PRINTING United Alliance CEO Ford Bowers on 2023 Expo, Conditions in Print
As CEO of PRINTING United Alliance, Ford Bowers sheds some light on why the 2023 Expo is different than previous years, takes a look at the value of the Alliance, and shares what mindset can help keep businesses competitive.
PI: Compared to last year's Expo in Las Vegas, how is the 2023 Expo different?
Bowers: This year’s Expo is bigger – more booths, more square footage, more equipment, particularly in the apparel and label arenas. We’re also seeing more mailing and fulfillment equipment – a much bigger presence than last year. Also, based on attendee feedback, we’ve brought back our series of educational sessions. Similar to last year, we’re presenting a series of keynote presentations. Those were well-received.”
PI: In addition to presenting the Expo, PRINTING United Alliance is the primary trade association for the printing industry. From an industry standpoint, what is the value of a strong, member-rich industry association?
Bowers: Though there is much The Alliance offers, I’d like to talk about advocacy because it’s been on my mind this year. Our ability to influence regulations or legislation is directly linked to how many businesses – and how much GDP – we represent. The more voices we have, the more power we have. When you have a lot of voices, you get the full attention of lawmakers and regulators. One of the reasons Alliance dues are so low – a little more than a dollar a day – is that we want to represent the whole industry. We want to be sizable enough to really be able to throw our weight around. And overall, we’re on an upswing in membership.
PI: PRINTING United Alliance has grown through partnerships and strategic acquisitions. How do you see the Alliance growing in the years ahead?
Bowers: Looking forward, I definitely see the opportunity for more partnerships as we settle into what The Alliance is. Bringing four organizations together during a pandemic was quite an undertaking, and we continue to look for partners: looking for other associations to come here and have a presence at the Expo. It’s an opportunity to give them the platform we’re on to plug into. Will there be more mergers in the future? Yes, it’s a possibility. We’ll have to see how that goes. Generally, in those cases, we’re approached by other organizations.
PI: What does involvement with The Alliance bring to the individual company?
Bowers: We have a wide range of services and benefits our members can take advantage of. Our model is that you get a lot of great stuff without paying a lot of money for your membership. Things that are included: free attendance to the Expo, some of our research reports and deep discounts on others, access to our team of subject matter experts, discounted use of our iLEARNING+, and generous savings on conferences and events including our combined TAGA/color conference and a new leadership summit. The discounts make membership a no-brainer, and it’s for everyone in the company, whether you have 10 or 100 employees – same benefit.
PI: What has changed in the industry that has made a single, unified expo the best choice for the printing industry? Why is the ability to see outside of our own, segment-focused bubbles a positive thing?
Bowers: The industry is changing and continues to do so. On the printer side, getting out of the office and seeing all you need to see in one place saves money. It also brings all the technologies together so printers are allowed to look at all adjacencies, and what’s available (or new) this year. The strong presence of digital technologies has lowered the bar between industry segments, and barriers to entry are much lower than they used to be. What makes the Expo so dynamic is people are able to gain a much more expansive view of markets and solutions.
PI: The printing industry continues to evolve. What is a key development you’re keeping particular track of?
Bowers: And I think we’ve seen a wave of technological innovation with the equipment we use – it has become fairly mature. In terms of `speeds and feeds,’ as we call them, there is a plateau out there. What happens next is we will see more interdisciplinary innovation, where printers will take the technologies, combine them, and develop new products to bring to their customers. I’ll be interested to see what that wave of looks like, what people are actually doing, and how they are printing differently than they were five years ago.
PI: In your opinion, what’s one mindset today’s printing business should have in place to stay competitive?
Bowers: It’s the same one that I’ve had for a while, and it is that there is no such thing as a groove or a wave you can ride into the sunset. Everything is changing so quickly today – not just how you print, but also how businesses function. Printing businesses today need to continuously revise their strategies. There is always something to try to learn or master: it’s the nature of running or owning a printing organization now. You need to be in constant learn mode; constant calculation on course correction. And you have to approach it as fun – you’ve got to enjoy the ride.