Spring 2014: Mason's Musings

April 5, 2014

by Sid Chadwick


EDITOR’S NOTE: Industry veteran Dennis Mason was the envy of his suburban Chicago neighbors, as he escaped the 2014 Polar Vortex three times to attend events in Las Vegas (EFI Connect), Miami (GOA) and Orlando (Dscoop). But as you’ll see, he came back with a tan and a plan!

Some years ago, I visited the Lansing Farm near Dyersville, Iowa, where the movie Field of Dreams, starring Kevin Costner, was filmed. I’m sure many readers recall the story of Ray Kinsella, a baseball fan whose deceased father idolized Chicago White Sox great “Shoeless Joe” Jackson. While walking in his cornfield one day, Kinsella hears a voice saying, “If you build it, he will come,” and sees a baseball diamond. He turns the cornfield into a baseball diamond and is gratified to see not only Jackson but the entire Chicago “Black Sox” team.


Many printers, I’m afraid, lack Ray Kinsella’s confidence, opting instead for the “If they come, I will build it” approach. Too often, printers wait until customers ask for a particular service or printing option before offering it. But in 2014, customers can source their printing wherever they wish—the Internet has effectively leveled the geographic playing field. EFI Connect, Graphics of the Americas and Dscoop have carved out their own conferences—and people arecoming and exploring new opportunities. Here are some of my observations from these events.


In January in Las Vegas, I mingled with the sellout crowd of some 1,500 print owners and executives to learn the latest in print business management software and advanced printing devices at EFI’s annual Connect conference. The “fireside chats” that Guy Gecht, EFI’s charismatic president, has with visiting executives are always a highlight. The conversations are casual but surprisingly candid. Previous guests have included Indigo inventor Benny Landa and the CEOs of Adobe, Shutterfly, and Salesforce.com. This year, Gil Shwed, CEO of Check Point Software Technologies, joined Guy on stage. Check Point’s emphasis on computer security prompted Gecht to ask Shwed about the credit card terminal hacking events at various retail stores and led to a discussion about similar vulnerabilities in the printing industry. Shwed’s response was a bit discouraging but hardly unexpected: Printers may be particularly vulnerable, warned Shwed, because they often postpone buying the latest software and hardware and may relegate IT functions well down in the organization.

THE TAKEAWAY: Printers that do mailing or variable data printing are often privy to information that must be protected. Computer firewalls are imperative. Anti-intrusion software must be current and updated routinely. Employees with access to sensitive data should be bonded, just like those with access to financial information. Not only does customer data have value, it is generally entrusted to printers for a specific use, with implicit confidentiality. Inadvertent disclosure of social security numbers, email addresses, or other personal information can quickly bring a rash of bad publicity or even lawsuits. 


In a day when regional printing trade shows have essentially vanished in the United States—think Philadelphia, Charlotte, Dallas, Gutenberg in Long Beach—the Miami Beach show is a shining exception. Granted, the show is smaller than 20 years ago, but it continues to attract significant crowds not only from North America but from the Caribbean and Latin America, too. In 2014, after testing the waters in Orlando in 2011 and 2013, the show returned to its old Miami Beach Convention Center stomping grounds. George Ryan, President and CEO of the Printing Association of Florida, which owns and manages the show, practices what he preaches to his members: Printers must specialize and find a niche or be forever doomed to slug it out in a commodity business.

The Miami Beach show has survived by serving the south Florida market, as well as attracting winter-weary northerners and a significant contingent from south of the border. The show is a balance of exhibitors showing small-printer equipment and services and an exceptionally strong seminar program conducted in both English and Spanish. This event is a multilingual delight, with as many attendees speaking Spanish or Portuguese as English. Exhibitors interested in selling into Latin America have Spanish-speaking staff or translators on hand, and business is brisk throughout the three-day show. To bolster attendance from abroad, the show annually honors a printing executive from Latin America. 

THE TAKEAWAY: Although gray beards bemoan the fact that one rarely sees (or hears) a large offset press or a buckle folder at print shows today, Graphics of the Americas, like the industry it serves, has moved to digital and embraced the diversity of the 21st century. 


Florida was also the site of Dscoop9, which rolled into Orlando in March. Because Dscoop is a HP and Scitex users group conference, people often compare it to EFI Connect, but there are some key differences. While Dscoop enjoys a close working relationship with HP, it is an independent entity. The seminars at Dscoop focus primarily on business operations, while Connect—an EFI initiative—strives to make attendees more proficient users of EFI software. Both have vendor displays held in conjunction with the conference, with Dscoop attracting almost 100 expo participants. 

I wondered how the conference organizers would top Gary Vanerchuk’s 2013 keynote, but Jason Jennings and Scott Stratten were both excellent. Jennings is the author of The Reinventors, a book that reveals the secrets of companies like Starbucks, Apple, IKEA and Nucor Steel. Canadian Scott Stratten offered a humorous take on social media and QR codes. Stratten is president of UnMarketing, an agency that urges clients to stop marketing and start engaging.

THE TAKEAWAY: In less than ten years, Dscoop has become a major conference in the industry—one that shop owners and top managers pay to attend again and again.

DENNIS MASON is the principal of Mason Consulting and an associate editor for GreensheetBIZ.

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