Industry icon Regis J. Delmontagne, long-time President of Graphic Arts Show Company, America's premier producer of tradeshows for the commercial, package printing and converting industry, and NPES, The Association for Suppliers of Printing , Publishing and Converting Technologies, will be retiring this year. WhatTheyThink interviewed Delmontagne to get his perspective on the past and future of the industry, GASC and the Print/Graph Expo trade shows.

Meanwhile, once NPES’ new leader is in place, watch this space for an interview after the individual assumes his/her new role.

In Part One of this two-part interview, Regis discusses:

  • What’s new and different at PRINT 05 & CONVERTING 05
  • The role and condition of the trade show industry
  • Why people should attend PRINT 05
  • The hottest business areas at PRINT 05
  • Workflow at PRINT 05

In Part Two, look for:

  • What to expect next year at GRAPH EXPO
  • Looking back
  • What’s next for the industry, and for Regis?

WTT: What can we look forward to next year?

RJD: If I knew that . . . I feel that 2006 is going to be witness to a surge in new business for printers as some of these diversification efforts start to pay off for them when entering new markets and servicing new customers. Technologically, there are some things on the horizon that will likely be on display at Graph Expo 2006, but what form they will take is anyone’s guess. I think digital technology will continue to emerge as the dominant process for both commercial and package printing, and as output speeds become more competitive, ink jet technologies will grow rapidly, possibly encroaching on the run lengths that smaller commercial shops produced with offset equipment. You’ll likely see more exhibitors offering digital solutions in ’06 compared to the 2004 GRAPH EXPO. I think package printing will continue to be a lucrative sector as marketers strive to upgrade their product packaging to vie for consumers’ attention and share of mind at the retail level. We’re always striving to improve our events, to accurately reflect the trends and developments in the industry. I have no doubt that next year’s GRAPH EXPO will be a good gauge of the industry’s success in general, and of the success of some of the diversification strategies that printers have put in place after their purchases here this year.

2006 is going to be witness to a surge in new business for printers as some of these diversification efforts start to pay off for them

WTT: And speaking of the future, with your upcoming retirement, perhaps you could reflect on your many years in the industry and give us your thoughts about some of the key changes you have seen—and some of the key changes you think still need to be made going forward.

RJD: My involvement with the industry pre-dates my joining NPES. In high school I was on the staff of the yearbook. I was a sports columnist on the school's monthly newspaper. While in college, I worked for a weekly newspaper as a reporter (my first involvement with a linotype machine and a letterpress web press). I also interned for the first newspaper in Western Pennsylvania to print the weekly newspaper offset, where I began to learn another technology. I was an advertising salesman in this role.

At Heinz I was involved as editor of three monthly magazines, which involved a close working relationship with a local printer. Magazines, at that time, required engravings. They were printed on a Miehle sheetfed letterpress.

The exposure in that element of my education and business career led to a job with an association and tradeshow management firm in Pittsburgh where, among other things, I was the print buyer. Since we managed 18 associations that conducted six or seven tradeshows a year, we did a fair amount of printing. Obviously, the printing knowledge I had, coupled with the association and tradeshow management fields, made me, as the head of the head Search Committee commented at the time, "the right man for the job" at NPES.

One can compare the evolution of the printing industry to the Model T compared to today's modern automobiles.

To watch the conversion of the industry from a pure craft-oriented basis involving linotype operators, engraving personnel, web letterpresses through computerized type or cold type as it was called then, through the desktop publishing revolution, computer-to-plate, digital printing in many ways mirrors the progress of American technology in general. One can almost liken it to the model T as compared to today's electronically computer-directed electronic vehicles which we call automobiles. In many ways, this revolution had a more significant impact on this industry than it did on many other capital goods industries. For example, a lathe or bending machine tool basically does the same thing today that it did 50 or 75 or even 100 years ago. Obviously, the computerization and numerically controlled machine tool industry is not the same as it was even 30 or 40 years ago, but the machine, basically, still bends metal to the shape of fenders, refrigerators, etc. No one as yet has figured out a way to avoid bending a sheet of steel into an automobile fender. Whereas in the printing industry, there are many ways you can utilize equipment to print, i.e., digital printers, office printers, etc., to publish a newsletter or as has happened in many cases, the Internet has supplanted the entire printing process.

To repeat, you still need a machine tool to cut and shape metal; you still need a packaging machine to insert contents into a can, bottle, flexible, rigid package, etc., whereas the challenge facing the printing industry is completely wide open which has led to the maturing of the industry and a significant reduction in the number of printing plants around this country. Couple that with decreasing literacy rates in certain areas of the country, declining newspaper circulation and declining magazine circulation, in general, and there has been a tremendous negative impact on the printing industry, including the manufacturers that I have represented for almost three decades.

WTT: What is your advice for the future?

RJD: What do I think needs to be done? First of all, I think printers, in general, have to learn to adapt to the new realities of the marketplace. It is no longer the exclusive domain of printers to publish or print anything. The tools available to society, in general, enable anyone to become a "printer." Printers must seek new areas of business, which is what we have tried to address in our programming for shows, seminars, PRINT OUTLOOK®, EXECUTIVE OUTLOOK®, etc. Ink on paper, while not dead, is not as lucrative as it once was. Many printers will have to take off their blinders and look at mailing and fulfillment, look at wide format printing, and embrace digital printing. If not, the future for many of them is in serious doubt.

I think printers, in general, have to learn to adapt to the new realities of the marketplace. It is no longer the exclusive domain of printers to publish or print anything.

We, at NPES and GASC, are constantly striving not only to make our offerings as close as possible to what the market needs today, but we must serve as the "scouting party" ahead of the pack to let them know what is on the horizon. Participating in the association's programs, attending our tradeshows, conferences, seminars, etc., are perhaps the best options the printer has today to stay not only competitive today, but in the future. If the printer recognizes the pitfalls ahead, as well as the opportunities, they will survive.

WTT: What are your plans, post-retirement? Will we still be seeing you around the industry?

RJD: Regarding my plans, post retirement, I've been retained by NPES and GASC to serve as consultant for the next several years. One of the things I will be focusing on, particularly on the NPES side, will be NPES' programs run through the international offices that I have been able to build up over the past 20-some years. The international offices have enabled many of our members to weather the serious recession years, that I believe we are coming out of in quite remarkable shape considering the significant downturn in business.

On the GASC side, we plan to make a major announcement at PRINT® 05 concerning a very significant relationship with another major trade association that will solidify our claims of being the most all-inclusive tradeshow for the printing, publishing and package printing and converting industries.

In addition, I have been asked to consider serving on several boards of directors. For the next year or two, I also have been asked to be a visiting lecturer at two universities in China, one in Wuhan and one in Beijing. I have been asked to present to both graduate and undergraduate students trends occurring in the technology and marketplace in the U.S. Other than that, I plan to spend as much time as I can traveling to a number of destinations that, despite three decades of international traveling, Elena and I have yet to see. With good health and God's blessing, we will do that as well as spend more time with our three grandchildren who live nearby.

WTT: That is very exciting! Anything else you would like to add before we close?

RJD: I would like to thank NPES for the opportunity to spend 29 very healthy, happy and mutually beneficial years as President of NPES, as well as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me to take full advantage of my education, my knowledge of the printing industry and marketing and entrepreneurial skills, put them to good use for the benefit of the industry. Not many people get this opportunity and I was fortunate to be "the right man for the job."