It has been interesting to look at the reactions of various businesses to the almost continuous negative economic, business and global news on television, in the business press and on the internet. There are some that appear to have virtually 'frozen' their whole operation - they stop investing, cut advertising, slash R&D and marketing budgets, run-down stocks, etc. Yet others seem to go into some kind of panic and make all kinds of un-researched and rash decisions about investing, or markets and investments. The real gloomy ones may even tend to defer any action at all until they can figure out what comes next - a strategy that is usually doomed to failure in the longer term.
What label converters should really be doing, however, is responding positively to market changes through innovation and strategies that are designed to encourage growth; establishing forward investment strategies, developing new business and personnel structures, evolving creative staff capabilities and looking for new products and services. Certainly, the best label businesses are already well into this mode. After all, history is full of companies that have jumped ahead of their competitors by actually increasing their investment on growth opportunities and innovation during the bad times. Why should the label industry be any different?
But where do label converters find the innovative ideas and growth opportunities to take them successfully into the future, irrespective of when the recession comes to an end? Well one place is certainly going to be Labelexpo Europe 2009.
Many industry suppliers have already adapted to global change by bringing out new products, technology and services to help converters become more competitive, to aid cost-reduction, to add-value, and to create innovative solutions. Yet some converters will undoubtedly say 'we have cut our travel budgets and cannot afford to take management teams to Brussels for several days', while the correct decision should be 'we cannot afford not to go to Labelexpo'.
Ideally, converters should increase their management attendance at the show, but make the time more productive by giving each manager a target to return with, say, five good innovative, growth potential, added value or efficiency ideas or products that the company can then evaluate for implementation or investment. It will be interesting to see what each one comes up with. But what areas of the show should they be looking at for these new ideas or products? Let's highlight a few.
Advances in technology innovation
Hi-tech innovation and R&D by label press manufacturers and equipment suppliers does not appear to be slowing down. On the contrary, a recession concentrates the minds of technology companies and makes them really turn their abilities to inventing the future. It's already two years since the last Labelexpo Europe and, if the converter misses the 2009 show, it will be a further two years until the next European event. Miss four years and the converter will be way out of touch with the latest innovative and cost-competitive solutions.
Labelexpo is the showcase for the leading technology and hi-tech manufacturers. Just think Nilpeter, Gallus, MPS, Mark Andy, EskoArtwork, and the like. They are continuously adapting to pressures from the market, from end-user requirements, from digital label printing, from efficiency targets and from new alliances or partnerships. Just from talking with these companies at the show it will provide ideas on opportunities, trends and possibilities. And it is not always just about buying a new press. There are often smaller, lower-cost, add-ons, upgrades or extensions that will provide exciting opportunities.
Even if a new press is put on hold it is probably still worthwhile looking at a machine up-grade or add-on that offers enhanced value or service to the label buyer - such as brand protection solutions, leaflet labels, on-serting capabilities, numbering, sequential coding, embossing, hologram dispensing, or maybe a twin-cut rotary die-cutting unit. All these can be seen at Labelexpo.
The whole pre-press, workflow, software, file storage, imaging, proofing and plate making has also changed dramatically, even since the last Labelexpo, and will continue to evolve rapidly over the next few years. Label buyers want to make use of converters with the latest technology solutions that will both add-value and reduce time or costs. How many label converters can say that they are up-to-date with the latest pre-press solutions and talk regularly with their customers about the benefits of new technology?
Then look at the digital label printing opportunities at the show. Exhibitors now have their own dedicated digital hall, displays of digitally printed labels and products, digital experience panel sessions where the converter can listen to the world's pioneers in digital printing, see all the main digital label presses in operation (including the launch of a new, high speed, near photographic quality digital inkjet press) and learn about the increased label converting profitability that digital can offer.
