PRINTING United: Promoting Growth for All Print Segments
I came to this industry as an outsider five years ago, with little knowledge of the printing and packaging worlds, but an eagerness to learn. At the time, I was a utility player, splitting my time between this magazine and our other publications that cover the commercial printing side of the business.
While it was a challenge to write and report on all of the drastically different segments of the printing industry, I’m extremely grateful for that eye-opening year, in which I was immersed in the complex, diverse, and highly-technical world of all things print. Since I’ve been editor of Packaging Impressions, I haven’t been quite as plugged in to the other print segments, but what has been so fascinating about the past few years is how the lines between segments are blurring, and the notion of serving just one market is beginning to dissolve.
At NAPCO Media, we’ve dedicated a great deal of time and effort to understand this trend of convergence — printers exploring industry segments away from their core competency. Through interviews and articles, along with in-depth research, we’ve uncovered concrete evidence that proves the industry is heading in this direction, and printers from across the board are exploring new capabilities.
Once we gathered all of this data and firsthand insight, the question then became, “What do we do with it?” Sure, we can write about it in our publications and special reports, but that can only go so far. It was decided that the best way to act on this convergence trend was to develop an event embracing it. It would have to capture the energy that other, more specified events create, but expand it to all members of the printing community.
PRINTING United is the result of this, and will make its debut Oct. 23-25 at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas. The event is the next evolution of the SGIA Expo, and we’ve worked hand in hand with SGIA to take this event to the next level.
While the packaging segment of the industry has historically represented a small portion of SGIA Expo attendees, that has changed in recent years, as package printers have sought out opportunities in various wide-format printing segments. One excellent example is Mark Turk, president and CEO of International Label & Printing in Elk Grove Village, Ill.
I’ve known Mark for years and have been familiar with International Label as a stellar and innovative label printing company. Mark was an early adopter of digital printing and hybrid production, and International has earned a reputation as an award-winner. That’s why I was surprised at first when Mark told me about his experiences as an SGIA Expo attendee, exploring opportunities outside of the label world.
He explained he first attended the Expo in 2016 after an existing customer had asked if International Label could produce signage and point-of-purchase displays. At the time, the company did not have those capabilities in house, but wanted to ensure it could serve more of its customers’ needs. Since that first visit to SGIA Expo, Mark hasn’t missed one yet, heading to New Orleans in 2017 and Las Vegas in 2018. Making the addition to his busy fall schedule has proven to be fruitful, as International Label now counts various wide-format products among its capabilities, and has even ventured into digital corrugated printing.
“The wow factor is incredible of what we’ve been able to discover with the different substrates that are out there and how they can be incorporated,” Mark told me last year.
While Mark Turk and International Label are a great example of convergence on the packaging side of the printing industry, it’s hardly an anomaly. Earlier this year, NAPCO Research, the research arm of NAPCO Media, published an in-depth study on convergence across printing — including the four major packaging segments.
In total, the report surveyed 470 printers, 48 of which identified as primarily package printers. When asked what print segments they are either considering or researching moving into, 26% of packaging respondents stated they are interested in the wide-format graphics segment. Additionally, convergence within packaging itself proved to be popular as 24% of package printers stated they are interested in moving into flexible packaging, while 22% said they are considering folding carton.
Convergence is moving the other way too, however. 172 commercial printers took part in the same survey, and packaging proved to be the most enticing segment for them to explore, with significant interest in the label, folding carton, and flexible packaging segment. Specifically, 43% said they are considering label, 32% are considering folding carton, and 31% are considering flexible packaging.
The consistency among all of these packaging segments is that they’re actively growing — something that not all print markets can claim. The challenge to those on the outside looking in, however, is that there is a significant technological learning curve that needs to be addressed before moving into a new packaging segment. On the conventional side, each segment utilizes a different primary technology — narrow-web flexography in labels, sheetfed offset in folding carton, and wide-web flexography in flexible packaging. Finishing and converting processes are also essential to master, as each packaging segment again requires different technology, knowledge, and skillsets.
PRINTING United will help to bridge that gap, and as the event continues to grow on an annual basis, technology from each packaging segment will be strongly represented. While the debut PRINTING United will focus more on the commercial and wide-format segments, there will be a packaging presence, and digital printing will be the highlight.
The 2020 edition of the show will bring a far more significant number of packaging-centric vendors, but that shouldn’t deter you from checking out what we have in store for 2019. With digital solutions from all packaging segments represented, PRINTING United will be an excellent venue for exploring the lowered barriers to entry into new segments, as well as how to embrace a digital strategy for your current one.
Sutherland Packaging is one example of a company that has embraced digital printing as a way to supplement its existing offerings. The Andover, N.J.-based corrugated packaging and display printer had observed the rise of digital printing in the corrugated segment, which made the SGIA Expo an alluring destination to explore the various options. Given the natural synergies between the wide-format and short-run corrugated segments, exhibitors with these digital corrugated solutions have made SGIA Expo an important stop in their trade show travels.
Last year, I spoke with Tom Quigley, Sutherland Packaging’s design department manager, who first visited SGIA Expo at the 2017 edition in New Orleans. He explained that the trip was a success, as he was able to immerse himself in digital corrugated printing technology and return home with a more complete understanding of these emerging platforms.
But, what made the trip even more beneficial was how it opened his eyes to how many opportunities there are in the printing industry, beyond just the packaging space. In particular, Quigley said he was blown away with the quantity of substrates digital technology can print on and how versatile it has become.
“It really opened my eyes to the industry as a whole, seeing what’s going on for print in every type of substrate and type of printing,” he says. “But even more than that, I realized these digital presses, with many of them you can print on … a number of different substrates.”
Print impacts so many aspects of our daily lives that it can be easy to overlook. In the packaging space, we so often think of serving brands by providing printed packaging that will protect their products and communicate with consumers. But chances are, that brand owner is going to require more printed materials than just packaging. They may need in-store displays, direct mail and marketing collateral, or floor graphics to spruce up their facility. Other printers will be willing to accept this business from your packaging customers, but it’s certainly within reach to keep it all under your roof.
You don’t necessarily need to transform your business overnight to be a jack-of-all-trades. But understanding your customers’ complete print needs and proactively finding a way to serve them will keep them loyal and prevent them from the unwelcome pains of juggling multiple print vendors.
At PRINTING United, the doors will be open to explore the printing opportunities you’ve had in the back of your mind, and some you may not have even known were within your grasp. Now is the time to take your business to the next level, and PRINTING United is the right place to start.