Pathways to the Brain Trust – SGIA Congress of Committee’s Success

Last fall I was invited to participate in the 2014 SGIA Congress of Committees in Fort Lauderdale.  This event, held this past week, brought together the top print industry professionals for a series of meetings that focused exclusively on how the Specialty Graphic Imaging Association can improve, develop, and strengthen their impact for the companies they serve.  It was an amazing event, and I was honored to participate and represent Visual Impressions and the garment decorator industry as a whole.

If you aren’t a member of the association, I’d like you to explore the opportunity for a few moments.  The SGIA is an association that only has one purpose; to make your business stronger.  In the headline above I called it the “Pathway to the Brain Trust” and that’s exactly what the association delivers.  While the event I attended was a mash-up of the who’s who in the print industry, the association taps these people for their experience, skill, and creative imagination to try to understand not only what’s happening in the printing industry now, but where it’s going in the future.  Huge amounts of resource materials are available to you as a member, as well as access to just about anything that could positively affect your business.  With a groundbreaking print industry trade show, and an outstandingly written journal, members have the business advantage over their competitors.  Check out the association website and see for yourself – www.sgia.org.

I participated in three committee meetings, but had more discussions in between or around the events as well.  Here are some tidbits of information that I think others may be interested in learning:

Tag Words & Accurate Information.  Each association member has the ability to tag their company with words that will show up in a search function.  Unfortunately, a good number of companies don’t accurately portray their company with tags.  The association uses a referral network, http://www.sgia.org/printer_search/  to direct these searches.  SGIA is continually being approached by your potential customers looking for a new vendor.  This is a great way to maximize your membership, as they gave out over 8,000 referrals last year.  To make sure you have the ability to get these referrals, make sure your SGIA membership profile is accurately filled out with great tags that portray all the offerings your company provides.  Also, make sure that your company’s contact information is filled out as well as well.  A good number of the referrals come back with statements that they can’t get a response from the company’s they have contacted.  This is future business opportunities that go missed because of inaccurate information or staff that don’t return a phone call.

SGIA is Revamping Their Website.  A lot of hard work and thought has gone into their Drupal-based website redesign.  They hope to have everything launched and running in March.  There will be added content and it will be more user friendly for members looking for information.

Benefits & Services.  – Besides the plethora of webinars, articles, great content in the journals, SGIA is working to add some new benefits this year.  Some of these include discounts on UPS shipping, credit card processing, the ability for web to print online storefronts, and discounts on software like Corel.

SGIA Journal.  This is one of the best resources on the market for print companies.  I don’t know if you have picked up a recent copy, but each issue is packed with great articles all positioned to make your company better.  If you are a garment decorator, there are now 4 issues a year just for our industry.  What’s really great about the journal is that the folks at SGIA spend a good amount of time compiling the information and authors for each issue.  There’s only 30% of the issue devoted to advertising, so the pages are crammed with information.  The top thought leaders in the print industry are the authors too.

-Sustainability.  One of my favorite topics.  I’m proud of the fact that SGIA takes a lead position on this topic.  During the committee meeting here’s what I learned:

-SGIA has definitely defined itself in the conversation as the leading expert in sustainability education.  The Peer to Peer group meetings are a great way to start the journey for companies.  A good number of them use this as the launching point for their sustainability journey and most end up becoming SGP Certified printers.  (www.spgppartnership.org)

-Sales Force Training. There could be some development education for sales force training.  After all, what good is it to have a sustainability program if you can’t get the message out about the good you are doing?  Your sales force or customer service team needs to be able to accurately discuss your program with intelligence and understanding.  What is the benefit to your customer?  Why should they care?

-SGIA is the trusted advisor to companies building their programs.  Information on energy reduction, carbon footprint calculations, how to recycle, examinations of the soft costs of sustainability, inks & chemicals, and other hot button issues are all available to SGIA members.

-Shop Towel Rule – this landmark regulation is in your lap as a shop, but do you know anything about it?  Even if you use a third party contractor to handle your shop towels, you are still affected by this law.  You “own” this process, and how the shop towels are handled, treated, disposed of, or laundered still affects you.  You need the complete chain of custody for your shop towels, and need to understand where the waste water is going.  Look at your contracts folks.

Garment Decorator Meeting Notes.  There was some healthy discussion here on numerous topics that Garment Decorators face every day.  Some of the better discussions were focused on:

-Employee Training.  How to find and recruit better employees?  How to train the ones we have?  SGIA already has some good resources online and in the journal, but they will be adding to the discussion more information this year too.  Have you taken advantage of the information on the website?  There are tons of information on wage comparisons, how-to training guides, pre-written job descriptions, webinars, and other videos that you can use.

-E-Commerce.  We had some great conversations about how companies are increasing their e-commerce platforms and how to make it easier for others to use.  Websites that have good customer service and employee social media strategies have better success.  Social media is driving the bus, but your market niche is the road you need to be traveling on.  Find out where your customers are, and use the social media channel that works best to target them.  Younger markets are using Instagram.  Business professionals are on LinkedIn.  More families and moms use Facebook.  Posting on Fridays is the best, but for e-mail blasts send these out on Saturdays, when your audience has more time to read them.

-On-shoring.  More orders are coming back to the US for production.  With increased costs for labor and transportation, it seems that some of the larger jobs that would be outsourced to firms in other countries are coming back to the United States for production.

