There are upwards of 40,000 people expected to attend Graph Expo this year in Chicago. Nearly all WhatTheyThink.com’s contributors are there, but as your "virtual" correspondent, I am attending in Seattle. Lets just say we are testing the theory that technology will allow you to participate even in an industry event like Graph Expo, long distance. (The previous statement sounds better than “I had prior engagements and just could not physically be there this year.”) Actually I kind of view it as sports on TV. You get much more color and detail from the commentators than you can absorb from the stands. However, the beer and hot dogs are definitely better in a crowd of thousands!
As a veteran of years of trade shows and expos, I mostly recall long hours, expensive (and almost always lousy) lunches, and really sore feet! On the other hand, I enjoyed running into people I hadn’t seen in years, looking into big iron on display, and the smell of greasepaint and the roar of the crowd!
Is it possible to duplicate this virtually? No, of course not. But can virtual coverage be useful? You bet it can! While a lot of people will be in Chicago, there are more who won’t be at McCormick Place. (I can’t imagine the taxi lines getting any longer!) For those of you who are joining me virtually, here’s the "up close and personal" with executives from a number of print management systems companies. Aided by Starbucks coffee cards, we had "virtual coffee breaks" and talked about their impressions of the Expo. Here are some of their comments.
PRIMAC Systems (www.primacsystems.com)
I caught John Knowlton, Director of Marketing at PRIMAC Systems, on his way to the show. Thank goodness someone else was driving! (Note to self: do NOT ask again about the launch of a competitor’s product!) While John tells me he is a man of few words, he was cheerfully chatty about the Expo.
Sunday was a gorgeous fall day and traffic was light, leaning heavily toward students. Monday was busy in the morning and steady until about 2 PM. While PRIMAC has a bigger space this year, John has the impression that many of his competitors have scaled down to smaller spaces.
Traffic through the hall has been decent, but definitely feels like less than the official numbers. Traffic through the booth has been good and a fair number of customers have stopped by. Staff from PRIMAC has been able to spend quality time with them.
People are looking! Many have waited to make an investment in print management systems and they’re serious now. There haven’t been many software-buying decisions made over the last couple of years and a backlog has built up. The smart companies are taking the opportunity to get great prices on hardware and software; and moving to be ready for the economic upturn to get an edge on their competitors.
"We’ve had new opportunities come up that we didn’t expect," says John. "We’re getting a nice reception with ePRIMAC and people like what they see."
Printable Technologies (www.printable.com)
Coleman Kane, President/CEO of Printable Technologies, was just leaving for the Expo early Monday morning, when I called. ("Yes, I think that’s our car - at least it’s the right color!") Actually, Coleman DID have a designated driver while we talked on the phone – no dangerous drivers here!
For Printable, Sunday was really busy between 11 AM and 2 PM. The attendance on Sunday included more local printers who drove in. This year’s show is definitely smaller, even than last year. The general economy and downturn in the printing industry has clearly affected the show.
Coleman and other folks from Printable were spending a lot of time in the HP booth as an HP partner and giving demos to the HP sales staff. It was an opportunity to train the HP staff that will be representing Printable in the partnership and showing them how Printable solutions fit with their current clients needs.
June 2001 HP officially entered the commercial print market, and this years’ Graph Expo showed just how serious they are. HP’s Digital Publishing Solutions initiative is focused on enterprises, print service providers and agencies. Their handsome booth full of presses and staff made a very big splash.
"We are looking to develop more channel partners. Prism and HP are the first," Coleman said. "We’re very excited to demonstrate the first full JDF integration with Prism." Printable and Prism have a close marketing relationship, sharing client lists and cross-selling. The two companies think a lot alike and are committed to providing services for smaller printers. Prism’s presence in the United Kingdom also is a support for Printable’s entry into the U.K. and continental Europe graphic arts markets.
But all work and no play will make us all dull. So Mingle! The PrintPlanet Mingle swelled to almost 500 attendees after more than a year hiatus. That, however, maxed out the budget! Never willing to turn away party-goers it just meant there was a little less to go around.
Printcafe Software (www.Printcafe.com)
I caught up with Marc Olin, President/CEO of Printcafe Software, between three-hour meetings, two-hour phone calls, and a dinner out.
Rumors have been flying all over the Expo floor, in the coffee shops, and in the lounges, but no confirmation here. "We are a public company now," stated Marc. "I can’t confirm or deny any rumors you might hear about an acquisition or partnership." So no scoop here!
He also noted that people seem ready to do business now, after a slow year. From Marc’s perspective, the fog has cleared. There is not so much confusion in the market place and the remaining vendors – some traditional ones and a few new ones - are here to stay.
Marc, too, was pleasantly surprised at the show. Traffic is good and there is high interest an integrated print management system in a Computer Integrated Manufacturing (CIM) environment. Printcafe and partners Creo, MAN Roland, and Komori are demonstrating prepress, press and post-press connections between production equipment and print management systems.
