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Event Spotlight

The Print Show 2018

The Print Show was back at the NEC this September, smashing records as the last show standing. Harry Mottram, Genevieve Lewis and Summer Brooks offer their take on the show in these personal reflections of the trade exhibition

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The Print Show welcomed 5,976 visitors across the three days

Smashing records and showcasing the industry

With around a million pounds worth of kit sold, thousands of future deals secured and hundreds of leads to follow up, The Print Show has given a massive boost to the industry. It can also be said it has injected the British manufacturing economy with a large dose of confidence and investment.

So many stands and so many people, The Print Show broke all previous records in its four-year history with record numbers passing through the doors at the NEC over the three days. And it was quite a sight to behold. Consider the contrast: the slow and exacting process of setting up The Print Show at the weekend and on Monday until late – and then the frenetic dismantling of stands and exhibits on Thursday evening.

Brexit

One of the reoccurring themes of the conversations I had were increasing concerns of exhibitors over Brexit and its fall out if there is no deal on March 29th, 2019. Up until now, most people were reluctant to speak out on the subject preferring the ‘wait and see’ approach. That has changed. Carys Davis of the British Printing Industries Federation (BPIF) said members were concerned particularly over services, finance, goods and people. For instance, she said one member had 20 percent of their staff from the European community, while many were worried about tariffs and trade friction if there is a no deal.


One of the reoccurring themes of the conversations I had were increasing concerns of exhibitors over Brexit

Marian Stefani of the IPIA says firms need to be robust in the industry

Tallulah Chapman of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) said it was legislation over timber imports which was one worry, while the impact on costs to the timber industry was another. At the Independent Print Industries Association (IPIA) Marian Stefani said the whole Brexit situation had brought uncertainty to members of the IPIA, but said if you are in the print industry you need to be financially robust in any case. Loic Delor of Josero said Brexit would be a problem for companies if there is no deal. His firm trades around the world but hiking costs with the EU was not a good idea.

Tallulah Chapman of the FSC says there are concerns over Brexit


Tools

Away from politics, the exhibition also showed the blurring of divisions between the traditional printing industry, packaging, sign-making and textile printing. Paul Hughes of the Sign Making Tools, which had a stand at the show, says: “So many traditional and digital printers have bought wide-format machines to do some roll-ups and banners. It soon becomes apparent that they get asked to make signs and vehicle wraps as well and they don’t have the tools to do that work, which is where we come in with the equipment and advice. They realise they can bring that work in house with a little help.”

Steve Giddins of Perfect Bindery Solutions was keen to show off a variety of finishing kit

One area of traditional printing which appeared in good health was trade print and print finishing. Steve Giddins of Perfect Bindery Solutions was keen to show off the latest Smyth binding machine from Italy. He also pointed to the rise of luxury box making machinery as the packaging sector continued to grow. Speaking of finishing, Simon Cox of Friedheim International, which sold two machines from Zechini said print finishing and packaging was where the market was going. The Printers’ Bazaar, he said showed printers ways to diversify and find new revenue streams and it was a theme reiterated across the show with demonstrations of T-shirt printing, book binding, laminating, hot foil stamping and wide-format printing catching the attention of printers from across the UK and Ireland.

Walking around The Print Show was eye-opening for not only visitors but for myself. As one exhibitor said to me, the line between the sign industry and print sector is becoming increasingly blurred. I spoke to various companies that could inspire both sign-makers and printers to diversify into booming markets.

This year, manufacturers and businesses are trying something new, and one of those companies is RA Smart and REXframe. For the first time, RA Smart has not brought any kit but have focused fully on its new frame system. Alex Mighall, market development manager for RA Smart and product manager for REXframe, comments that it has been a good few days for the company at The Print Show, with a number of leads, including interest from larger companies that want to get involved.

For several exhibitors, it was also the first-time showcasing products at The Print Show. Trotec celebrated its first year at the event, and demonstrated laser cutting abilities. Bryan Jater, national sales manager for Trotec, says: “This is our first time at The Print Show, so we’ve only taken a small stand this year and is very much a toe in the water for us. We just bought one machine, but we have videos of other machines that we supply as well, and we are displaying laser cutting onto printed media.

“In the print market, print technology has evolved so much over the last few years, that some of the previous cutting techniques are not viable for new substrates that you can print on because historically most people were printing on soft products, fabrics and vinyls, and now people are printing onto doors and thick pieces of acrylic, so that’s where laser comes into it. Laser can handle the substrates that some of the other various cutting systems can’t.”

Sweets

Without The Sign Show running this year, it was all geared up for The Print Show to take centre stage, which it definitely did. However, sign-makers were also able to benefit from a number of stands, and as the lovable couple from Sign Making Tools put it, they are ‘like the sweet shop of The Print Show’. Paul and Julia Hughes have supported the exhibition since it has started, and comments: “Because the show is based more towards printers, they’re buying into wide-format. They buy a machine, they perhaps buy it for a specific job and they just need to add this on, do that and now it’s like ‘oh we’ve got nothing to cut the substrate, what do we do with that? We’ve got all this media falling over, we need some racks. We need all the bits and tools.’ We can solve their problems.”

