Trade Shows and Industry Events: A Changing, but Still Relevant Landscape

As trade exhibitions continue to change and grow, David Osgar looks at the relevancy and importance of live events for wide-format printers and signage companies wanting to succeed and grow

David Osgar
April 3, 2024
Technology and digital signage expo ISE 2024 attracted over 70,000 visitors in Barcelona last January

From The Pub Show to The UK Concrete Show, there really is an exhibition for almost everything. Despite recent challenges such as the pandemic, energy costs, and transportation issues, exhibitions and live events have endured, simply because they need to in order for a lot of day-to-day life to continue.

Within sectors like marketing or publishing, individuals debate over how consumers engage with and consume content, but there are few alternatives or arguments against the effectiveness of live events.

Trade shows and exhibitions have become not only lucrative for sign-makers and wide-format printers as a revenue stream for supplying signage and prints needed for exhibition stands and graphics, but also as places to visit and exhibit to gain new customers and partners.

Following exhibitions such as Printwear and Promotion LIVE!, Sign and Digital UK, and Packaging Innovations & Empack in recent months, Craig Brown, managing director of the International Signage Association (ISA) UK, spoke about the importance of in-person conversations after being told “the art of small talk was dead”.

The biggest question for many business owners is: “Is it worth my time out of the office?

Posting on LinkedIn, Brown said: “Nothing I see, whether that be through a Teams call, a trade show, a phone call, or even an impromptu meeting suggests that this is remotely true. People will always buy from people over a faceless organisation, so please don’t get on the bandwagon suggesting personal engagement isn’t necessary.

“Learn to hone your people skills. Long live small talk and the opportunity it gives to get to know people a little bit better.”

Whether it be exhibiting at a local trade show to promote your signage business to potential customers or becoming a visitor yourself to a large exhibition held in the UK or further afield, industry events offer a number of benefits for businesses which we will outline in this article.

That being said, the biggest question for any business owner or valuable employee will still be, “Is it worth my time out of the office?”

Changing Landscapes

Over the last few years trade exhibitions, especially within the print and signage industries, have ebbed and flowed with changes in the industry and organisers have had to assess the best way to attract visitors and exhibitors.

In 2018, long-running print exhibition, IPEX, closed following a 140-year-old history catering to the print and graphic arts industry. The show which ran every four years is remembered as failing largely due to its decision to move from Birmingham’s NEC to London Excel triggering an exodus of major exhibitors.

Another exhibition which takes place every four years is drupa, a large printing equipment show in Düsseldorf, Germany. The exhibition has also recently been affected by global challenges as the 2020/2021 edition of the show was delayed by the pandemic, instead taking place this year, meaning there have been eight years since the last event.

Recently, garment decoration event Printwear and Promotion LIVE! combined with Sign and Digital UK to bolster its offerings to attendees as the lines between print, signage, and branding become more blurred.

Many exhibitors at the co-locating shows agreed that visitors were trickling onto stands from both shows and realising the potential of diversifying and expanding their business in new ways.

Co-locating with FESPA Global Print Expo, the recent European Sign Expo 2024 was hailed as the largest-ever event held by FESPA as the floorspace increased by over 1,000sq m, representing a 56% growth compared to the 2023 event.

FESPA Global Print Expo took place between March 19th to 22nd in RAI Amsterdam

Speaking ahead of the event, Michael Ryan, head of FESPA Global Print Expo and European Sign Expo, said: “Our European Sign Expo event welcomes thousands of visitors every year to explore countless opportunities in signage and visual communications, and we’re excited to grow on that this year.”

This year’s FESPA Global Print Expo included the European Sign Expo, the Personalisation Experience, and the first-ever Sportswear Pro 2024, a testament to the opportunities for signage and graphic industries to diversify.

Elsewhere and the VM and Display Show is an example of how businesses and employees throughout the visual industries use exhibitions to reach new audiences and explore new solutions.