While Expo attendees could see a demo of the CIM system, the real thing is in operation at the JohnsByrne Company, a Niles, Illinois, based commercial printer with annual sales in excess of $20 million. The installation was completed in September and the company already reports enhanced communication and efficiency, decreased cost of overhead, reduced outlay of resources, and fewer errors in prepress and on-press. Through automated data capture and accessible reporting, JohnsByrne is capturing lost costs on jobs, tracking alteration and page approval, is able to bill more accurately, and to determine where changes can be made on the press floor and in the back office.
CIM is no longer a dream of the future – it’s here!
Radius Solutions (www.radiussolutions.com)
I tracked David Taylor, President of Radius Solutions, down mid-day Monday to get his take on the Expo. David repeated what many have told me: "There is lots of interest in print management systems and people are just starting to buy."
Radius added two new customers recently, and I asked how long it took to close those sales. It took Radius Solutions 18 months to close the American Color Graphics sale. The buyers conducted exhaustive research and a very detailed due diligence; they were determined to get the right system. Radius also has closed, and will shortly announce, a sale to a large packaging manufacturer where it took less than 7 weeks to finalize. What was the difference? Radius came in at the 11th hour after most of the research had been done, and the customer knew exactly what they wanted.
Now I’ll bet you think all the people who go to Graph Expo spend their evenings out partying. Wrong! David told me he spent a very pleasant Sunday evening with friends cooking fresh fish (mahi mahi) and relaxing.
Tailored Solutions (www.tailored.com)
President of Tailored Solutions, Ken Meinhardt, spared a few minutes from "booth duty" on Tuesday morning. At the risk of repeating old news: this is the smallest Graph Expo Ken has ever attended. It’s been scaled back all around: fewer crowds, less floor space.
But the people who are here are on a mission! Ken told me, "I can see about a dozen system vendors from our booth. It’s interesting watching groups move from one booth to another and back again, comparing systems and functions. They’re definitely shopping."
It’s also been fascinating watching the maturing of the "e-Commerce/e-Business" market. Several years ago, Tailored had a product that could link a printer’s web site directly with their customers’ sites for quoting, order placement, and other general functions. When Tailored announced that technology no one seemed to be really interested. Now they have taken that same technology and created a "plug & play" e-Business application (eTraxx) that is easy to launch, and can be customized and hosted by the printer. And it’s been very well received. It’s all timing!
Tailored Solutions is moving into Activity Based Costing (ABC) with a tool called Activity Based Management (ABM). Printers have traditionally tracked production costs in detail, but have not tracked support activities such as estimating a job, entering a job, sales activities, customer service, generation of purchase orders, and relevant accounting functions.
Using this tool printers can now track ALL costs and identify profitable and unprofitable customers. New reports can be used to determine the true cost of business by collecting information by customer, by job, by machine, by operator, and now from front office staff.
Using analysis to understand profitability indicates a maturing of the industry. Now printers can answer the question: "What business should we be in?"
unitinc.’s President, Uwe Goehring, found time Monday afternoon to give me his impressions of Graph Expo. unitinc. is definitely the "new kid on the block" at the show. The show is going well and they are getting lots of qualified leads. Over 600 lead cards the first 2 days! Even weeding out the student traffic on Sunday, the lead count is great.
"I’m spending a lot of time explaining what this ‘SAP thing’ is," Uwe told me. "We’re communicating that SAP isn’t such a complex product and making people more comfortable with it." Because SAP is a recognizable brand, there are advantages and disadvantages. People have heard it’s hard to work with, and yet it is a very powerful tool. Demos are showing prospects that PRINT IT is much easier to use than they thought.
PRINT IT is not just a print management system, but wraps printing functionality around a sophisticated manufacturing and information system structure. It turns out that there are potential partners out there that want to talk about integrating or interfacing with the system. Even the competition is investigating possibilities. Uwe told me it was "interesting but not surprising" that companies might want to partner with unitinc.
While Uwe is overwhelmed by meeting so many people, he’s very pleased to be getting the response that he had hoped for. The next move? unitinc. is looking carefully at the packaging industry, since they have very similar needs to general commercial printers.
Man on the Street – Don Goldman, ConsultWare ([email protected])
Don, principal of ConsultWare, a consulting firm for the commercial printing industry, called to give me a few long distance details on Monday morning.
He compared Graph Expo to the Seybold Conference and Exhibition. From his perspective it’s comforting that the Expo is still a printer’s show. The flavor of Seybold is constantly changing with new technologies, from desktop publishing, CTP, CD-Rom, to Internet publishing and web services.
An interest in e-Business is building at the Expo, as is interest in binding and finishing. Printers are clearly looking for value-added services they can build around the print process. At the same time, interest in print management systems is consistent, but unfortunately is often considered "just overhead."
Don was particularly pleased to see that Computer Integrated Manufacturing (CIM) as shown by the Creo, Man Roland, Komori, Printcafe demonstration "is really happening." The "smart factory" is on its way!