Industry Roundtable Day 2: the Critical Issues in 2014

14 days of critical information to prepare your shop for the year ahead.

Big Picture

Which technologies are on the upswing – and which are on the downswing? What markets and applications look to be hot next year? How much of a role will sustainability play in your company? Which profit centers should you invest in?

Get answers to these questions and many more, from six of the wide-format marketplace’s most informed analysts and consultants. Over the next couple of weeks, The Big Picture will post critical questions with invaluable answers from our panel – all designed to help you ensure that your company charts its best course for a prosperous year ahead.

Each day leading up to the SGIA Expo in Orlando, we’ll feature a round of questions and answers from our panel participants. For this year’s edition of our annual Industry Roundtable, our participants include:

• Lori Anderson, president and CEO, International Sign Association (ISA,;
• Marco Boer, vice president, I.T. Strategies (;
• Tim Greene, director, wide format consulting service, InfoTrends (;
• Dan Marx, vice president, markets & technologies, Specialty Graphic Imaging Association (SGIA,;
• Peter Mayhew, director, LightWords Ltd. (; and
• John Zarwan, managing partner, J Zarwan Partners (

Q. What are the top critical industry issues facing print shops right now?

Lori Anderson: We continue to hear that many companies are worried about finding a qualified workforce. The average age of a skilled manufacturing worker is 56, so this is not a problem that will improve as time goes on. And the need for highly skilled workers in the print sector will only increase as the segments move more fully into G7-certification for digital print. That’s one of the reasons ISA is exploring ways to reach the next generation of workers for the sign and visual communications industry.

Dan Marx: To me, one of the most critical issues is that of profitability. Wide-format digital printing has become increasingly competitive, and sign and graphics producers are looking at how to maintain their margins. When you can’t charge more (and, in some cases, you must charge less) what do you do? The answer is efficiency – strengthen your margins by reducing costs. Wide-format businesses are increasingly focusing in automating color management, workflow, job management, and more – and formalizing their processes to add certainty and remove serendipity from their processes.

Marco Boer: The top critical issues are about constant, recurring challenges such as managing customer expectations. Someone will walk into a shop saying they saw some new, innovative application and they want you to replicate it. You tell them you can do it, but that the substrates available in stock aren’t identical. They can either wait one week or accept a different feel/finish. In the end, you, as the print shop manager, are responsible for their happiness – no matter how fair or unfair their expectations may be.

Tim Greene: I think it’s that this business is undergoing a transformation wherein customers have increasingly high expectations. Yes, customers want the cost-effective production of signage and graphics – but they also want print providers to bring additional value to the table that will help them meet their goals in terms of brand management, revenue generation, better compliance, and a whole range of other issues. Nowadays, print shops have to engage well beyond being a commodity print provider.

Peter Mayhew: Managing growth (both turnover and profitability) is a key challenge. It’s relatively easy to market new capabilities to new markets – although this may not be the most efficient way to grow. But it’s quite another to deliver new products and services profitably.

John Zarwan: It’s the same across all segments – efficiency, productivity, and automation; selling more; integrating with the rest of the marketing campaign; shorter run lengths; greater complexity of work; turnaround; margin compression; and so on. On the production side, it’s about integrating all the equipment and software: job input and prep on the front end, through printing, through cutting and finishing. On the customer side, it’s about integrating with the rest of the marketing program, which is a big advantage that commercial printers have. 

Miss Day 1 of our Industry Roundtable 2014? See here for our experts weighing in on optimism vs pessimism for 2014. 

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