February 2005
Why care about students?
Watch out. They might be your customers tomorrow, or even your boss
Print Ontario, which took place late last November, was by all accounts a very successful trade show. There was an upbeat mood throughout the hall and most exhibitors reported good sales and plenty of solid leads. Attendance was strong with visitors coming from each of the provinces and 21 U.S. states. There were even some overseas visitors from Britain, India, Japan and Brazil.

And yes, on Monday, the last day of the show, there was the usual contingent of students from Ryerson University, the colleges and the high schools. Most exhibitors handled the students well, answering questions and giving out literature. Some of the smarter exhibitors even went out of their way to get students involved in demos and presentations.

However, not everyone is happy about having students visit the show and there were a few exhibitors who objected to them being there. One exhibitor even suggested that students should simply be banned from printing trade shows. I don’t understand this attitude and despite all the years I have been in this industry, I cannot figure it out. Yes, students don’t buy anything and some of them can be a pain, but some printers can be a pain too, and there are one or two exhibitors who can be a real pain.

In truth, most students are more than worth the effort exhibitors devoted to them. All the students who came to Print Ontario paid to get in. They came want-ing to learn more about the industry they would soon join. For most exhibitors the students are where they can expect a lot of their long-term growth to come from. It’s a lot easier to sell products or services to a person who is new to the industry (i.e. students) instead of the printer who has been using your competitor’s product for the last 20 years. Banks and car companies, for example, spend a lot of money advertising to college and university students not for what they can buy now but what they will be able buy in future.

The students who came to the show are in this industry by choice, not by accident. Most have invested three to four years of their time in school and a fair amount of money in tuition fees. They have paid much more than the price of admission to the show to get into this industry.

Despite the antics they pull at times—just what do they do with those bagfuls of posters?—they really are serious about the printing business and they represent the long-term future of this industry. Suppliers who don’t want to be bothered with students should look around the industry. An awful lot of current managers and owners used to be graphic arts students. The student you didn’t want to see at the show may become your new buyer in less time than you think (most Ryerson grads end up in management positions within a few years of graduating). Some suppliers like Hostmann Steinberg, Xerox and Sun Chemical have been hiring graduate students to work in their offices, so it might get even worse than you think. That student you ignored could become your boss tomorrow.
Alexander Donald is the publisher of Graphic Monthly Canada.
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