willing to drop out? Who is willing to take less? Having worked on some of this, consolidation is very difficult even though it is what is needed. Just like many print providers hang on, it is likely that so will many shows. The market will eventually decide but we shouldn't overlook the value to the industry of gatherings.


By Clint Bolte on Oct 08, 2010

The most valuable educational venues for most printers are users groups. The HowTo seminars are a distant second. With a 2-day users group meeting and a 3-day trade show that's about as much as the small-med size firm can afford to be away.

Consolidation of the different trade shows won't happen as these folks are entrepreneurs as well. The suppliers simple need to say No thank you. Don't be concerned about the printers...they (again small to med size) won't come to any more than 1 show every year or two.

The new Illinois law bringing the McCormick Place down to earth was helpful...15 years late, but still helped them survive.

Graph Expo 2010 was an excellent educational venue. And it should continue to evolve!


By Joe Webb on Oct 08, 2010

I find a lot of the discussion amusing because of all of the regional shows that have disappeared. In my 35 years, every year I have heard the "there are too many shows" whine. I think we're at the shortest practical length for Graph Expo in terms of traveling logistics for attendees. As far as the actual attendance figures, these have been very straightforward compared to the nebulous and mysterious way they were kept, and often kept secret. The scanning of the badge is to get a sense of traffic flow and how often attendees are on the show floor (my understanding is that the average attendee is on the show floor for parts of two days). When you get to the bottom line of it, attendance does not matter as much as whether the exhibitors feel that the investment they make gives them a sales and support gain that they would not have otherwise had with other selling methods. I have always been dismayed at how little planning companies make in terms of their sales processes, especially before the show, to meet with company executives they would not ordinarily get to see. The show will never have the vitality it had when the digital prepress revolution was going on. It's no longer amazing to see computer technology capture and manipulate images, and those companies are gone. It's hard to demonstrate workflow software, for example. So many of the products are actually concepts that do not lend themselves to show floor demonstration. That is the transition we are seeing. I believe the focus should be on the trade show as an original form of social media. It seems that GASC has realized this in terms of their attraction of user groups, especially, into the process. In the end, this was the best Graph Expo we have had in years, even in spite of the economy. Show management is far more engaged than it was in the past. Our expectations for future shows should be higher than the "just another show like last year" which was easy to fall into. The show is strategic for the industry's future, and I think it's headed on that path.


By Mary Mekelburg on Oct 08, 2010

When companies, whether OEM or supplier, are required to trim the budget, discretionary spending becomes more clearly defined. And if trade shows represent a big chunk, marketing departments look for creative ways to cut back; as we've seen - booth without equipment or attend but not exhibit. An every other year cycle could create heightened interest.

With the increasing move to social media platforms, an alternative for the off-year is a Virtual Trade Show, complete with 'Virtual Booths, Web Casts and IM or Skype/type meetings. This would be a great way to engage the creatives and students (tomorrow's print professionals) to the print industry. We have many great 'print' schools; partnering on such a project could be a win-win all around - for the industry, associations, educators and tomorrow's employees.


By Cary Sherburne on Oct 08, 2010

I appreciate all of the thoughtful interaction this article is generating. I also want to say that I think GASC has done a fabulous job of bringing a wide variety of audiences and technologies to the show, and has kept up with the changes our industry is facing. I don't think anyone is saying that Graph/Print needs to go away. It will continue to be tweaked; Ralph has made that clear both in his actions and in his comments quoted in my article. I would hope that other "entrepreneurs" who have silo'd shows would consider consolidating (Xplor is a good example), and that we could end up with a mega show that covers a broad spectrum of vendors and technologies ... with enough margin in the thing for everyone to want to participate in this type of event and which would both take some of the burden off of the suppliers as well as give attendees even more to think about. Incorporating user groups is also a huge value. Allegra and AlphaGraphics co-locating their annual meetings in Vegas in 2011 is also a great example of creative consolidation that keeps expenses somewhat in line for the vendors.


By Arnie Kahn on Oct 08, 2010

Hi Cary,

Some thoughts for you to ponder. First,it used to be necessary for Graph Expo to be 4 days to justify the expense of erecting all the big presses. That's not the issue any longer. If the show was scaled down to 3 days, the same people who intend on being there will come. I believe the sheetfed and web offset printers are going to have to expand their offerings to survive. Expanding into packaging will help justify the expense of the big iron and catering to both market sectors will help sustain them in a declining commercial print market. If the press manufacturers could combine their commercial/packaging capabilities at the show, there would be a greater interest than witnessing a noticeable downsizing at Graph Expo. I have always been suspect of the posted attendee numbers at these shows. Scanning the same badges multiple times doesn't reflect anywhere close to the number of actual attendees. I don't understand why when a badge is issued it can't be scanned once at that time. Why is it necessary to scan it everytime you enter the hall? Whether or not the show needs to be every year or not is a judgment call, but maybe it's time to expand the thought process to think about other venues. I empathize with the equipment manufacturers who are finding the cost prohibitive to erect large presses at the show. However, has any discussion been given to offering shuttle services to those firms that have Chicago facilities where attendees can see onsite demos? Finally, I found the digital press offerings at the show very exciting. I can visualize a place for this technology in large and small firms alike. It' the future of our industry. Finally, I regret that the show has lost it's vitality of years past. The show needs to bring back some of the drama that made the show exciting to help attract young people to our industry. With training programs all but disappearing and fewer numbers of young people embarking on a printing career, I'm very concerned about where our industry is headed down the road. That's a true dilemma.