Julia Hughes adds: “We know it’s a market we can sell to. People come to us because we’re seen as the sweet shop of the show, because we’ve got little bits to pick up and try, they can ask questions like ‘I’ve got this job, how would you tackle it’”

Julia and Paul Hughes of Sign Making Tools have exhibited at all four Print Shows

The Print Show smashed its visitor numbers this year, falling just shy of that glorious 6,000 mark by 24 people, but there is no sugar coating it – it was quiet in the mornings. Maybe people in the print industry don’t like to get up that early?

But while some do not like to spring out of bed at 6am to drive to Birmingham, there were sales happening everywhere. Even on the first day, binding specialists Renz sold kit worth almost £40,000. Konica Minolta were also part of the spoils, selling £90,000 worth of its latest machines.

Quality

But it’s the quality of visitors that are making the journey to The Print Show each year that really matters, as highlighted by Keith Pratt, managing director of Atlantic Tech Services. He says: “I think that all shows are changing in the amount of people that turn up to them. What happens is that you get to speak to people that are more interested in investing in new equipment, consumables and services than you would at, shall we say, exhibitions a few years ago.”


The team at Atlantic Tech Services


But it’s the quality of visitors that are making the journey to The Print Show each year that really matters

So, The Print Show has enjoyed its most successful year yet, its highest footfall since its first show in 2015, and a number of sales that equate to an eye-watering total. Why is this then? Well, I think that while exhibitors will always want and expect the highest number of visitors possible (and this is completely okay) manufacturers and businesses understand that in this day and age, it is quality over quantity. And I think The Print Show provides just that.

It was a fascinating experience for the print industry newcomer to see tangible, printed products emanating from the machines I have written about for almost two months. Visualising the physical results of a machine in real life says so much more about its capabilities than specifications on a page. Of course, I am not the target market. But I can appreciate the passion of those working within such a vibrant industry when you can see the stunning outcome and touch it with two hands.

The Print Show smashed its previous visitor numbers in 2018

I certainly did not expect to be talking about some of the biggest names in art at The Print Show, so when I sat down with John Purcell of John Purcell Paper I was pleasantly surprised. Exhibiting alongside him was St Cuthberts Mill – a paper mill based in Somerset that has been making specialist paper since the 1700s.

Based in south London, paper merchant Purcell supplies the mill’s specialist papers to some of the most famous practicing artists in the UK today – Damien Hirst and Peter Blake to name a few. Despite being part of the more traditional side of print, Purcell tells me that mainstream printers still find a need for his paper. “We’ve seen a fair number of commercial printers who, for 99 percent of their business it wouldn’t be our kind of paper, but the odd jobs that come through, they know who we are. In the world of commercial we are the go-to people when someone wants something unusual.”

Getting hands-on with traditional techniques in the masterclass area



Business

From conversations I had over the three days, it has been a difficult summer for most in print. But the show was not short of success stories. I spoke with John Thomas, business development manager at Your Print Partner, who tells me that recent new contracts will see the business grow exponentially over the next year, thanks in part to a huge rise in demand for stretch display in the last few years.

He comments on the show: “It’s been quality rather than quantity for us. Some people measure success of a show with footfall or how many people you talk to. But if you’re talking to lots of people who aren’t decision-makers… I’d rather talk to two or three people in a day who can make decisions and potentially we can win business off the back of.”

Vibrant and impressive prints poured out of machines at the show

There were almost 6,000 visitors to The Print Show over the three days and whilst I cannot say all of these people made huge investments, I can say the content of this year’s show did its very best to inspire those thinking of working outside the box. The Printers’ Bazaar was another successful instalment that invited visitors to consider diversifying into new areas of print. Those representing companies on the Bazaar felt having a readily available ‘drop-in’ centre for print queries was an essential part of expanding people’s imaginations – and markets.

Environment

A highlight for me and I think, for most of those who attended, was the aptly-named Park Life. You could almost forget for a moment that we were under tungsten lighting in a rather large, noisy hall full of the sound of metal objects whirring and the low hum of people talking. A small corner of calm in the madness could be found at Park Life, where fake grass and trees invited guests to take a moment, grab a coffee and take stock of the event. 

Being my first Print Show and my first experience of a trade show ever, I have noticed how important these lounge areas are – places where visitors can discuss ideas and thoughts away from the bustle of a busy stand and more importantly at The Print Show, consider their environmental impacts in relation to business practices. The park was strategically located opposite the stand for the FSC – the Forest Stewardship Council, which works to help consumers identify products from forest-friendly sources. It also encourages businesses to make a pledge to source sustainable materials and to responsibly dispose of paper waste.

Bringing the outside in at Park Life

The theme this year was to ‘energise your business’ by encouraging visitors to look at new ways of working and new areas of print to diversify into. I think the show is the perfect place where different aspects of the same, diverse industry can come together, share ideas and learn about new possibilities in print – we’ve only just scratched the surface.

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