For those of us who cover wide-format and specialty graphics printing, the biggest show of the year is the SGIA Expo, coming up next week in Las Vegas. It can be tough, travel being what it is, to muster enthusiasm for far-flung trade events, but there is a great deal of value in getting out of the office and attending these kinds of shows. So in this “listicle,” here are the top seven reasons I am looking forward to next week’s show.

1. New Announcements

The raison d’être of any trade show, really, is new product announcements, and even if they are becoming less and less common as vendors start using their own user/customer events to make announcements, the trade show press conference is not going away any time soon. New product announcements—be they writ large (a new type of press) or small (a new substrate, an upgraded piece of software)—represent innovation. Any industry that fails to innovate will not survive. So even if an announcement doesn’t exactly get the toes a-tapping—and often it’s just a matter of personal and professional interest—at least it represents forward movement, which is always a good thing.

2. Meeting End Users

Vendors and manufacturers spend millions on research and development, and come out with some truly groundbreaking equipment, substrates, and software, but ask any product manager and they’ll tell you that it is the end users—the customers—who do the lion’s share of the de facto R&D. The breadth of creative—and sometimes just plain crazy—products coming off wide-format printers today is quite often mind-blowing, and talking with these end users—either on the show floor or while conducting our on-on-one video interviews—reveals creative minds at work. It’s often like talking to artists in some respects, and it’s hard not to be inspired by some of these folks.

3. Creative Applications

Those imaginative end users are thus producing some creative applications, and every show features more than a few things that have never been printed before. And, of course, it doesn’t necessarily have to be the end users; there are some exhibitors who always some to the show with something out-of-this world.

4. Reconnecting With Old Acquaintances

It’s been said before, but trade shows are very much like family reunions. For those of us who have been involved in the general commercial printing industry for many many years, every Graph Expo or other industry event becomes like a family gathering (for some of us quite literally!), and it’s always nice catching up with old friends. As I said, this is only my third SGIA Expo and whilst it draws a different crowd than, say, Graph Expo, the specialty graphics industry is no less of a community, and it’s also nice to reconnect with some newer acquaintances and associates.

5. Las Vegas

Then there is the opportunity to visit Las Veg— No, no, sorry, I can’t do it. I can’t convincingly feign any enthusiasm for Las Vegas.

6. The Latest Trends

Having had been involved in market research for almost decade, and collaborating regularly with Dr. Joe Webb, I confess I am drawn to data and statistics, and the Expo also provides the latest research SGIA research on the latest trends in the industry: what products are most commonly printed, which are fading in popularity, which are in danger of being commoditized? How is technology changing? What markets are proving the most and least successful? These data aren’t just for wonky types, but identify where the opportunities lie—and where they don’t. Especially in such a dynamic industry as print has become, it is more important than ever to closely follow the ebb and flow of popular products and markets.

7. Beast Fodder

Writing weekly features can be a challenge, as there is the constant need to “feed the beast.” There is no shortage of topics in wide-format—and especially not in the broader world of specialty graphics—but it can become difficult to avoid getting repetitious and running over the same old ground and getting repetitious. Anyway, trade shows can be a great way to reboot and discover new topics for stories, and new ways of looking at older, perhaps well-worn topics that may still have relevance and resonance.

Now, the SGIA Expo isn’t held solely for my own amusement—although when I am made benevolent dictator, it will be—but all of these “reasons for excitement” should be shared by everyone attending the show. We should feel some excitement—these are all ways of gleaning ideas for growing and expanding our businesses, so even if not on a personal level we should be more than a little enthused on a professional level.

WhatTheyThink will be covering the SGIA Expo, and I hope to see some of you there.