-“Burst” Production.  This was the new term I learned at the meetings.  This simply is the ability to handle inconsistent and sometimes high volume work at a moment’s notice.  More companies are strategically placing themselves ready for this as they develop the infrastructure and capacity for this by having production available for work.  Presses could sit idle with downtime in between jobs, and Bam!; get booked for jobs that have tighter deadlines.  This is a value add for companies looking for contract printing and part of the new wave of on-shoring production.  Funny, all this time I thought that this was just normal production in the garment industry.  Now I have the accurate name for it.

     -SGIA at MAGIC.  This has been a huge success and SGIA is continuing this as a good recruitment tool for the association.  If you don’t know, MAGIC is the largest apparel show in the United States and concentrates on the retail fashion market.  A lot of printers attend this show, as you can get a good sense as to where the t-shirt industry is heading for design motifs, colors and trends.  SGIA has partnered with some garment decorating industry manufacturers and positioned a press demonstration in the Sourcing area at MAGIC.  This led to some great interactions and has positioned SGIA as the “Best of the Best” for industry knowledge.  Because of this there was some discussion as to the viability of doing the same thing for the PPAI or ASI shows.

     -Wearable Technology.  This is a wave of the future coming to you.  There was some interesting discussion, both at the committee meeting and also during some dinner networking events, on this subject.  This subject is how companies such as Nike, adidas, Apple and others are positioning sensors and other devices in the garments.  These can be interfaced with devices for bio-feedback, music, lighting, heat sources or other fantastic ideas.  How are these to be printed?  How can these garments be decorated later?  Can your company be part of this future?

All in all, the SGIA Congress of Committees was a great event and I was thrilled to be a part of it.  It’s exciting to be on the ground floor of the future in my industry and to see so many great people involved.  If you are not a member of SGIA, I highly encourage you to look into it (www.sgia.org) and to learn from the best.  The association’s sole function is to make your company better.  Getting the “behind the scenes” look that drives that home is the brain trust of the members and SGIA staff members that meet continually to improve the print industry.  Bravo SGIA, bravo!

SGIA Expo 2013 Recap – Fantastic Show

I returned from the Specialty Graphic Imaging Association’s Expo show in Orlando yesterday with a really great feeling.  Everyone I spoke with had a positive attitude and their businesses are all up.  Maybe this is a sign that our nation’s economy is really getting back on track, as there’s one thing that people in the printing business know how to do and that’s complain.  When everyone is saying the same thing, you can bet that something is going in a positive direction.

Overall, my impression with the show is an outstandingly positive one.  SGIA took great pains to make the show a success.  They flooded the registration floor with teal jacketed reps and they quickly checked you in and produced your badges for the show floor.  All of them were armed with answers for any question you might throw at them.  I loved the entrance way with fake Lifeguard Towers and some real “lifeguards” who would yell out some fun and snarky comments as the giant throng of show attendees would file in.  It made the cattle stockyard like flow into the show enjoyable.

The show itself was huge, with booths from every corner of the printing industry displaying their new stuff.  The real pleasure though, was bumping into people that I’ve known for years and having a quick chat.  The funny thing was when you were talking to someone, and another person walked into view and you couldn’t get their attention.  It was a who’s who of printing every ten feet.

The show organizers did a great job with educational segments, and had these squared off in industry specific “zones” scattered throughout the show floor.  What was really wonderful was that casual passersby could catch part of the discussion and listen in.   I thought it was a fantastic idea to have these out in the open and not pigeon-holed away in a conference room.  In fact, I was part of a three person expert panel on sustainability on Thursday – “Sustainability Pays Back”, and I presented how Visual Impressions has been able to reduce our operating expenses by focusing our efforts into sustainability and lean thinking.  When I was speaking I kept noticing people sticking their heads in and listening.  There were a few that did that the entire talk!  They should have just stepped in and sat down…

I’m a t-shirt printer, so the textile industry was my area of interest.  Booths in this section where jammed packed, and well attended.  Whether they were selling ink or equipment, lots of orders were written during the Expo.  For me the number one most impressive item was M&R’s new i-Image STE computer to screen system with built in exposure system.  I’ve been a big advocate of computer to screen systems for imaging screens for a long time, but the innovation of adding a LED exposure lamp to the device is a game changer.  I was prepared and armed with a flash drive of some ripped files from our art department.  The tech loaded the art; imaged and exposed my full front file in less than one minute.  58 seconds to be exact.  Now the screen was ready to wash out and use on the shop floor.  As a sustainability guy, I could easily also see the energy savings of switching from using high energy exposure tables to low energy LED’s.  I can’t wait to calculate the ROI on that alone.

Lastly, if you’ve ever been to a trade show or convention before you know that the real gems aren’t on the floor or in the booths, but in the “in-between” moments.  Grabbing a cup of coffee, meeting for lunch somewhere, or even a few beers after the show ends.  Those are the great moments and the real benefit of attending these shows.  Lots of shop talk and note comparing on best practices, tips and tricks, and how other people resolve the same daily challenges.  I know from talking with other industry friends that some shop owners or managers say that they can’t “afford” to attend shows like this and they don’t have anything to offer.  That’s about as wrongheaded as you can get.  From my perspective, the shops that I see walking around the floor are always the ones that seem to be ahead of the curve on techniques, equipment, technical knowledge and business practices.  Getting out of your shop and exposing yourself to success is probably one of the number one things you can do to increase the chances that your shop will grow and prosper.  To use one of Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Successful People – you have to “Sharpen the Saw”.  Shows like the SGIA Expo do just that.  Bravo!!