On February 1, Ford Bowers took the reins as president and CEO of SGIA, succeeding Michael Robertson after nearly 33 years of service. Bowers comes to the association after nine years at Miller Zell, one of the preeminent designers and developers of retail environments. In Part 2 of this two-part interview, we talk with Ford about the SGIA Expo, as well as the overall challenges facing the wide-format and specialty graphics printing industry. (Read Part 1 here.)
WhatTheyThink: The SGIA Expo has become one of the biggest shows in the industry—certainly one of the biggest annual shows. What do you think has been driving that growth?
Ford Bowers: A lot of foresight as to what has been driving the industry. We are now benefitting from the fact that Michael Robertson early on was an advocate of wide-format digital, understood what it would do to the marketplace, and understood how it would really blur the lines between traditional printers and graphics producers and other industry segments. That really made the show into the place for wide-format inkjet, and that’s helped tremendously. That said, it’s a bit of a double-edged sword, because not everybody uses that same technology. Many people do, but not everybody. Now we have commercial, lithographic, and flexographic printers coming to our show. This is driving some additional attendance as well because they want to use [wide-format inkjet] to do the short-run and the quick-turn stuff that their particular segments are demanding in the same way that retail POP or sign and display segments are demanding. This is driving part of it. We’re one of the few shows that’s actually grown, so now we have to decide where we go from here. That’s what we’re looking at now. That, and how do we go back to some of our core constituencies, like garment screen printers and industrial applications and make sure that they don’t feel like they’re now part of a huge whole that they no longer recognize.
WTT: As wide-format printing has grown, those same print technologies have become integral parts of other industry trade shows. How does the SGIA Expo distinguish itself or stand apart from the crowd?
FB: If you’re looking specifically for that kind of technology, our show has the breadth of exhibitors. None of them has the full range of equipment as you’d see at SGIA. I think that the gravitational pull of SGIA is based on the fact that we have a number of Platinum and Gold sponsors that are bringing a wide range of equipment. We have more than 500 exhibitors each year and this is a pretty huge pull for folks. It’s the one place you can go to see just about everything if you’re in the wide-format business. There’s really not another show you can go to to see everything wide-format.
WTT: Pulling back a little, what do you see as the biggest challenges facing wide-format and specialty graphics printers today, and how can these companies face down these challenges?
FB: One of the challenges is the technology is not going to stop developing. The ongoing technological changes in the marketplace are going to continue to be challenging, and maybe even more challenging and disruptive than we have seen in the past. Going from analog to digital was a big disruption, it changed the ROI on purchasing decisions, it changed expectations on the customer side as to when they could get finished jobs and what that quality should be, so it’s been very disruptive. But we have other technological shifts like single-pass printing which have the potential to change yet again what we’re doing. As a result, I think it’ll accelerate the blurring of the lines between the different types of print providers. It will change yet again the marketplace of whom associations serve, what they call themselves, and the services that they provide. Those types of things I think are imminent, probably within the next two or three years. We’ll see another kind of tectonic shift based on technological advancement.
WTT: Continuing with the idea of looking ahead, as you said, technology continues to change and he marketplace continually changes. At the moment, textile printing is the hot topic du jour. Have you seen any other technologies or applications on the horizon that haven’t shown up on anyone’s radar yet, but may be a force to be reckoned with some years down the road?
FB: Not much other than the single-pass technology—and at drupa we may be seeing a lot more of what that next generation holds—but that’s the next big wave.
WTT: Any final thought you want to share about the industry or SGIA?
FB: One of the things that I’m trying to do is open up a lot of conversations with various players in the market, everyone from printers in each of the segments, to suppliers in each of the segments, to manufacturers and people affiliated with them. This is for two reasons. One, to educate myself, but the other is that I think it’s a really good time for all of us to take a look at a 10-year event horizon and ask, “Where is it going, and what can we do to make the community itself vibrant and successful moving forward?” I think that’s really the task at hand for just about everybody at this point in time, and no less than an association that represents a large number of people.