Quick Printing
October 2004
Trade shows make better printers
Are you creative? Do you enjoy marketing and like to think up new ideas for increasing sales and winning new customers? Are you curious about the future?

Well, there’s a place where printers can go to stimulate their creative sides, flood their heads with lots of good marketing ideas, and steal a peek at the direction their competitors will be moving in: the graphic arts trade show. I’d like to share why I think trade shows are an often-over-looked source of inspiration and competitive advantage.

Now, I have a favour to ask. Before 75% of you stop reading—because you don’t go to trade shows—I’d like you to bear with me and consider my arguments. I’ve attended about 80 trade shows during my 21-year printing career and can tell you from experience that every time I weigh the decision to attend the next one, I find myself thinking some negative thought like, “I’m too busy to go this time,” or “Something will happen when I’m gone,” or “There’s probably nothing on display or being presented in the seminars that I haven’t seen or heard before.” But then, after I’ve made the effort to attend the trade show, I come home inspired, motivated, fired-up and ready to make a fresh commitment to my life’s work: printing. Graphic arts trade shows have an amazing ability to lift your spirit and give you an energy boost. Here are my top five reasons why trade shows are a source of inspiration.

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1. Marketing ideas I’m always looking for fresh ways to help me sell more printing. After more than 20 years in this business, my ideas tend to get a little stale and I need fresh sources of inspiration. At trade shows, your mind will be inundated with new products, new paper colours and textures, new software programs, and new services to offer your customers. You also have the opportunity to pick up dozens of pieces of printed sales literature designed by some of the world’s best designers. You or your print shop’s designers can use these brochures for inspiration or to borrow ideas that can help your marketing efforts.

2. Equipment trends I attended a PrintImage convention in Las Vegas in February, 2003, where I spotted a big colour printer that was about 1000 times better than what I was using. Sales of big colour prints had gradually declined to practically nothing at my print shop. Looking at the current generation of large-format printers, it occurred to me that my output quality had become so poor/non-competitive, that my customers were probably going elsewhere. So, I bought the new Epson Stylus Pro 9600 and within three months our big colour sales had improved dramatically. It is still a small part of our overall business, but now we have a consistent $500 to $700 net profit centre each month that I had previously been missing. If it weren’t for that Las Vegas trade show, I’d still be missing it. As printers, we all need to pay attention to how new equipment can help us become more productive and profitable.

3. Optimism and hope OK, OK, I know this probably sounds a little too touchy-feely for some of you guys, but I always get a lift when I attend a printing trade show or conference. I get re-charged and enthused about the printing industry every time. The time and money I invest in my career by attending trade shows makes me want to carefully study the new ideas being presented there. Also, I enjoy the opportunity to rub shoulders with a lot of smart people who also attend. There’s a good chance that if you’re a business owner, you’re an optimist by nature… but you’ll benefit by taking care of yourself, and nurturing your optimism by allowing all of the sights, sounds, and people at a trade show to lift your spirits.

4. Educational opportunities Every trade show features educational seminars. Do you take advantage of these opportunities to connect with industry experts and pick their brains? My steadfast determination to manage my business instead of letting my business manage me came directly as a result of attending these seminars. Through the years, I’ve made hundreds of thousands of dollars from good ideas that I’ve implemented from seminars I’ve attended. Let’s think about that for a minute. Maybe I’ve invested about $30,000 attending seminars, but had resultant profits of $100,000—that’s not a bad return on your investment, is it? Do you really think you cannot afford to take the time and money to attend? (I would personally like to invite you to attend my seminar at the upcoming Print Ontario 2004 in November in Toronto. I’ll be sharing 23 terrific marketing ideas to help you improve your print shop.)

5. Being gone makes your print shop stronger. For years, the first thing I’d look for at a seminar was the pay phone so I could call my print shop to see if everything was all right. Once, many years ago, I asked one of my employees if they had any questions, and she said, “Yes, we made a list of three things.” She then proceeded to ask me: 1. “Where do we buy toilet paper? We ran out.” 2. “A big job that we’d been working on is finished. Should we deliver it early or just let the customer pick it up tomorrow as promised?” 3. “Our Heidelberg sales rep will be in town tomorrow when you’re gone, what should we tell him?”

When I heard her, I realized I’d made my employees way too dependent on me. Now, when I take a day or two off to attend a trade show I tell my staff to “fix the problems as they occur, you’re a good problem-solving team—and I trust you.” Guess what? They do great, and I can relax. You can use your absence at a trade show as a mini-training class to help your print shop become self-managing.

So, there you have it, my top five reasons why graphic arts trade shows are a lot of fun and a great source of inspiration. The next time you have an opportunity to attend, I hope you’ll consider your decision from a fresh perspective.

On a different note, my new website has gone live. If you’d like to visit, please visit www.MikeStevens.com, I’ve got lots of good information for printers there. Until next time, happy printing!
Mike Stevens is one of North America’s most successful small printers. He owns Express Press in Fargo, North Dakota. Starting with sales of $10,900 a month in 1985, volume now exceeds $250,000 per month. You can reach him at mikestevens@expresspressusa.com or visit www.expresspressusa.com.
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