What is more important, who attended , or who did not?
This past week Amsterdam hosted the first major print trade show for the western markets since Drupa 2020 was cancelled. The energy was as palpable as it was contagious: FESPA-21 was a much better contagion for business than COVID-19!
The biggest surprise was how many attendees were there. After speaking with several of them it was clear these were knowledgeable people (about their business) who were focused on their next step, and looking to be informed on what was now available to them. They identified themselves as either the decision-maker or the influencer for their company. This is gold for salespeople. For the vendors who chose to exhibit (more on this point follows) they appear to have made the best use of the ‘COVID time-out’. Improvements to existing devices; larger capacity in regard to both throughput and size and and a lot of new faces. They weren’t just trying to sell existing inventory, there was ‘newness’ to the offerings. Exhibitors were genuinely excited to be face-to-face with both new and familiar prospects. Attendees were eager, curious, and asked probing questions about innovation, improvement and availability. Interestingly, supply chain issues were addressed but were not perceived as a blocker to becoming productive again.
Ok, I will be blunt. Where the fuck were the major players? Sure, Durst, Canon, Agfa and EFI had large booths. But they do not comprise all the vendors that offer equipment, software and consumables to the the print industry. Maybe the no-shows felt they do not have a market in the attendees? Maybe they are finding a better way to spend the marketing dollars to the direct benefit of their target customers?
Sustainability and green issues were present to varying degrees in many of the booths. Hearing several vendors take on just what sustainability, carbon footprints and being green actually means was eye opening. The topic was treated as a marketing tagline, not as vital information for the ecological needs of maintaining the planet. If the customer demands facts before buying, the seller will respond. It is how business works. INKISH will be exploring this ‘Tower of Babel’ of green and sustainable processes and just how sustainability and green status is achieved and monitored.
As for safe practices, the directions for exhibition hall comportment were spelled out in the registration process. “Masks are required to be worn on the exhibition floor”. Virtually no one had masks. This writer is guilty on this point. But I am thrice vaccinated and had three PCR tests in the 10 days prior to the exhibit. Not likely the case for the majority of attendees. Safety and courtesy are personal responsibilities. Secondly, “no printed material was to be handed out, only a QR code was to be used to request materials.” OK, it is impossible to ignore the irony of a print trade show disallowing printed handouts. Turns out though, there were plenty of printed handouts. For the few that followed the guidelines, this was not good for them. It is not good for the industry.
INKISH spoke to many of the smaller businesses, the niche players who exhibited. Frankly, this was exciting. Survivors, every damn one of them, looking to succeed. Yes, they are in the ‘cheap seats’, the ‘bleachers’ of the exhibition floor. They used the opportunity to show-off their wares, or network with this concentration of qualified prospects. Though they may be small businesses when compared to a global behemoth, do not underestimate their role in print, from the guy offering industrial squeegees to silk screen T-Shirt producers, to car wrap demonstrations. These manufactured products hit the streets and have huge visibility. If you ever go outside and mingle with humanity, you will see someone wearing a T-Shirt with their favorite rock band or some clever saying. Or just look in your dresser drawer!
Perhaps with fewer major companies in the exhibit hall, there was enough oxygen remaining for others to breath. For the niche providers, the replacement part distributor, the small shop software developer, this became a chance to get exposure. Small businesses simply do not have the marketing budget to compete with the bigger players, whether that is in print, digital media channels or global sales forces. The networks they rely on are difficult to build, are always tenuous, and just difficult to maintain.
Trade shows like the FESPA experience are excellent venues to build those relationships and networks. Trust being the glue that holds relationships together, trade shows should be the romantic restaurant to meet a network partner for life.
Yes, the Face-to-Face experience still rules the best relationships. Trade shows offer that opportunity. How can that facet be supported, enhanced and become more of the experience every business can use? INKISH will continue to track the value of trade shows and other marketing instruments available to the print and graphics industry.