By Noel Ward, Managing Editor, WTT Show Coverage November 3, 2006 -- My last installment talked about Kodak's alliance with Four51 to build a stronger version of MarketMover, Kodak's business development tool for owners of Nexpress and Digimaster machines. This is a good move for Kodak, and should help owners of these boxes bring in new business, provided they take advantage of the tools offered. Which is always the issue. I've heard more than a few printers complain that the tools vendors provide aren't easy enough to use or are not "right" for their businesses. Yet in the next breath they admit their in-house designer isn't comfortable with variable data, that their customer and prospect databases aren’t very good, and even that they want vendor-supplied templates to be customized for their prospects right off the CD. It kind of goes to show that there's no way to please everybody. So the battle to drive more pages to digital presses continues, with the successful companies using vendor-provided market development tools and even building their own, while those that won't survive refuse to take responsibility for their own inaction. But what neither group can say is that companies like HP, Kodak and Xerox aren't stepping up to the plate with some top-notch offerings. Accelerating Profits I spent some time with Gina Testa, vice president of channel and customer business development at Xerox, for an update on the company's Profit Accelerator program. Testa says Profit Accelerator goes beyond a set of templates for collateral pieces to offer seven types of resources: financial, sales and marketing, agency and design, application development, paper and media, training, and business development. To help get the word out, a new 12-page, Profit Accelerator "magazine" will come out mutliple times each year and include case studies, product information and examples of how Xerox print engines, software, and various tools from the Profit Accelerator catalog can help bring in more business--and help ensure it remains profitable. These tools underlie a two-tiered strategy: business development to help print providers grow their business, and market development to educate agencies and designers about how to use digital printing to add value for their customers. The tools Xerox has developed are all in the 51-page Profit Accelerator Business Resources catalog and span everything from a digital readiness assessment to resources for designers to building new applications to training and support. While no one is likely to avail themselves of everything in the book, anyone who has a Xerox press should be able to find plenty they can use to help their business. There is good stuff here and all you have to do is use it. And using the tools and that support for your digital presses is important. The tools vendors provide, along with acquisitions such as Xerox picking up XMPie or Kodak's alliance with Four51, are not done casually and hold a lot of potential for print providers. Consider Four51, outside of the recent Kodak deal. Four51 Partnering with Kodak may give the Eden Prairie, Minnesota company some extra cred, but it does just fine on its own. And printers can use the company's technology regardless of what make presses the lease payments are covering. Gary Nemcek, President of Four51, says his company is a means of connecting printers with customers and helping both do more. "Think of it like this: the Web doesn't connect people but MySpace or FaceBook do. The Web doesn't connect printers and customers, but Four51 does." Without this new level of connectivity, he notes, a printer's server is just an island--and most likely one with limited capabilities. Four51's Web-to-print solution facilitates the ability to create, order, track and modify printed materials online. These could be as simple as business cards, letterhead and a basic brochure or as complex as a custom catalog. What can ultimately be done for a customer is based entirely on the needs of a print provider and their individual customers. While there are other Web-to-print options with similar offerings, what's interesting about Four51 is that it can also enable an entire supply chain of customers, distributors and production partners. Depending on needs, it can provide one-time or ongoing printing, fulfillment, versioned, and true variable products. Orders sent though the system can be tracked online, and it has robust business and commerce rules that can be adapted to virtually any business. Nemcek says that even though growth continues to be strong, the biggest challenge is simply getting more orders onto the network. To that end, part of his teams' job is helping Four51 customers educate their customers about the advantages of using the Web for job submission, management, and more. The alliance with Kodak should go a long ways to resolve this, as will continued positive experiences of the firm's other clients around the world. "Every customer has sales reps who are encouraging their customers to submit and manage jobs electronically, monitor them online, use variable data, and add multi-media capabilities, and so on. And all those reps are really more feet on the street for us, telling people there's a way to manage print more effectively." Last Words After all is said and done, this show, although smaller in footprint than in recent years, had something most print shows have lacked in recent years: energy. There was a buzz, an excitement on the floor. Either in leads generated or products sold, a lot of companies left McCormick Place pretty happy. Late Wednesday afternoon, Pat Canavan, president of Xeikon's U.S. operations, told me they had orders for six machines, four to existing customers and two to new customers. There were similar stories at all the print engine vendors, with some machines headed for delivery right off the show floor. We all know that big presses aren't impulse purchases and that most deals consumated on the floor were at the end of the sales process, but it seems that more deals were closed in Chicago this year and that bodes well for the market. Still, as Pat Henry noted on October 19, many of the big iron purveyors were doing more with less--and being successful. All are putting dollars that would once have rented booth space into more focused events where customers are brought to demo centers for personalized examinations of machines--and purchase negotiations. The digital engine vendors are no different. All have extensive demo centers, including showplaces like Xerox's Gil Hatch Center, where customers can play with the machines they are considering, running real jobs to see exactly how good a fit there is for their applications. After all, a vendor can fly a lot of people to a demo center, wine and dine them, and really show what a product can do for a fraction of the cost of shipping a single 5-ton piece of hardware to and from a trade show. Also, as software becomes ever more important, there'll be a greater emphasis on it at shows. And computers and monitors are much easier to transport and set up than presses and their ancillary systems. This makes one wonder what trade shows will be like a few years hence. With only three major events remaining in North America (Graphics of the Americas/XPLOR, AIIM/On Demand, and Graph Expo/PRINT) print trade shows have become something of an endangered species. Related, but more targeted biggies, like SGIA and DMA, are likely to remain as well, hopefully absent the idiocy that placed SGIA two weeks prior to Graph Expo and DMA the very same week, but over on the left coast. Imagine the value for all involved if DMA had occupied some of the other space at McCormick. But that would make too much sense. Why would anyone put a print show and direct mail show in the same venue the same week? Don’t' get me wrong. I really like trade shows, and I'm glad the big ones will be around. But smaller education-oriented conferences with minimalist show areas are on the rise. These can be excellent lead generators for vendors while educating customers and prospects. The PIA/GATF Web-to-print and Variable Data Conferences taking place the 11-14th of this month in Phoenix are excellent examples. The former is new but the VDP event has grown substantially each year and vendors show up with nothing more than a laptop and marketing collateral. They keep coming back because the event offers a lot of bang for the buck in terms of leads and the chance to talk with customers. I'm headed out there again and will fill you in with a story or two.