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Carl Schell

Channel Strategy Session: Production Print and Risk vs. Reward

The opportunities are there, but dealers must be willing to take a chance

May 15, 2024 8:00:00 PM


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Emerson College is where the value of taking risks really began factoring into my life. I was surrounded by people who worked on films or in television; produced or engineered music; as well as actors, writers, and journalists—many of whom subscribed to the philosophy of high risk, high reward. Playing in a band for much of my time in the Boston area further cemented things in my expanding mind. After all, the creative process allows for coloring outside the lines, and the results can be beautiful no matter the medium.


When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States four years ago, many dealers that hadn’t already put focus on the “beyond print” part of their business had to diversify. They had to color outside the lines, and for good reason: With print volumes absorbing losses like the Washington Generals, many dealers were forced to concentrate on software solutions and (in essence) other things without a plug. But with some semblance of print normalcy being restored over the last two years, production print has emerged as a bigger topic of discussion, and for good reason…


The opportunities are relevant and bountiful.



Now, understanding just a fraction of the production print landscape can be overwhelming and daunting. Getting started basically boils down to your standard “time and money” issue, but if you don’t make the investment your competition will—period. The end. An obvious statement for dealers not even in the light production space, but for those with a presence in commercial print and wide format, are you also selling in labels/packaging and textile/apparel? Workflow software?


I’m doing my best to immerse myself more in production print. The road has been long and winding, but fun too (especially with fast fashion, given my love of graphic tees). I know that the simplicity and uptime of inkjet is very appealing, but what’s connecting me to the space most is exactly the reason why I enrolled at Emerson College: Communication, in its garden variety of delicious forms. And whether we’re talking about bills or catalogs, CAD drawings or billboard signage, a product box or a piece of décor, there is so much communication happening “beyond the print.” The print is what stirs emotions and feelings, yes, and when those emotions and feelings are positive, communication can lead to excitement. Excitement can lead to engagement. Engagement can lead to trust, and trust can lead to profit.


This is your true power of print.


FESPA took place in March, drupa arrives at the end of the month (first in-person edition since 2016), and then we have the run-up to PRINTING United (obviously a more convenient venue for dealers in the United States) in September. There are, of course, dozens of production print events throughout the year around the world. Attending shows can be expensive, so pay close attention to the announcements before and after them. Read production print news on a regular basis (did you know about this?). Do research, and a conversation never hurts—with your partners, your peers, anyone who wants to chat. All the education can help you figure out how much risk you want to take on in compared to the reward you’re seeking.


It’s a huge decision. Placing your first production device is not like selling the first cup of coffee in your new bodega. The competition, especially from the big guys, can be fierce. But we’ve seen Kyocera’s entry into production inkjet and we’re eager to see more. Sharp entered production print (that is, beyond light production) last year during its dealer event, and now the real building begins. We’re talking about big companies investing a lot of time and money into something they know won’t be an overnight sensation—and if they realize where the movement is, it’s probably a good sign where dealers should be as well.


“While you see a chance, take it.” Yeah, why the hell not.


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