The Atlanta skyline may have been shrouded in fog, but inside the Georgia World Congress Center, all was clear on Wednesday as the SGIA Expo 2015 officially opened.

The event kicked off with a press conference presented by Dan Marx, who is the Specialty Graphic Imaging Association’s Vice President-Markets & Technologies, and a regular WhatTheyThink contributor. He was the perfect guide to describe the phenomenal success of SGIA and its event, which over the years has evolved from a focused screen printing show to the premier event for digital inkjet printing. With concurrent events for printed electronics and industrial printing, plus an extensive educational program, SGIA is now the “go to” show and conference for new printing technology.

Exhibition space sold out months before the November opening and was expanded multiple times. Walking from one end of the show floor to the other can take a good 30 minutes—not just because of the breadth, but because, with 23,000 pre-registered attendees, the aisles were immediately mobbed on hour one of day one.

Like many industry shows, areas were “zoned,” in this case for garments, sustainability, textiles, and other specialty areas. Marx noted an “Education Row” where academic institutions were able to present their programs.

There was something for everyone and a true educational event for newbies and seasoned pros alike.

SGIA also announced that, as of February, 2016, SGIA will be getting a new President and CEO, as Michael Robertson has announced that he will be retiring after 33 years of service to the organization—15 as President and CEO. Stepping into his shoes will be Ford Bowers, who for nine years has served as VP of Operations for Miller Zell.

Meanwhile, one floor up from the SGIA press conference, Durst Image Technology was hosting “Retail 2020,” an event intended to clear the fog of understanding and “give brands an opportunity to talk to the print community,” said Terry Amerine, Director of Product Marketing for Durst, introducing the session. The featured speakers were a trio of production managers—Libra Balian, Kris Hentrik, and Jeanine Matteo—at ANN Inc., owner of Ann Taylor, Ann Taylor Loft, and other retail brands. The nature of retail—especially at ANN Inc.’s level—is high-intensity. “We have 50 to 100 projects going on at once,” said Balian. Those projects include, but are not limited to, signage, banners, direct mail, in-store collateral, fabric stretch graphics, window clings, vinyl banners, visual props, barricades (those large walls you see in shopping malls that announce the imminent opening of a new store), mall advertising, transit graphics, billboards, paper bags, boxes, gift cards, hangers, and clear poly bags. So, a lot of stuff. As a result, Balian said, “we want to partner with companies who make our lives easier.” Brands like ANN Inc. are also looking for partners who are highly innovative—“having an R&D department is important,” said Balian. Prototyping of retail displays is a big part of working with companies like ANN Inc., and creating prototypes is a big part of the process for bidding on work.

Most importantly, though, “those partners who work with us understand our business,” said Balian.

One of the biggest production issues is color management. “Color is not subjective,” said Balian. Critical color is the norm, and if you are printing for ANN you’d better be using ICC profiles and G7.

Sustainability is also extremely important—it’s a top down corporate mandate—and all three speakers expressed the hope that their suppliers would be members of the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership (SGP). The company is also using more and more recycled and recyclable materials, ditching its vinyl and plastic graphics for fabrics. The trouble is, said Matteo, “very few suppliers have mastered fabric,” especially where color matching and finishing are concerned.

Hentrik also pointed out that communication needs to be improved, as well as increased collaboration, especially where sustainability initiatives are concerned.

The nature of retail graphics is changing, with faster and faster turnaround being the rule rather than the exception (which, as we all know is not unique to retail). This is being driven by an increase in “store sets,” that is, as the merchandise the store carries changes—and changes more often—the graphics often need to change correspondingly. This is to get the merchandise the store is selling to market faster. That means the production cycle for retail graphics of all kinds has been compressed—in fact, it has been nearly halved. That puts pressure on production managers to ensure that suppliers—printers, as well as those to whom they outsource—can turn those materials around as quickly as the brand needs.

Despite what we may have heard about shrinking industry demographics, in the view of brandowners like ANN Inc., printing is a “saturated market,” and it is incumbent upon printers to remain relevant, at least if they hope to work with a major national brand like ANN.

On Monday, we will sum up the remaining days of the show, and highlight the major new product announcements.