Ian Hoole, finance manager at The Sign Group, which exhibited for the first time last year, told SignLink at the 2023 event: “We’re here to show our products, and hopefully get sales from it. We don’t fit as a traditional exhibitor [not working directly with retailers] but we’re hoping we can use our network of sign companies to liaise with potential leads to benefit all parties.”

Still Buying Shows

Alongside the networking opportunities, it goes without saying that the main benefit to exhibitors at any trade show is to either sell equipment or promote services and in turn make money. For visitors, events enable you to source the hottest new equipment, see demonstrations, and make comparisons between technologies all in one room.

At The Print Show 2023, HP expanded its Latex range with its new entry-level 630-Series, making white ink technology available to print-service-providers. This new technology was launched at 12pm on the first day of the show on both the Colyer and Perfect Colours stands.

After seeing the technology at The Print Show 2023, DMA Signs became the first in the UK to purchase the new HP Latex 630 kit from Colyer due to being impressed by its design and ability to provide fast print speeds.

Similarly at Sign and Digital UK this year, Mimaki presented three new printers, the UCJV330-160 LED UV integrated printer/cutter, the new TxF300-75 direct-to-film printer,  and the new UJV100-160 Plus LED UV printer. On the first day of the event, exhibitor and Mimaki reseller PrintMax sold the first UK release of the UCJV330, demonstrating that visitors still very much attend trade shows to buy.

The Print Show 2024 will run from September 17th to 19th at the NEC Birmingham

Eddie Tucker, managing director of Liyu UK, said at the 2023 Print Show: “The UK needs to start investing more and getting back on its feet, and shows like this show that in the way they are growing and creating a buzz.”

And if visitors aren’t quite ready to put their hands in their pockets and make a purchase there and then at an exhibition, just seeing the technology in action could spark business later down the line.

Speaking at The Print Show 2023, managing director of Axzyra, Steve Woods, said: “There’s been a constant flow of people in which you had time to talk to everyone and then follow that up with potential demonstrations or conversations after the show.”

With some large-scale exhibitions having decreased and events like drupa only coming around every four years, we have seen the rise of more focused, local events where manufacturers and suppliers have joined forces to demonstrate their offerings. These events also provide the perfect opportunity to follow up on leads made at larger exhibitions and keep interest piqued.

At the end of 2023, supplier of laser and engraving machines, Trotec partnered with the likes of Mimaki, Drytac, and Soyang to demonstrate the possibilities of laser and print technologies.

There’s a plethora of suppliers and speakers as well as the general networking and seeing the trends in the industry, even if you’re not in a position to buy a product or service at the moment, you can go to look for ideas and set plans for the future

At the event, Bryan Jater, sales director at Trotec, said: “We want to give people a thorough overview because there will be a lot of people who use our machines that don’t use Mimaki machines but the two have such synergy.

“We thought let’s try and get Mimaki people looking at lasers, laser people looking at Mimaki, and also bring in some substrate suppliers as well.”

The open day is another example of suppliers collaborating as earlier discussed by Ryan, but also demonstrates how small and large events can coincide as they both demonstrate the benefits of getting up close and personal with machinery, substrates, and new solutions.

While event calendars can often get very full and busy business periods can make heading out of the office seem unappealing, it is clear that trade exhibitions and industry events are here to stay. Their relevancy and the benefits they offer continue to grow as businesses continue to diversify and look for the latest developments in technology and seek the latest trends and hot topics to learn about.

Echoing this point ahead of the 2023 Print Show, The Online Print Coach, Colin Sinclair McDermott said: “Anyone who's involved in the industry needs to be at this event, if you’re putting it off because you’re too busy or can’t afford the time out of the office, it’s a no brainer. Get cover or close the office if you have to, you’ll get so much for being involved in this event to take back and work on your business.

“There’s a plethora of suppliers and speakers as well as the general networking and seeing the trends in the industry, even if you’re not in a position to buy a product or service at the moment, you can go to look for ideas and set plans for the future.”

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