Graph Expo on Track to Be As Big As Ever

As is our tradition at WhatTheyThink, we hooked up with GASC President Ralph Nappi to get his perspective on what we should expect from the show.  With two weeks to go before show time, Nappi cited numerous reasons why printing industry professionals should plan to attend.

WTT:  Ralph, with the current economic turmoil we are going through, how do you think Graph Expo is going to do this year?

RN:  Despite the economic uncertainty, we are looking forward to one of the biggest shows yet.  We contracted for about the same exhibit space as last year, and as we speak we only have about 9,000 square feet of exhibit space left.  Attendee pre-registration on par with this time last year as well, and last year was a terrific show.

WTT:  In speaking with some of the exhibitors and talking with them about their plans, I found it interesting that some of the more non-traditional players seem to be taking more booth space.  For example, EFI has its largest booth ever at 8,000 square feet, and I understand they have taken over some of Heidelberg’s traditional space right at the entrance to the show floor.

RN:  This shift has been consistent for a few years now, and I see it as the real world impacting the trade show business.  The heavy iron guys historically consumed the lion’s share of the show floor space with huge booths. They are still in the show and still well represented, but in a smaller way.  Now companies like Kodak, Xerox, EFI, Océ, Canon, package printing players, software companies stepping up in a big way. That is healthy.  The market is broader than it has ever been before with the digital side of the equation, prepress and post-press, so it is a natural progression.  Because our industry is not single dimensional, nor should any part of the industry take up a disproportionate part of the mindset or the footprint of the show.  From a business perspective, you don’t like to have all your eggs in one basket, whether it is vendors or sectors.  We are 2% shy of the largest Graph Expo ever, and I think it is because we have the broadest range of exhibitors we have ever had.

WTT:  As the role of print in today’s media mix continues to evolve, what is the show doing to address that shift?

RN:  With this show, and in positioning print, it is really about addressing other markets beyond traditional commercial print, including creatives, book printers, publishers, packaging and specialty printers, TransPromo, and in-plants. We are trying to carve out all these different areas, and in reality, this isn’t one big show; it is a bunch of shows within a show. If you happen to include all eight of these areas in your business, great. If you only do two of them, that’s great too. That diversity is what we are also seeing reflected in this show. The people that serve those markets are now stepping up to be part of the event, and this provides an opportunity for attendees to learn more about business areas they are already in, and explore the opportunities presented by new ones..  Last year we held a print buyers’ conference for the first time.  It was a great success and we are upgrading it.  Also, from my perspective, success isn’t just judged by the size of something, but if we are appealing to a new or emerging audience. If it is only 1-2% this year, it might be 10-20% a few years from now. And if it doesn’t work, we will eliminate it.

WTT:  Wide format seems to be a growing area of interest.  Will you have the wide format pavilion again?

RN:  We sure are. It might seem that the pavilion is smaller than before, but keep in mind that wide format has become more mainstream and as such, much of the equipment has expanded to other booths so that it is incorporated into the overall vendor exhibit.  The Wide Format Pavilion will be about one-third the size of what it has been in the past, but in terms of total wide format products being displayed, it is the greatest it has ever been when you consider what the vendors are showing in their own booths.

WTT:  What are some of the new things we will see this year?

RN:  One thing we are really excited about is Future Print, which is RFID printed electronics.  We will be doing live demos and tutorials on the floor.  We are also playing out JDF a little more.  I am not technical enough to understand why it is taking off so slowly, but we are doing some educational workshops to help move that initiative along. We are also focusing on print buyers, as I mentioned, with a more advanced conference this year.

One other thing which is new that we haven’t promoted as much as we possibly should have are the free educational sessions we are doing by area of interest.  We have our traditional conference, of course, as we always do, with 70 fee-based programs. But we are also producing new free presentations three mornings before the show opens, one for quick printers, one for those interested in TransPromo, and a third one for in plant printers, focusing on what digital means to the in-plant printer.  We have some great partners that are sponsoring these forums and helping us deliver them.  Quick Printing Magazine is helping us with the quick print forum. XPLOR is helping us with the Transactional forum. And IPMA and In-Plant Graphics Magazine are helping us with in-plant session.

WTT:  I understand you are doing some different types of promotions as well, that might have contributed to the increased pre-registration.

RN:  When I walked in here three years ago, I was excited not so much about the assignment, but about the fact that the printing industry does such cool things.  We decided we should be doing some of those cool things ourselves.  Debbie Vieder and Chris Price really jumped on this and I am very proud of them.  Debbie especially gets a lot of credit for her cross-media promotion with personalized URLs. We have gotten some great feedback on this.

WTT:  What, if anything, worries you the most about the show this year?

RN:  If anything worries me, it is that with as many exhibitors as are committing to the show, we have to have the buyers there. Graph Expo is about selling equipment, but we all recognize that not everyone can buy equipment all of the time. The next step is to come to the party because there is something you can learn.  Our exhibitors deserve recognition—even in these difficult times, they are still supporting the show and showing their commitment to the industry.  I would also tell you that we have 35,000 square feet in cancelled space.  So printers should support these exhibitors, because those that are in the show know that not everyone is coming with a checkbook in hand.  They know printers are there to learn and to look at what they might buy two to three years out and the exhibitors are happy to provide that education.  That’s cool. That deserves recognition

WTT:  Looking out to Print 09, what do you expect to see?

RN:  The good news is our commitments for Print 09 are doing well. Kudos to Chris Price, Chrissie Hahn and Patrick Langdon because we got the word out early.  The bottom line is the psyche for Print 09 will be successful in direct proportion to how we do at this show. That is why this show is so important.  That is why we are putting a lot of energy into the reasons people should be there, good business reasons and showing a commitment to the industry.  I believe things will be better by next year, but we don’t want to come off the show with people saying it wasn’t that good.

Will have also have the debut of PackPrint at Print next year, so that will be big, and we will have a bigger printed electronics section as well. The other new section is going to be for promotional items, a little section for that.  We are already pleased with the early response we have on PackPrint.

WTT:  Ralph, before we close, perhaps you could share what you consider to be the top three take-aways from our discussion today?

RN:  First, pre-registration, conference registration and exhibit space are all at or above where we were a year ago, and a year ago was great.  Knock on wood we can maintain that.  The second is that we are trying to reach out to as many markets as we can and say, “Listen, this isn’t just Graph Expo, it is your show, we have it all here. And third, we are continuing on the theme of what we have done the last few years, throwing a lot of new ideas up against the wall like the new “JDF Works Print Shop Live.”  GASC owes it to our industry to offer new pavilions, programs and exhibitors.  We want Graph Expo and Print to be viewed as places to go and learn and explore new innovations for the business.

WTT:  Ralph, thanks for talking with us and our readers.  And I also wanted to say that we at WhatTheyThink are very excited about our video studio at Graph Expo.  We send our thanks to you and your staff for working with us on that.  We plan to broadcast lots of great video interviews from our studio and from the show floor and we are excited about that.