Highlights from the Opening Night of Wide-format Summit 2022
On Monday night, Wide-format Summit 2022 kicked off at the PGA National Resort in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. The invitation-only event this year has 52 attendees, and 25 sponsors, a growth of 25% over the inaugural event held last summer.
The event kicked off with opening remarks from Steve Duccilli, conference co-chair and executive vice president, Wide-Format and Industrial Printing, NAPCO Media. He noted, "Over the course of the next three days, we will look at the challenges and opportunities that wide-format executives face today. We'll have keynotes and general sessions with some of the leading minds in the industry today. We'll have case studies where sponsors will bring the technology to life with stories from the field. And of course, there will be lots and lots of networking."
Sponsors for the event include the keynote sponsors Agfa, EFI, and HP; diamond sponsors Advantage Innovations, Fujifilm, and Summa America; gold sponsors Epson, INX International, Laird Plastics. Lindenmeyr Monroe, OneVision, Roland DGA, swissQprint, Tila Labs, and Xeikon; and silver sponsors CloudLab, Durst, Fisher Textiles, Global Imaging, GMG Color, Mimaki, Nekoosa, Significans Ultraflex Systems, and Zund.
Trends Driving Wide-format Today
Following Duccilli was the first keynote session of the event, "How the Lingering Crises Are Amplifying the Benefits of Wide-Format Printing," given by Marco Boer, conference chair and VP, IT Strategies. "We're not back to normal, but it's back to better," Boer told attendees.
Wide-format printers today are facing a number of challenges that resonate across the entire industry. Those universal challenges are:
1. A lack of substrates and paper. And while Boer doesn't see that changing any time soon, he noted, "What it does do is make things that have to be printed far more valuable." Margins on print jobs have steadily decreased over the past two decades, but the silver lining here, said Boer, is that this is a chance for printers to gain some of it back. Customers are putting a high value on the print they need, and they are less tolerant of waste. Savvy shops will make the case for the higher value of the work, and the best part, Boer noted, is that they won't push back much, if at all, since they can see higher prices on everything across the board, and rising prices on print products will be no surprise.
2. Labor challenges. "This is something everyone struggles with," said Boer. He noted that there are a number of reasons for this, including many employees putting far more value on their quality of life and choosing to value things like flexible work hours and more time with their families. Another culprit is that, historically, the print industry drew many employees from those graduating from community colleges, but enrollments on that front are down significantly, as those workers realize they can make a good living in jobs paying $17+ per hour with no degree required.
Also contributing to the problem is the convergence of a decline in birth rates, so there are fewer young people to replace those leaving the workforce, colliding with Gen X beginning to hit retirement years and seeking to, if not leave the workforce, at least change careers to something more fulfilling.
3. Private equity is buying up shops. "They are coming into this business, and they love us," Boer noted. They are purchasing a number of shops, and they are focused not on the art of producing high-quality printed pieces but on the bottom line. "A private equity will come in and change a shop from an artisanal business competing on service and quality, to one that is data-driven, where it is all about the numbers."
That said, there are ways for printers to counter all of these challenges, said Boer. Automation is a big one, removing touch points and replacing older equipment with newer machines that are faster and more productive. Shops should also be looking for opportunities, including ways to add value to existing customers and jobs, but also looking for new business and opening up new markets and verticals that were previously untouched. And adding services such as more personalization and versioning, as well as more digital embellishment options, can all help shops make print far more luxurious and valuable to the buyers.
Another great session to help kick off the event was the keynote panel moderated by Denise Gustavson, co-chair of the Wide-format Summit and editor-in-chief, Wide-Format Impressions. She was joined by David Dey, VP of manufacturing, ColorDynamics; Jaime Herand, VP of graphic operations, Orbus; and Chuck Stranc II, president of CGS Imaging, to talk about "Keeping Your Eye on the KPIs."
All three gave a candid look at how they use KPIs, and how they break them down to help them make their businesses more successful. They gave a range of specific examples, and even chatted with audience members to clarify and dive deeper into the details of how KPIs are implemented.
They also had a number of tips to share to help their fellow wide-format printers use KPIs to further their own growth.
- Keep it simple. You can't improve what you can't measure, so choose KPIs that have tangible, steady elements and don't rely entirely on variable elements that can change from month to month.
- KPIs should always be attached to a specific goal — start with the ultimate goal and then work your way backward to figure out what you need to improve to get there. That is your KPI.
- Share it with employees. While every employee in the company doesn't need to know the details of every single KPI, the management team should all know them, and they should in turn, share the relevant goals with their teams to ensure everyone is running in the same direction.
- Check in often. KPIs won't help you meet your goals if you're not constantly evaluating them. The frequency of check-ins will vary based on your company and your goals, but there should be short term - every few weeks, for example — mid-term, a more in-depth evaluation every month, and long-term — really diving into the data once a quarter. This, the panelists noted, allows you to be nimble and respond to issues quickly, while also keeping an eye on the long-term goal.
- Don't just assume things will get better. The purpose of KPIs is to help you identify problems and find solutions. Ignoring red flags or issues and just hoping they will improve on their own without intervention defeats the purpose of having them.
And that was just a taste of the jam-packed agenda to come. Tuesday and Wednesday will both feature a wide range of keynote and general sessions, alongside more intimate small-group sessions to hear about the latest wide-format technologies, as well as one-on-one meeting times to help attendees get the most from the event. Stay tuned for more highlights.
Denise Gustavson is the Editorial Director and Special Projects Editor for the Printing & Packaging Group, which includes Printing Impressions, packagePRINTING, In-plant Graphics and Wide-Format Impressions magazines, among other brands. She is also the Editor-in-Chief of Wide-Format Impressions.