Taking stock of 2010, and preparing your business for 2011 and beyond.
Chesterman: At the beginning of 2009, we conducted an Economy Survey that showed that, while printers were fighting the recession, the industry’s environmental focus had become diluted. Nearly 60 percent of those we asked said that environmentally sus¬tainable production was currently less important as a result of the economic downturn. At the same time, though, a fifth of respondents told us they were using sustainability as a point of competitive differentiation, and they believed there were opportunities to innovate in this area. This seems to be an idea an increasing number of print service providers have seized on as the economy begins to recover, as we can see from the rising demand for eco-solvent and latex technologies. It would seem that companies are taking the environment seriously now, even if their reasons are altruistic. We expect that trend to intensify as the market recovers and more buyers shift their interests away from price alone.
Question: In our recent September is¬sue we featured an article on training and education opportunities for print providers, and, this year, I was surprised that I didn’t see much of an increase in the offerings from across the marketplace. We do continue to see offerings in the vehicle-graphics end of things, but not so much in other applications. Why do you think this is?
Greene: I agree on both counts – that vehicle-graphics education is ahead of any other application and that we don’t see it nearly as much for other types of applications. The reasons are that there are large companies like 3M, Avery, Mactac, Nazdar, etc. that are very invested in the success of the vehicle-graphics market. At the same time, there’s a very distinct expertise required in the vehicle-graphics application, so the professional associations are strong as well. The other application that really seems like it should have similar professional education is fabrics printing, but so far this has not materialized.
Chesterman: In a recession, it’s natural for businesses to focus on processes and to lose sight of the future, which may explain why you didn’t see an increase. We expect this to change once the economy has recovered and businesses begin to move forward.
Marx: I think a great deal of the “falling off” we’ve seen in industry training has been due to economic uncertainty. Many facilities, after reducing labor, have been reluctant to hire new staff, instead relying on their most capable and proficient employees. The problem here is that, in order to stay on top of changes in the industry, and in order to incorporate new technologies and materials and access new markets, training is an essential ingredient for success. I believe that the increase in training for vehicle graphics is due to the fact that vehicle installs cannot be muddled through. It takes a trained, experienced, and proficient installer to do the job right.
Question: Any parting comments or observations?
Marx: Even given the current challenges of the economy, this is still an exciting time in our industry. As an industry representative, I am currently surprised by the innovative spirit, ingenuity, and outright pluck of imaging companies. They have truly taken the “ball” of digital graphics and run with it, and for that they should be applauded.
Greene: Nobody can tell when things will turn around for sure but one thing is certain: The wide-format graphics business will be increasingly competitive, so using the latest tools and technologies to both produce and market/sell your services in the most cost-effective ways is critical.
Boer: In rough waters, don’t stop rowing – you’ll capsize. Keep rowing, even if you are not moving forward. This means keep innovating, making measured investments, and cut your losses before you run out of cash. Invest in innovative new printing technologies, ones that can print on textiles, that can create decorative output. Godspeed!