Graph Expo 2002 may well be remembered as the show that Print ’01 was meant to be, before the tragedy struck and 9-11’s aftermath left the industry and the nation reeling.

After more than a year of struggle toward recovery, there are encouraging signs all across the show floor that the industry has regained its equilibrium and has refocused its attention on reequipping for a future that will not wait for the backward-looking.

And while profitability remains elusive at worst or tenuous at best for many in the industry, the sense among vendors at Graph Expo is that those who have come to the show are in good financial shape and ready to talk seriously about capital investment. The vendors’ satisfaction with the "quality" of the crowd seems sure to outweigh their reaction to its size, whatever the final figure may be.

This doesn’t mean that the vendors aren’t perfectly happy when the throngs are thick and the daily pace is frantic. On the show’s third day (Tuesday, Oct. 8), Elaine Wilde of Xerox called the traffic "absolutely insane" and wished fervently that it would continue. "We’re meeting with a lot of clients and customers, and a lot of business is getting done," said Ms. Wilde, who is in charge of worldwide graphic arts operations for The Document Company.

Over at the Presstek stand, Marc O. Johnson, marketing manager for off-press products, had his own succinct take on the characteristics of the crowd. "We’re seeing a lot more checkbooks than tire gauges," he observed. His colleague, John O’Rourke, marketing director for consumables, added that Graph Expo’s timing in the final quarter of the year coincided with the timing of many printers’ year-end equipment investment plans and would help to spur purchasing decisions at the show.

The auguries also looked favorable to Flint Ink’s Kathy Marx, vice president for marketing and strategic planning. Describing show traffic as "solid all day" on day two (Monday, Oct. 7) and equally brisk on the third day, she noted that everyone she was speaking with seemed "sincerely interested" in talking about solutions. "It’s much better than I expected," she said.

At Kodak Polychrome Graphics, optimism definitely appeared to be the keynote, given the fact that the company is enjoying, in the words of CEO Jeff Jacobson, "the best year we ever had" in terms of profitability. Andrew Copley, in charge U.S. operations, said he was seeing signs of a pickup in purchasing volume by many of KPG’s customers, particularly the bigger firms.

"Despite the economy, everyone is trying to get efficient," he said. "People come to Graph Expo because they’re looking for answers," agreed Wilde. She thinks that there are three key questions for printers standing at the crossroads of technology and strategic planning:

- How do I create value for my customers?
- What complementary businesses should I be in?
- How can I survive in the short term so that I can plan for the future?

The last question, according to Wilde, is what really motivates people to attend trade shows. Those who are serious about answering it do not use the economy as an excuse to put off making vital decisions about the future.

Wilde said that among these printers, "there is a sense of focusing on things that they can control": a vision of and a passion for the business; a continuous emphasis on technical innovation; and a "superb execution" of strategies based on marketing.