First Graph Expo and Converting Expo for GASC’s Ralph Nappi How Is He Faring? Exclusive Interview by Cary Sherburne October 9, 2006 --Last year for Print 05, our lead story was an interview with Regis Delmontagne, long-time President of Graphic Arts Show Company, on the eve of his retirement. This year, we are kicking off our Graph Expo and Converting Expo show coverage with an interview with Ralph Nappi, who officially took over the reins in January, managing not only GASC, but NPES The Association for Suppliers of Printing, Publishing and Converting Technologies, and the Graphic Arts Education and Research Foundation (GAERF). Coming from outside the industry, one might expect a steep learning curve, but by all accounts, Nappi has jumped in with both feet and begun to make his mark on these three important industry associations. Prior to taking on this role, Nappi was president of the American Machine Tool Distributors’ Association (AMTDA). Here’s what he had to say. WTT: Ralph, thanks for speaking with us today. What have you been up to since taking over in January? RN: I have been working to develop a more open and focused organization to create more clarity as to what we provide for our members and exhibitors - what is in it for them, what they get for their investment - rather than assuming they know that. The other thing that I am really enjoying is spending a lot of time listening and learning. I have visited over 20 suppliers and printers, and I have another 10 visits scheduled over the next couple of months. This has allowed me to learn what the issues are from a totally fresh and new perspective. I come to the table with no agenda, no NPES, GASC or Foundation background, and no printing background. I can truly ask the questions, and they don’t have to worry about hurting my feelings because I have no ties to the past. It is a great position to be in. We conducted a strategic planning process with GASC and GAERF. That helped us establish a clear and concise direction for both of those organizations. As a result, we have focused more on our core competencies and eliminated a couple things from both of those organizations that really were not in our core. At the end of this month, we will be doing the same thing with NPES and would expect the same clear, concise, focused mission and objectives. WTT: What are your top three strategic initiatives for the association over the next 12 months? RN: T hey will be the same for all three groups. First, we are engaging members at a grass roots level. We are literally reaching out to everyone - all 400 of our members are being contacted by a staff person, who is asking them, what are your issues and pains; what can we do to make your life easier. The second is to provide relevant programs that return to our members the time and money they have invested. I don’t want any member of NPES or any exhibitor of GASC to do anything for us because of loyalty. I appreciate their loyalty, but I don’t take it for granted. I want them to participate because there is a return on their time and investment and a business reason for them to participate. The third strategic initiative is all about content. NPES chairman, Tom Saggiomo of AGFA, and I are in absolute in agreement that NPES must be a content-focused organization. As an example, we have shifted NPES News away from coverage of Association activities to a tool helping our members stay current with trends, issues and strategic directions in our industry, and I am really pleased with what Doug Sprei, our Director of Marketing and Communications, has done with the newsletter. So the three key initiatives the organizations are pursuing are to engage members at a grass roots, provide relevant programs, and to focus on delivering content. WTT: What can we expect to see at Graph Expo and Converting Expo this year as compared to previous years in terms of attendance, number of exhibitors, etc.? RN: I wouldn’t want to project the total number of attendees, but I will tell you that what we will see this year is a sold out floor. This will be the largest Graph Expo and Converting Expo since 2000, and the third largest ever. It would have been the second largest if we had more floor space to sell. Secondly, we will likely see a crowded and active hall. Early indications are that hotel rooms are nearly sold out, and pre-registration is up over past years. Although we know we have a lot of people in the hall, one thing that has changed is the registration process. In the past, a lot of attendees were registered under exhibitor name badges for one reason or another, which made it difficult for us to track who is an exhibitor or attendee. We have changed the registration process this year to make that clear. WTT: What should we be looking for on the show floor? RN: We issued a press release last week where we reported there are 275 newly released products appearing on the Graph Expo/Converting show floor this year. Who says we are not innovating in this industry? That is a huge number, for our industry and by comparison to other industries. Even half that number would be impressive. We have 80 first-time exhibitors at the show, which is also noteworthy. A little more anecdotally, my sense in talking to people is that we are going to see pretty upbeat attendees. The industry has struggled over the past few years. But now there seems to be a real interest in new technologies. Printers are coming out again; people are excited about the future and willing to invest. I am very encouraged about the indications so far. WTT: I was wondering about the exhibit floor space, since I understand some of the larger companies have significantly downsized booth space. RN: A lot of the manufacturers have downsized for a couple of years running, we have seen that. But what is impressive, even though some large exhibitors have downsized, is that the space they are giving up is being taken up by other players, and even more space is being added. So the evolution of the show is consistent with the evolution of the industry. The show is seeing an increasing commitment from the digital, wide format, mailing and fulfillment and other sectors. We also see packaging as an area of growth which will, of course, be even bigger next year with PackPrint. This isn’t all about offset printing anymore. It is about workflow, wide format, digital, and a number of other areas. The show has been very adaptive and innovative. WTT: We hear a lot about printers struggling. What do you think are key elements to a successful printing business today? RN: Although this is not unique to the printing, publishing and related industries, the most successful companies are the ones that are not tied to the art of printing. Successful company leaders are the ones who say, “I am a business person who happens to be in the printing industry,” as opposed to saying “I am a printer.” You can find many examples of companies in our industry that are doing that exceedingly well. In my last newsletter column, I described my visit to VistaPrint. Their operation is successful, thanks to a business model that many other printers wouldn’t touch. They have a 250-person customer support organization, and few if any of them having printing experience. They have created a huge success because they were not coming from a printing and publishing mindset. Another example is Padgett, whose CEO, Dave Torok, will be speaking at the NPES Annual Conference in November. They aren’t exclusively tied to providing printing services, but delivering a wider range of solutions, including print, to meet the needs of their customers. Companies like that take pains to understand the newest opportunities their own customers are pursuing in order to be profitable, and they adapt their business models accordingly. WTT: Thanks again for speaking with us. Any other comments you would like to add before we close? RN: Just that I am looking forward to my first Graph Expo and Converting Expo and being part of an industry that is growing. I get a real charge out of the success stories, and visiting and talking to companies that are doing so well in a marketplace that faces some real challenges. The world of business communications is not an either/or proposition - ink or toner on paper or the Internet. It is all about how you mesh them together so that they all work, and you - as a provider of print services - are not the odd man out.