22 April 2018

On the hunt for unicorns at the NEC

Expectations are high for a decent crowd at Sign & Digital UK this week, a welcome contrast to recent turn outs, whether at the NEC or not, affected by the weather or not. Even with Fespa on the horizon, the UK's sign makers, display printers and more than a fair sprinkling of commercial printers will make the journey along the M42 and M6. There will even be a few product launches to greet them, some suppliers choosing this event over the big one in a few weeks.

What they will also see is that as well as printing PVCs, papers, films and where appropriate solid boards, the machinery is capable of printing textiles, packaging substrates, wall coverings, floorings and more. The clear message is that for all suppliers to thrive they must convince more markets and some customers to 'go digital'. Existing customers may be reluctant to follow their suppliers to pastures new. Expanding into new markets means understanding new customers and new sectors and appreciating the supply chain structures they will be disrupting.

This will be too tall an ask for many printers. There are those that will prefer to optimise established workflows and work with existing customers to find the new products that will drive demand. Or who will fall back on keen pricing to entice new business, margins suffering as a consequence. But the opportunity is there for those companies brave enough to step outside their comfort zone and resilient enough to acquire new knowledge to graft to existing experience. For them, there is the early mover advantage, the reality distortion field of the start up. Not every move will succeed, in which case the thought of the day is 'fail fast', but it only requires one or two to work to perhaps transform a moribund print business into something of an fabulous success, a company the tech world calls a unicorn.

Gareth Ward