In 2012, the National Print Owners Association (NPOA) was launched by a group of print business owners who wanted to create an organization dedicated to addressing the needs of small and mid-size print business owners. The NPOA offers a number of benefits to members, such as reports, studies, and information on such practical matters as industry pay, pricing, and profitability. Over the years, the association has been gradually adding and improving benefits for its members. “In the past year we’ve increased our newsletter content and distribution to the point where we need to call it a magazine,” said John Henry, CEO of Mitchell’s Printing & Mailing in Oswego, N.Y., and NPOA’s Programs and Events Director. Another new perk for members is an OSHA training program.

Another bonus for NPOA members and non-members is the Annual Print Owners Conference, the association’s seventh. This year, it will be held February 28 to March 2 at the Hilton San Diego Resort & Spa, the association’s first West Coast conference. “This is our first time crossing the Rockies and we’ve had pretty good registration so far,” said Henry. “We're closing in on it being a record year.”

The three-day event includes a dozen sessions exploring business, technology, and marketing issues important to owners of small and mid-size print businesses. The speaker line-up is a mix of some faces familiar from past conferences as well as some new names and topics. Nancy Proffitt will present “Understanding Behavioral Communications” as well as the Saturday keynote “Times They Are A-Changin’—Managing Change Effectively”; Dr. Ken Macro will talk about “Winning with Lean—How a Lean Journey Can Add to Your Productivity and Bottom Line”; and David Avrin will present the Friday keynote “Customer Experience Is the New Competitive Advantage—What Works, What Doesn’t, and Why It Matters More than Ever,” as well as a session entitled “It’s Not Who You Know—It’s Who Knows You.” Avrin’s sessions are designed to be motivational. “He’s going to teach us how customers look at and perceive us and how we need to keep that in mind in how we present our company.”

New names and topics include Don Sanders and a session called “How To Make Money In The Promo Business.” “Don sells millions of dollars a year in promotional products and he’s going to tell us how he does it,” said Henry. “He doesn’t just go for the low-hanging fruit—he goes after the real money buyers.”

At last year’s conference, one theme that emerged was that wide-format printing was a hot area for print businesses to get into, so that topic is represented on the agenda with Canon Solutions America’s Randy Paar conducting a workshop on differences in flatbed wide-format printers. Production inkjet is also a perennial hot topic, and Joe Marin will look at “Inkjet Madness: What Does the Future Hold?”

The conference also includes several printer panels. One is a twist on the usual M&A conversation. “You hear a lot about. ‘Let’s find mergers, let’s find acquisitions,’ but this is actually going to be three printers who’ve done them,” said Henry. “They will talk about what they did right, what went wrong, and what they’d do differently. So it’s a little bit different than you normally see.”

Another panel focuses on marketing. “We’ll have a few of our printers who do very well at marketing talking about how they develop and carry through on their marketing plans,” said Henry.

Another new feature this year is a set of in-depth workshops on Thursday, delving into such topics as calculating your real costs, producing interactive print with augmented reality, using a print MIS effectively, working with wide-format printing equipment, and navigating the update to PagePath’s Printer’s Plan. “These workshops are more of an in-depth one, two, or three hours instead of short 40-minute sessions,” said Henry. “You’re going to be in a room with 30 or 40 other attendees, many of them users, and be able to ask direct questions focusing on one topic.”

Another new topic area for the conference is financial planning, with Chris Falco talking about how to navigate “The Risks of Owning a Business.” “He’s going to talk about what you should expect for a return out of your company and how you should be mitigating your risk,” said Henry. “Instead of just investment advice, it’s more how an individual business owner needs to look at their total investment and their total net worth.”

The conference also includes the popular “One-Minute Mastermind” session, a kind of group “think tank” where attendees share their own success stories and offer suggestions on how to run their businesses better; it could be a new piece of equipment, a better way of promoting the business, a new value-added service, and so on.

It’s not all work and no play; this year’s conference reprises a feature that was a hit last year in Ft. Lauderdale. “We added a boat cruise last year and now this year we’re doing a dinner cruise to see the night lights in San Diego,” said Henry. “That turned out really well when we did in Florida and I think people like the idea of doing it again in San Diego.”

At the end of the day—or at the end of the three days—one of the real value propositions of the NPOA Conference is the networking and the sharing of ideas among colleagues.

“The most value you get are the friendships you establish,” said Henry. “There are members that have my business plan. They know my financials because when I get ready to make a big buy, I’m talking to three or four different people—and that’s not unique. That’s more common than it is unique in our association. We know each other and our families, and we know our business struggles and we talk about them. And you develop that by going to a conference like this and meet people face to face.”

For more information, a complete agenda, and to register, please click here.