Wed, Aug

There’s no business like show business

Make the most of your talents by taking to the road and flaunting your capabilities and business knowledge.

Want to show off your talents? Then stage it so that you play to the biggest audiences possible. Scour the events and shows listings, highlight those that will attract the customers you most want to impress and get your act together. Using exhibitions outside the print trade arena could be the making of you in 2011.

We know the drill by now – diversify or drift into the background as digital wide-format matures and increased competition takes the shine off margins in mainstream business. With printers (and suppliers) looking for new opportunities to build revenue, attending shows in vertical markets is a great way of investigating niche sectors and finding potential business.

Take the Surface Design Show, which runs from 15 – 17 February this year at the Business Design Centre in London. Focusing exclusively on interior and exterior surface solutions in building design, the show attracts architects, interior designers and specifiers. The theme for 2011 is Material Thinking, the intention being for the show to highlight the thinking that goes on in the development and selection of materials for architecture and design. Looking at the exhibitor list at the time of going to press, there was a dearth of print substrate suppliers or printers – but don’t let that put you off what is a relatively small show. As a visitor you could still make some useful observations about trends in the sector, but imagine what you could gain if you exhibited novel printed surface applications to this much-sought after potential customer-base?

Egham-based Signbox certainly sees the value. For over 25 years the company has been involved in delivering conceptual design and graphics for architectural signage and exhibits at various shows, including off-the-wall events like The Sleep Event in London last November. Its diary this year again includes the Surface Design Show.
If the burgeoning interiors print sector is in your sights you likely have the imminent Interiors show (23 – 26 January, NEC, Birmingham) on your ‘must-attend’ list. But again, what about exhibiting as opposed to merely visiting? Who knows what could come your way. For instance, Christine Thwaites of Mushroom Art will be attending the event looking for a printer that can reproduce the company’s fine art watercolours onto canvas-backed chairs. Having prototyped and produced two such chairs for an exhibition last October, she sees a potential demand but is finding it difficult to source a printer that can handle what will initially be low volumes and at a price attractive to Mushroom Art.

“We have been investigating printing onto textiles for a year or two and have had two small printing companies print images onto artist's canvas using dye sublimation. We’re also interested in printing our botanical images onto silk or other fine fabrics for a series of luxury cushions. But, if we search for printers we often get bamboozled by the science and we want an easier route to finding them too. Hence, we visit exhibitions like Interiors and would love to see printers there who can do we’re looking for,” says Thwaites.

“While my order may be low volume, I’m sure there are other show visitors who are in a similar position to me. I can’t help but feel that if print companies that could handle unusual jobs like this would exhibit at the kinds of shows I attend, then they would perhaps attract the attention of other, similar visitors, making it economically worth their while.”

Antony Baglioni, business development director for BAF Graphics, which produces and installs large-format digitally printed and photographic imagery for use in interiors, decor and retail merchandising, agrees that much can be achieved by targeting shows and events in vertical customer markets.

“Specialising as we do in supplying clients with complete solutions and developing something completely individual with large-format technology, BAF Graphics has been attending shows in vertical markets for the past few years. They are a fantastic platform to demonstrate the convergence between graphic design and interior design, and we believe that by taking this approach we are then ideally placed to help designers, architects, interior designers and so on understand just what they can achieve through large-format digital print.

“I would say that it’s only recently that visitors to these shows have become much more relevant, and started to really understand just what it is we can offer and how this can be applied in their sector, whatever that may be. With this new level of understanding, now the time is definitely right for diversification, and printers with an in depth knowledge, such as BAF has, and who specialise in large- format digital print, should find that there are plenty of opportunities for new business in markets perhaps not previously explored.”

Other print companies are beginning to see the light too. Boyall Graphics, Northampton, handles a variety of large-format bespoke work, a key revenue stream being vending machine graphics. Marketing manager Paul Hickmott says: “We print directly onto the plastic panels of vending machines with our Virtu machine. You’ve got to keep pushing forward and finding new markets and customers. We have been attending vending exhibitions and shows for some time. At these events we wander around rather than have a stand – the reason being that it’s the other exhibitors (vending machine manufacturers/suppliers) who we need to talk to and explain what we can do. They themselves might order graphics, but even where agencies are involved it is often the vending machine company that will tell them where they can go to get them printed! It’s a good use of time – a couple of days at one of these events can really pay off.”

Annette Christie, business development executive for the Simpson Group, finds attending exhibitions in key vertical markets a worthwhile exercise too. “For many years we have been attending Food and Drink and Gift shows in Scotland to support our clients and also target new prospects. We have never attended as an exhibitor but go as a visitor. That’s because it’s the exhibitors who tend to be the people we want to talk to. For instance, at the Food and Drink show the exhibitors are retailers (of food and drink). They may have our POP stands on their stand so we go and talk to them about what more we can do to help them. We also go to those who don’t have POS and try and convince them that we could help them. The other visitors are the brands/creatives – so we aim to target them too.

“Currently we are looking at all sorts of ways of getting into new markets so attending a show in a vertical market as an actual exhibitor is something for consideration longer term.”

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