Back from New Orleans

The SGIA Show is done. It was my 30th show since 1976. The only ones I missed were 2001 cancelled by 9/11, 2005 cancelled by hurricane Katrina (also in NO), and Minneapolis in 2004. I missed Minneapolis due to a scheduling conflict with a client in Italy.

I used to really look forward to SGIA. It was the biggest show of the year and it was where all the latest technology was unveiled. It was also home to the best printing awards program in the industry. There was always plenty of buzz and it was generally four days of nonstop go-go-go.

The show is still huge, but not quite as big as days gone by. I think the economy and changes in the industry, as well as changes with tradeshows in general have taken a toll. People don’t like to travel. It’s expensive and a big hassle anymore. Manufacturers, especially the equipment companies face a huge expense to get the production machines in for just a few days.

The biggest change has been in the complexion of the show. Ten years ago there were a smattering of digital ink jet companies. The industry was dominated by companies with a long history in screen print. That’s all changed now. Huge companies like HP, Efi, Agfa, and the like now dominate the floor space. There are at least a dozen high end ink jet printers in the $1 Million - $3 Million range. Vehicle wraps are all the rage. It’s a different game now.

As for textile garment screen printing, the show is a shadow of itself. I would say 75% of the exhibit space was directly or indirectly related to digital printing. Of the remaining 25%, only a fraction was solely focused on garments. Most of those companies were actually local distributors with reps from the main supplier companies in their booths. Not exactly what most of us had in mind. The companies that were exhibiting equipment for textile decorating were, guess what, digital DirectToGarment.

Gone are the days of ballrooms packed with 700 people for a seminar. Knowledge is so easily available now. The educational program that used to be foundational, is only a shadow of itself. The content of the seminars and workshops is as good as ever, but the attendance is a different story.

We’re watching the evolution of technologies. There really isn’t anything we can do to stop it, nor should we. Survival of companies traditionally focused on screen printing will depend on their ability to adapt to new technologies, but more importantly to connect and remain relevant to their customers and markets. This includes suppliers as well as printers.

The sources and channels of where we get our information are changing too. The close relationships between associations and industry press don’t seem to be as important. Search and the Internet have replaced the press release. There are still reviews out here, but they’re different now.

I know one thing for sure, the quality of the information is much more suspect because there’s no editorial review. Anyone and anybody can throw out a piece and the public will take it at face value. There are no credentials. Anyone and everyone can declare themselves an expert and nobody seems to even notice.

The one thing you can’t really replace is the ability to actually meet face-to-face with colleagues. The networking, for me, is the number one priority. In fact, I think I spent a total of 6 hours over the three days on the show floor. The rest of the time was spent outside the convention center with client and vendor meetings. The evenings as well were full of meetings. As long as the show acts as a central gathering point, it will continue to have real value.

We certainly live in interesting times. I wonder what all this is going to look like in a couple of more years?

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