Arnie Kahn


By Bruce Watermann on Oct 08, 2010

Since leaving the photo lab business in the early 90’s I’ve been attending print shows of all kinds, from Sebold to Drupa to Graph/Print and all in between. My move to print coincided with the explosion of the nascent digital capture and output marketplace, and before the Internet was a real commercial tool. The shows I attended in the 90’s were amazing access points to people, technology, and use cases that could not be found elsewhere.

Today much has changed and so has the way most commercial printers and associated businesses do research. As Charles commented, and as I blogged about after Print last year (http://printready.blogspot.com/2009/09/future-of-trade-shows.html), the primary reason I now go to shows is for the social interaction with my peers and senior management of my vendor/partners. I can do all of my research on line. If I need to see something up close and personal —and I’m a qualified buyer— I don’t have to wait for a show as with the shift in the competitive landscape and downturn of the economy, the sales folks are more than happy to oblige any time of the year. So while a lot of these shows were “buying shows” in the past, I think most of the actual buying is staged to happen at the events but well set prior. So it made perfect sense to me why Heidelberg would sit out Graph this year. With Ipex only a few months in our rear view, their money is probably much more well spent in getting perspective buyers across the goal line with personal service than staging a big booth.

I also agree with Charles on the Sunday start. For Graph it was a Sunday start but as I mention on my blog the Friday start of Print last year was a big snooze. The real players showed up on Monday and by Wednesday it was a ghost town on the show floor. Trade show booth work is hard and I really felt for the folks that last day slogging along.

To me the future of trade shows are indeed more targeted events. The most useful show I’ve attended the past two years has been Dsccop. Granted, Blurb is an exclusive Indigo color operation so it is really targeted for me, but to see the level of interaction and great education that comes out of that event is really amazing. From small operations to the mega press installs, there is something that everyone seems to be able to take away from the event and use it for their business. As Clint mentions, Dscoop-like events can be the most valuable for the majority of commercial printers.

As the photo publishing business gets more and more interleaved with commercial printing, I would like to see a reset there as well. PMA in 2009 was under attended and in 2011 they are moving to September. I think PMA should bit the bullet and co-locate with CES in January, with a “photo pavilion” or something like that. It is going to be harder and harder to justify exhibiting at multiple shows for the big players on the photo side like Canon, Nikon, Adobe and the like. Plus in 2011 they will be virtually head-to-head with Photokina and that’s a contest PMA will likely lose.


By Cary Sherburne on Oct 08, 2010

Editor's Note: I received this comment via email and believe it is worth posting--with permission, of course!

Cary, very interesting article on trade shows. Great work. I am the executive director of the Foil & Specialty Effects Association (FSEA) and my parent company, Peterson Publications, publishes two industry magazines in the graphic arts industry.

I believe, strongly, that the debate on trade shows can be easily solved by all large trade shows going to an “every-other-year” cycle. Before the age of the internet, there was few ways to get up-to-date information on equipment and supplies, but the internet changes all of this. However, people still want to see what is new, visit with vendors, and see equipment running.
Every two years in today’s environment is the best approach that will guarantee good attendance and keep costs down for the exhibitors. A great example where there is quite of bit of crossover would be the Label Expo and Graph Expo. Label Expo is successful, in my opinion, because it is in the States every other year. Wouldn’t it be great if Label Expo and Graph Expo where on opposite years? This only makes too much sense. However, the shows are such a large income source for the show companies and associations that run them, this will probably never happen. SGIA would also do itself well by going to every other year and be the opposite year of Graph Expo. These two shows used to have very little crossover, but the growth of wide format ink-jet has now developed quite of bit of overlap.

We currently produce a show/conference with IADD that has been very successful called the IADD/FSEA Odyssey. We believe our formula for producing the show every-other-year, having the show at affordable, smaller convention centers, and creating a real educational focus to the show has helped us be very successful with it. We already have machinery confirmed for our Odyssey next year by both Heidelberg and Bobst, which neither showed equipment at Graph Expo.
I think Graph Expo is a wonderful show, and has been the most important show in our industry for as long as anyone can remember. The simple change to every-other-year would make it even stronger in my opinion. Thanks, Jeff

Jeff Peterson
Foil & Specialty Effects Association


By George Ryan on Oct 12, 2010

Hi Cary,

The consensus from exhibitors that I spoke to was that the activity at Graph Expo was better than expected. It was nice to hear about some significant sales by the press manufacturers. It reaffirms that digital and offest have their special niches in the market.

I would like clariy the relationship between Graphics of the Americas and FESPA. GOA has a partnership agreement with FESPA where FESPA is managing the wide format and screen printing part of the show. We are excited about the partnership and the unique programs that FESPA will bring to the show.

We do not view this as starting another show. We view it as an enhancement to a show that has been around for 36 years.

GOA attracts attendees that are not served by any other show. 40% of the attendees come from the Carribbean, Central and South America to learn about technology and productivity enhancements.

George Ryan
Graphics of the Americas


By Seth Burstein on Oct 22, 2010


Great article. We found the cost of certain products and services at trade shows are mind blowing. As exhibitors ourselves, nothing was more frustrating than the cost of Internet at shows (often starting at $1,200 for the first computer). With this in mind, we started Trade Show Internet with the objective of competing with the monopolistic in-house providers to provide other exhibitors with an alternative to their services.

Nothing has been more gratifying than hearing our customers tell us how simple our solution was to use and that it saved them nearly $1,000.

Trade shows are expensive, but well worth the investment. We just want to make sure people know they have choices when it comes to certain services, and making the right choice could save them big buck.

Thanks again for the great article and please feel free to contact me if you have any questions, comments or concerns.



By ali moharamnejad on Jan 15, 2019

hi thanks for this article.,
here i like introduce one global trade show portal to use ., hope helpful: https://www.digisilkroad.com/


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