13 January 2020

The Roaring Twenties; what printers look like in 2020 and beyond

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A new decade is coming, both literally and figuratively. Over the past few years, the print industry has changed, and new challenges are on the way. To get a sense for what is coming, we sat down with some of today’s industry leaders.

Our panel includes Scott Hudson, Director of Corporate Communications, Worth Higgins & Associates; Tami Marek, President & Chief Visionary Officer, The Marek Group; Curt Kreisler, President, Gold Star Graphics and Marketing; and Dean Petrulakis, Senior Vice President of Sales, Lake County Press.

Give us a snapshot of the print landscape in 2020.

Scott Hudson: It will be a great year for print. I think we will see variable data and personalization continue to grow and be utilized more than ever. We will also see continued growth of post-print embellishments helping pieces stand out to end-users. For us little guys, I hope we will see larger companies moving away from the large consolidators and back to independently owned printers, as the consolidation business model appears to be unsustainable.

Tami Marek: I believe the print landscape continues to change as technology becomes more ingrained in our lives. The reality is print is still relevant in today’s world; however, it is a very mature industry where only the strongest companies will survive. Market consolidation has been good for the survivors, as pricing has stabilized so companies are returning to profitability. The most challenging areas will be a lack of qualified employees, as it is harder and harder to motivate Gen X and millennials to enter the printing trade.

Curt Kreisler: I see more of the same. I think that inkjet is certainly coming, but it’s still a bit expensive, so the cost of entry is too high. Give it a few years and the adoption rate will increase. I hope that the economy stays strong, which increases demand and allows a little stronger margin.

Dean Petrulakis: More contraction and price pressure on printers who have not evolved into media companies and offer more beyond ink on paper. A continued demand by the market for education due to lack of knowledge on the part of people who are buying print along with other media. A continued surge in data-driven print, but also a demand for elegant print for brands that seek making an impact. 

What are the biggest trends driving your business and the industry at large?

Hudson: For us, building our wide format and signage divisions, as well as our promotional products division, will be our focus. As the printed page declines, these offerings are more important than ever. Moving to an omnichannel approach to include all facets of the industry will be key for printers in the coming decades. 

Marek: While technology has dampened the industry (people using various digital methods to consume information and communications), it has also helped drive industry profits. Many companies are leveraging technology to automate the manufacturing process, driving human touches out of the entire print workflow. This has not forced companies to pass these savings to the customer in every case. Instead, it has allowed them to keep the savings and realize more profits to the bottom line. Likewise, technology has allowed printing service providers to drive revenue. Whether it be web-to-print programs, multi-media campaigns or other technology driven solutions, print salespeople have more to offer their clients. Companies investing in rounding out their services portfolio can differentiate themselves and have meaningful conversations with their clients to help solve problems instead of simply bidding on the next print project. 

Kreisler: Wide format. It seems there is more demand for the varied applications all the time. 

Petrulakis: Continuing to find ways to make it as easy as possible for buyers to get what they need, i.e., web storefronts, print on demand. Large format is a huge growth area. Digital printing, specifically what’s coming with ink jet technology.

What will be the biggest challenge(s) for your business?

Hudson: As with many industries, finding employees in this gig economy proves difficult. Attracting, recruiting and retaining a strong workforce is very challenging. 

Marek: Finding good talent. Printing companies face a unique challenge because most young people do not find printing to be a thriving, exciting industry. Finding creative ways to hire will be important moving forward. As the industry sees digital and inkjet technology get better and faster, I also think navigating equipment investment will be challenging over the next five years. It will be hard to justify the “big iron” expense as run lengths continue to decrease while personalization becomes more relevant. I think this will be fascinating to watch evolve. 

Kreisler: Lack of labor is a big challenge and looks like it will be more so in the future. This includes labor for our company, but also for my suppliers, specifically repair, service and maintenance people. Trained and experienced individuals to repair offset and bindery equipment seems to be a bigger challenge than ever. 

Petrulakis: The continued compression of turn times. We are being asked to turn around jobs in shorter and shorter time frames. Everybody wants Amazon Prime. 

What will be the most critical technologies relevant to your business and industry moving forward?

Hudson: Faster, larger sheet size variable data equipment. 

Marek: Investing in automation-related technologies is key. As it becomes more challenging to hire good talent, using technology to expand business without hiring more people will become extremely important. Also, having technology solutions as part of the breadth of services offered by a service provider will help sustain and grow revenue as the printing market continues to contract. 

Kreisler: As I said, inkjet is coming. But I still think it is a bit ahead of its time. 

Petrulakis: Inkjet technology, and software that allows us to be more efficient in our workflow and eliminate extra touches and costs in the production process. 

What is the biggest item(s) on your to-do list in 2020?

Hudson: Continued growth and adding the right service offerings. 

Marek: We are focused on training our sales staff on consultative selling and speaking in the voice of the customer. No longer are the days where an equipment list is the focus of the conversations. People who come to us today have little knowledge about the craft of our industry. They simply want to know how you can solve their business problems and make their jobs easier. This selling requires relationship building, asking lots of layered questions and the fortitude to work a longer sales cycle. It also requires a traditional print salesperson who can speak in terms of value to the client and not price. This is an ongoing initiative that we plan to invest heavily in as we move from a transactional printing company to a turn-key marketing execution company. 

Kreisler: Develop labor, continue to look for attractive acquisitions, find a way to make customer portals profitable. 

Petrulakis: Expanding our digital and large format departments and the continued explosive growth of our fulfillment division.

*This article can be found in LeadingPRINT Magazine, Winter 2020 edition, Association for PRINT Technologies.

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