Already some leading label buying companies such as P&G are saying that they will expect all their label suppliers in the future to offer digital capabilities. Wait another two years before coming to Labelexpo and the converter may well have already lost some of their key accounts because they cannot provide the digital label printing service required. Now is the time to be evaluating all the digital label press solutions at Labelexpo - not in two years time. See what HP Indigo, Xeikon, Epson, EFI Jetrion, Durst and others already have to offer in 2009.
Follow the green and energy efficiency momentum
There is little doubt that leading label buying organizations and converters have been increasingly discovering the benefits of going 'green' in all its many forms - green materials, energy efficiency, waste reduction, environmental friendliness, forest products, sustainability, recyclable or re-usable materials, reduced pollution, and much more. Indeed recession and economic pressures tends to drive these developments even faster.
To meet this growing demand Labelexpo Europe is this year introducing a 'Green Park' area where exhibitors will be displaying their green and environmental solutions. Certainly well worth a visit, but it should be more than this. It gives converters the opportunity to talk to their customers before the show and find out what green solutions they are really looking for. Offer to compile a green report for them on the latest green-related label innovations and opportunities at the show. Make it a talking and selling point with key existing and potential clients after the show. It's also a good way to retain customers.
Enhance the brand
In times of recession brand owners start looking at new, simpler and more cost-effective ways of presenting and selling their products, maybe moving from bottles to pouches, pots to sachets; or looking for new labeling solutions such as sleeving or wrap-around film. Technology on show at Labelexpo offers all these options. Many can be undertaken on the same presses that are already being used. There is also a proliferation of 'Own Brand' products emerging.
Brand protection and authentication are also key requirements today. Recession and globalization both tend to increase levels of counterfeiting, so why not make a key point at Labelexpo of looking at all the brand protection, anti-counterfeiting, anti-tamper, anti-theft, hologram, etc, solutions. Again, talk to customers in advance, find out what they may be looking for, compile a report on possible options and costs - it all helps to build relationships with label customers.
Find new software solutions
Today, a new or upgraded Management Information System (MIS) can also offer significant benefits to both the converter and to their customers. Holding customer job data and files for customers to search, interrogate, see the current status of their orders, stockholding, etc, can all be part of adding value to a business in a recession and generating customer loyalty. They can even provide parallel costing and profitability information between a company's conventional and digital presses. Why not talk to the MIS suppliers at Labelexpo about how they can enhance the performance and profitability of your business?
Or what about looking at software investment to access press set-up and production data via a remote computer? Label converters should not be ruling out anything during recessionary times, at least not without having a well-considered business and action plan while the recession continues - and where they want to be placed when the recession come to an end.
In summary, label converters should regard Labelexpo Europe 2009 as a major opportunity. It is almost certain that label production, supply and service will come out of the recession very different to how it went. Label buyers will undoubtedly see to that. They want label suppliers to better manage information, to better control performance, to better add value, to be greener and leaner, and to work with them to take costs out of the supply chain.
Converters should be thinking positive. The world is still full of label opportunities: world food production and supply is set to double over the next 20 years; in ten years or so some 16 percent of the world's population will be over 65, which will bring a major requirement for new products and services in healthcare; an expected billion or so (higher income) consumers will be entering the global marketplace and spending more; Brazil, India and China are providing key new targets for multinational beauty brands; there is a massive explosion worldwide in private label brands. The positive stories still go on.
Whilst many manufacturers in Europe and worldwide have undoubtedly been running down stocks held in warehouses over the past year, and inventories have fallen at their fastest rate since 1948 (so reducing label demand), the good news is that stocks are now generally so low that firms are at least starting to look at placing orders again - which will help manufacturers and label converters alike in the coming year.
So, plan now to get the most out of Labelexpo Europe. Set targets for visiting the show, plan strategies to make the most of demonstrations and presentations, have guidelines on what is to be achieved over the four days, and come away with an enhanced business plan and profitability in mind.
Labelexpo is undoubtedly the main opportunity this year for label converters to successfully plan and build a more profitable future. Make sure you don't miss out.