For any company in North America that is truly serious about wide-format printing, the annual SGIA Expo is the biggest and best place to listen, learn, and interact, and the reasons why are becoming increasingly evident. While a number of other large trade shows address wide-format in some way, many of them are in decline, and are highlighting wide-format as a way to shore up the foundations of their industry segments (as the title says, this piece is opinionated!).

Not so for the annual SGIA Event. Year-over-year, for several years running, the SGIA Expo has continued to grow. After a 2013 Expo in Orlando that I lovingly referred to as “amazing,” our 2014 Event in Las Vegas will take it even farther. More than 530 exhibiting companies will fill the sold-out Expo floor. More than 20,000 imaging professionals, most of them focused directly on wide-format and/or display graphics segment, will be on hand. More than 100 educational sessions—many of them free—will provide unprecedented opportunities to grow your business. Equipment. Materials. Finishing Technologies. Production tools. It will all be there—everything you need to convert idea to print to finished, sellable product.

This, friends, is not just the candy store. It is the whole wide-format supermarket.

Regular readers of WhatTheyThink know that now is a critical time for many graphic communications businesses. Among commercial printers, consolidation is strong and commoditization is even stronger. Commercial printers are looking for new ways to bolster their bottom lines, and wide-format is one of the primary tools they are using. So why should you go to this year’s SGIA Expo?

A primary reason is that it will expand your knowledge of what wide-format printing actually is. I’ve spoken to many commercial printers who tell me they’re already into wide-format, which is basically true because they’re doing some posters or other large graphics on coated papers. But they are often mistaken. Their limited knowledge of the equipment and the ink systems limits their ability to produce durable, outdoor applications. What they don’t know about the materials and processes used to make a wide variety of end products limits their access to more profitable, less competitive niche markets. And what they don’t know about pricing and production costs takes the wind out of their profitability sails and finds them fishing in crowded water.

The wide-format industry is still growing—still morphing into whatever it will become—and that’s one of the reasons I find it so fascinating. It has not been boxed in by the perceptions of its customers. After more than 15 years directly serving the needs of successful wide-format companies, I’ve learned that they stay successful because they keep moving. They evaluate. They listen. They take advantage of the possibilities of a new wide-format system. They avoid commoditization because they stay hungry. If your company wants a piece of the wide-format pie, then you need to emulate the best practices of our industry’s best. You can meet them, and hear from them, at the SGIA Expo.

For companies new to our industry segment, the SGIA Expo is an amazing idea factory. At last year’s event, I spoke to—and had the chance to debrief with—a group of commercial printers undertaking a discovery expedition into the wilds of wide-format. More than anything, they reported seeing technologies and applications that redefined what they though print could be. Did these print professionals go back home and start producing a wide array of wide-format applications? Likely not. Did they see new possibilities for their businesses and find themselves better prepared to launch or expand their wide-format services? Without a doubt.

Do you like free stuff? So do I! I wanted to take a paragraph here to let you know about the free, educational “Zones” at the SGIA Expo. For those interested in learning more about the “wide-format opportunity,” we’ve assembled areas addressing color management and workflow for wide-format; applied graphics, including applications like vehicle wraps, window films and floor graphics; and digitally-printed textiles, including soft signage. Each of these areas has hourly, non-commercial presentations to help you build your knowledge and understand the possibilities. Simply stop by, sit down, listen and learn.

The last reason to attend the SGIA Expo may be the best one: Build yourself. My sense is that the annual trip to Chicago may not provide you with enough fuel to successfully escape print’s status quo. See new things. Learn a new language. Think new thoughts. Redefine your company. Whether a deep dive into wide-format digital is right for your company is your decision to make. That said, you owe it to yourself and your company to make that decision based on the most and best information you can find. I believe you will find the SGIA Expo to be the perfect place for your process of discovery.

Last, I’ll spare you the chat about the glitz of Las Vegas, because you surely already know about that. What I will say is that what happens in Vegas (particularly in the Las Vegas Convention Center, October 22–24, 2014) will certainly not stay in Vegas, because what happens there will be brought back to myriad print shops across North America. Those who attend will come back with a distinct advantage over their competitors. Those who don’t, won’t.

I hope to see you there!