Outgoing Chair Reflects on a Momentous Year
Chris Bernat, owner of Printmannschaft LLC, has served as chair of the PRINTING United Alliance board of directors since October 2021. His term ends during the 2022 PRINTING United Expo.
Q: How has the last year been as chair?
A: It was busy. We had so much to do with COVID [uncertainty] and focusing on making PRINTING United Expo happen. It required a good plan and the ability to think on our feet.
Q: What has your time as chair meant to you?
It’s been humbling, for starters. It’s a significant responsibility. For me, the opportunity to chair the board was the culmination of more than 10 years as a board member, and years before that supporting PRINTING United Alliance — then SGIA — through its committees. Part of that involvement was launching the Expo’s “zones,” where attendees can explore technologies in a sales-free environment. My background is in the apparel segment and working to grow that market has been truly rewarding.
Q: How do you think The Expo will look and feel compared to the 2019 event?
A: The biggest difference: When we walk into the hall, we’ll say, “Wow. I’ve missed this.” I think attendees will feel welcomed home in Vegas. There’s been so much change since the 2019 Expo in Dallas: Our markets have changed dramatically, the way we handle HR issues has changed, as have workflow and standard work practices. We also got very good at working out of our kitchens and living rooms.
Q: How about change in the broader printing industry?
A: During COVID, people figured out just how important print is. And printing companies have changed, particularly in the way e-commerce influenced organizational structures. E-commerce has forced the need for completely different business models and operational flows, and it’s forced printers to recognize that they need to be much more knowledgeable about it.
Another thing is the cross-pollination of segments. In many cases, convergence has more to do with the customer looking to engage outside of the traditional service structure. I’m reminded of the book “Blue Ocean Strategy,” which described the existence of opportunities in spaces outside of `the normal’ – clearer waters. One example is an apparel company being asked to also do fulfillment. I can easily see well run merch houses moving into packaging.
Q: The Alliance is an association for the whole printing industry. How has the association strengthened its approach to the apparel sector?
It started a long time ago with the growth of the apparel zones at The Expo. I think the association leadership made a conscientious effort to pull business players and marketers into the organization. They recognize that apparel is different than to the other segments. I find it’s easier to identify apparel folks at The Expo. That being said, as the machines get faster and the technology becomes more dynamic, others are taking a look at the apparel opportunity.
Q: What have you seen in the apparel space this past year that has piqued your interest the most?
A: Direct-to-film (DTF) is an extremely compelling technology because it offers such a high range of substrate options — it’s a very new technology. With the advantages of direct-to-film’s coatings and powders, plus getting rid of weeding, it’s going to be a dynamic space and a big force for change. As DTF grows, I can see screen printing and sublimation having to give up some market space.
The promotional products space is also interesting: its largest segment is apparel. In my business, I’ve been interacting with them for a decade, and I think the internet has blurred the line between them and printers, event companies, and marketing companies. Promotional products are a very logical extension for printing companies that, for instance, deal with a lot of mailings or produce a lot of graphics.
Q: What is the value of a strong industry association like The Alliance?
A: I find it’s a lot easier to learn things faster from people who have already been there and done that. If the last 15 years have taught business owners anything, it is to partner up instead of going it alone. Beyond that, our industry needs appropriate representation on governmental issues, and the association provides that. The economy is becoming more nuanced, and the association’s research team is filling a needed space.