The 2014 SGIA Expo in Las Vegas ended about a month ago, and since that time I’ve been looking for a good way to describe it—to report what happened—to those who attended and those who should have. The primary word I can come up with it “growth.” Let me explain why I feel that way.

Let’s look at the numbers. All totaled, the SGIA Expo in Las Vegas had more than 25,500 registrants. That’s more—by a few thousand—than we had expected. More exhibitors than ever before increased the range of products and services on display (and for sale). And get this: more than 45% of 2014 SGIA Expo attendees were attending their first SGIA event. That’s what trade show growth looks like. New people. New opportunities. New energy.

Surely, effective marketing for the event and the endless efforts of the staff of SGIA (me included) to drum up excitement helped. But I think it goes beyond that. The growth SGIA has seen in its annual Expo is a demonstration of the increasing adoption of wide-format inkjet equipment, and the growing knowledge by players across the printing spectrum that SGIA is the best event to attend, and the only place where attendees can see the full range of elements in the wide-format process. The key word there is process. Wide-format is so much more than a wide inkjet device. It is instead a carefully-crafted mix of media, printable fabrics, inks, finishing technologies, laminates, printers, and more.

During the Expo, I had numerous opportunities to talk with a variety of business owners who were all seeking to grow their businesses—and they were investing in wide-format technology as the method for doing so. For example, I talked with:

  • A commercial printing company that has had one toe in the wide-format game for a year or so, producing posters and basic graphics. This company has had a “taste” of wide-format on their bottom line—a way to add value for new customers, but what they currently offer is not nearly enough to entice new customers who certainly have a wide variety of choices in wide-format providers. If this company wants to step up its game and serve wide-format applications more broadly, they must first make a more significant step into the wide-format space. They found that providing wide-format and being competitive in wide-format are different things indeed.
  • A company with a long history of using screen printing for industrial applications—we’re talking parts for automotive assembly, both functional and decorative—is seeking to open new markets by addressing the short-run container market. They came to Las Vegas seeking a digital solution that would offer acceptable production; the ability to create short, versioned runs and acceptable adhesion on numerous surfaces including glass. When I spoke with this company, they had found their solution. Next for them is work on the business side, learn how to sell their new product line to new customers, and make it profitable.
  • A garment decoration company very well-versed (and successful) in a wide range of screen printed, embroidered, and direct-to-garment technologies that was looking to harness wide-format—in this case dye-sublimation inkjet technology—to produce all-over printed garments that are first printed, then cut, then sewn into the final, custom garment. This is a big philosophical step for this company: Moving from decorating other people’s finished garments into printing and manufacturing their own. This move, once implemented, will place the company in a growing, opportunity-rich area.

The good news here is that the SGIA Expo in Las Vegas—through exhibitor knowledge, products on offer, educational programming and the expertise of attendees—provided these three companies and many more with the information they needed to move to their next level. How about yours?

I’ve talked to numerous business owners from the commercial printing sector that seem to view wide-format as a rather small concern, and from people who come from a background based on very high volume, I can see how they might think that way. They’re also, however, wholly missing the point, because wide-format is all about opportunities. Many of these opportunities are ripe with potential profits, available to those who want to—and are prepared to—take advantage, and exist outside what many commercial printers know as “commodity printing.” Last I checked, strong opportunities for growth in a commodity area are quite slim. Time to re-evaluate that small concern, huh?

So what’s up next for SGIA? Atlanta, November 4–6, 2015. As I’m writing this, just less than one year from the event’s opening, booth space is already more than 92% sold out. The buzz in Las Vegas, and the buzz surrounding the wide-format industry segment, continue. New for 2015 will be the SGIA Industrial Printing Symposium, which will present numerous technologies and applications for printing in manufacturing and mass-production settings, during a unique two-day event.

I expect to see you there!