PRINTING United Alliance 'Live and Local' Educational and Networking Event Hits Detroit
Call it demonstration of patience: a belief that, in time, favorable outcomes will come to the fore. For the business owners and top-level mangers who convened in Detroit on Oct. 17, this was demonstrated by the challenges facing business recovery from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. For the Detroit Lions, who unfortunately fell, 34 to 11, to the Cincinnati Bengals in a game attended by Live and Local attendees, it was demonstrated by a football season that has yet to catch fire. Maybe next year.
The Live and Local events, during which the PRINTING United Alliance is taking its message – and its insight about the current direction of the printing industry – to four cities (so far) across the United States, are provided through the generous sponsorship of HP Inc.
Scale and Approach
The second event, which was held at the Marriott Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit, Michigan, was kicked off by Ford Bowers, CEO of PRINTING United Alliance. During his presentation, Bowers highlighted the fragmentation of the printing industry and, as a result, the fragmented representation traditionally offered by printing industry associations. Noting that a single, consolidated industry association can, Bowers said, “punch at our weight as an industry,” he shared that the Alliance can help facilitate both a strong business climate and a healthy environment for business success.
Explaining the Alliance and its structure, Bowers presented it as a three-pronged organization consisting of a strong industry association, PRINTING United Alliance, which represents the breadth of the printing industry; an outstanding media company, NAPCO Media, whose print and online content currently generates more than 18 million interactions each year; and an events-focused effort that includes a global-scale printing trade show and 35 other in-person events, including networking, conferences, trainings, and unique hosted buyer events.
While Bowers acknowledged that the pandemic during past year and a half have slowed the progress of printing businesses worldwide, as well as the association and events that represent them, he stressed successes gained by the Alliance to “build an organization where every printer has a place they can come home to.”
David Wilaj, economist with PRINTING United Alliance, presented Live and Local attendees with a data-based depiction of the current state of the industry, gleaned from the soon-to-be-released "State of the Industry Survey Report," which includes the input of more than 250 printers across all segments.
Highlighting current challenges facing printing companies, Wilaj started with cost inflation, noting that companies, on average, have experienced an 10% cost increase in areas including substrates, ink, shipping, and energy. He also noted that printing companies are scrambling for employees: nearly 70% of survey respondents reporting they are having trouble hiring staff, and that these shortages are limiting production. Providing context, Wilaj reminded attendees that the printing industry depends on the broader economy, as it supports manufacturing and retail, both of which are affected by consumer confidence. Further, he stated that current supply disruptions will continue for some time, and that shipping delays will linger as a business challenge.
Wilaj — who presented a sneak preview of trends including the top concerns of printing companies, their efforts to deal with rising costs, and planned investments — presented the Alliance’s outlook that 2021 U.S. economic growth will be just under 7%, and 2022 growth just over 3%. He added that while 3% economic growth may not sound like much, it still beats pre-COVID growth figures. He said that not every printer will see growth in the same way, and that growth may be strongest among those who have taken steps to protect their businesses, and who are best prepared for a post-COVID business environment.
In a presentation that provided new data on convergence – the movement into adjacent markets to seek opportunity – Nathan Safran, VP of research for NAPCO Media, showed that 93% of printing companies see opportunity in other segments of the industry, and 32% have already started expanding into them.
“While convergence is happening everywhere,” Safran said, “packaging is the hot market.” He noted that the label segment is seeing particularly strong interest among commercial printers, largely due to its relatively low cost of entry. Additionally, Safran highlighted that 73% of packaging producers are currently looking to expand into other packaging markets. Digital transformation in numerous print segments, he said, has served, “as a catalyst for change, industry convergence, and profitability.”
Continuing his illustration of digital printing and transformation, Safran stated the growing importance of digital technologies with two compelling figures. First, he said, Alliance data shows that nearly all commercial printers are using cut-sheet digital output devices. Second – and equally important – is that 88% of print customers are now requesting digital printing solutions.
Looking toward the future, Safran concluded his presentation by saying printers of all types seeking to converge should evaluate opportunities carefully, expand into segments that can take advantage of current technologies or expertise, and locate and utilize the right technology partners.
The HP Perspective
Providing the viewpoint of Live and Local event sponsor HP Inc., Jeff Dowd, business development lead, North America, noted that the COVID-19 crisis has caused certain industry trends to accelerate. Brands today, he offered as an example, are increasingly using data, insight, and ever-evolving supply chain agility to drive business forward. He added that they are seeking ways to innovate, customize, target, stand out, and personalize in order to drive marketing ROI. To this mix he added brands’ increasing interest in both sustainability and data security — “trends” that are becoming essential.
According to Dowd, to truly meet the needs of these brands means digital transformation. He illustrated his point with the following concept: “You can’t solve 21st Century problems with a 130-year-old technology.” Dowd added that brands are increasingly putting their trust in digital technology in general, and in HP in particular, to meet their own brand standards. He urged companies to “think digital first,” stating it’s the only way to demonstrate value versus price.
Regarding growth strategies, Dowd urged companies to consider how they want to grow: through access to new markets, by adding applications, or by doing something new. In each case, he said, HP has solutions to help printing businesses grow.
Somewhere among the opportunities and business-focused data presented to the Detroit Live and Local attendees, and amid the boisterous crowds and network-building of the NFL game, a community was formed. Strangers became friends, mysteries turned toward strategies, and the deep value of a strong, industry-wide association — PRINTING United Alliance — was revealed. In his analysis of the event, HP’s Jeff Dowd put it directly and succinctly: “Tremendous event, great learning, great people — a pretty great day.”