Over the past several years, trade show attendance has declined due to economic downturns. Organizations are trying to do more with fewer people, which makes it all the more difficult to get away from the office to attend an event. Much of the product information that we used to get from trade shows is now available at your fingertips via the Internet. As I walked the show floor at this year's Graph Expo, it was clear that the attendees had a sense of purpose for being at the show. I took the opportunity to ask a number of people why they were at the show and to determine their specific areas of interest. The message was that attendees came to learn, listen, and network.


The educational value of tradeshows is increasing in importance for participants. Barbara Hannah, Director of Print Solutions at the Region 4 Educational Service Center in Houston, stated, "Electronic media is having a major impact on print. I also need to look at the implications of social and mobile media on the educational environment." Barbara was planning on attending a series of seminars to help her evaluate the future of print in building her business plan.

The Graph Expo Seminar Series provided attendees with more than 50 seminars on 20 subject categories ranging from color management to cloud computing. There was also a Print Buyer Forum and a Boot Camp designed to deliver the new knowledge that print buyers require. Xplor conducted a two day program that was focused on document design, data, and optimizing print streams. The IDEAlliance had its G7 Summit, which educated participants on workflow and all facets of print production from content creation to final output.

Vendors provided educational seminars in their booths as well as opportunities to understand new applications. From digital packaging to variable data to photo books, participants had a chance to meet with experts in the vendor community so they could develop a better understanding of the latest business opportunities and strategies for implementation.

The Latest and Greatest Technologies

Even if you can use the Internet to obtain information on anything and everything, Graph Expo gave participants a chance to find that "shiny new thing" they may not have known they were looking for—a new technology, design, option, or whatever that could potentially help their business in a way they hadn't thought about before. Making a purchasing decision is a whole lot easier when you know all of your options.

Some of the Graph Expo attendees that I spoke with talked about the benefits of attending this year's event:

  • Susan Moore, President of DPI said, "Graph Expo is a great opportunity to catch up on technology. It is an easy way to see everything in one place. Right now, my real areas of focus are front end systems for streamlining operations."
  • Cliff Hollingsworth, Vice President of Workflow Systems at Consolidated Graphics, was also seeking solutions to optimize productivity. Hollingsworth said, "My real emphasis for this year is front-end administrative tools. Order entry, estimating, and Web-to-print tools are critical for my company. I am continually exploring options that will minimize human touches in the plant."
  • Finishing was a key topic with several participants as well. Delane Donithorn, Production Manager at Brigham Young University (BYU), recently purchased an HP Indigo 7000. One of his key application areas is photo books. BYU is producing albums for weddings, graduations, and family histories. Donithorn was using the show to evaluate hardcover binding, perfect binding, and cutters.
  • Firehouse Printing produces attention-grabbing training manuals, new hire manuals, and high-quality equipment and procedure manuals. T.J. Flynn, the company's Owner and CFO, noted, "I am continually exploring the latest options in digital color technology. This year, my company is focusing on UV coating options."


Probably one of the most important elements of any trade show is leveraging the opportunity to network with peers. Print service providers are constantly bombarded with advertisements, e-mails, and sales pitches that can create a cluttered set of messages. Personal relationships enable you to stand out and rise above the noise. Industry peers are typically seeking the same things, and they will often have many of the same issues. Graph Expo provided a peer-to-peer networking opportunity for everyone. Carl Gerhardt, President and CEO of Allegra, stated, "I use shows like Graph Expo to get together with my peers in the industry. The other leading quick print franchise chains have a set of common interests, so sharing our perspectives is important."

There were ample opportunities to make connections at Graph Expo 2010. WhatTheyThink ran the PrintCEO Forum for top-level executives. Dscoop, The Digital Solutions Cooperative, a community of HP digital press owners, had networking and education programs for members. There was an evening reception at the River East Arts Center. Members reconvened the following day for the program themed "The Relationship Between Leadership and Profitability." NAQP held its Owner's Conference in conjunction with Graph Expo. The Kodak Graphic Users Association, EFI Pace Users, the In-Plant Printing and Mailing Association, and many others all used Graph Expo as an opportunity to deliver networking opportunities.

Trade Show Trinkets

As if all that wasn't enough, Graph Expo also featured plenty of trade show trinkets. Attendees could pick up a year's supply of note pads and pens, or grab USB thumb drives to use as stocking stuffers or birthday presents for co-workers. Many showgoers followed their noses to the xpedx booth, which was offering fresh-popped popcorn, Halloween candy, chocolate chip cookies, and brownies.

The Bottom Line

Even in the face of challenging economic times, Graph Expo offered tremendous value to the industry. It provided the ability to:

  • Obtain up-to-date information on changing industry trends
  • See new products, equipment, technologies, and services, some of which were reviewed online first
  • Maintain and build relationships as well as network with peers and exhibitors
  • Acquire new ideas
  • Receive education and training
  • Save money with the efficiency of seeing many suppliers in one place
  • Compare competing products and company teams

Attendees came in search of all of these things this year… and Graph Expo delivered!.