I talk Impressions Expo 2022 with the team this week. I asked them:
- What are the major trends?
- What’d you learn this year?
- Did you have any memorable moments?
- What was the most surprising thing at the show?
- And overall, what’s your view on the show?
I don’t think I need to exaggerate here. It was a great show. I didn’t hear a single complaint.
Except for how everyone was tired after the whirlwind traveling, socializing, rocking out…oh, and managing the booth!
“The people that wanted to be there really wanted to be there” is the quote of the show. Printavo’s Matt Marcotte told me that. The persistence of the industry is a strong theme.
- Attendance was down, as expected. But the community is stronger than ever.
- DTF and DTG are bigger than ever. The market just keeps growing.
- Supply chain ninjas have emerged from the past two years. On all fronts. Every company has adapted.
Why do people go to trade shows? It’s not because there is some screaming deal (though you could write a good article about trade show arbitrage and buying floor models). It’s because there is a really strong community-driven presence.
It’s kind of like group therapy. Though I doubt many people would admit that. Print shops come together to ostensibly see the newest technology and learn from workshops, but they’re really there to commiserate and collaborate and (frankly) goof off a little bit together with people that just get it.
I’m sure the organizers would not want to have the completely made-up conversation below. It sounds…wishy-washy? Maybe it makes it hard for them to tell an accountant pretty things about the ROI? But I’d say this is a good conversation they should play up in their marketing:
Impressions Expo: You know, this show delivers an extremely high quality audience that has the power to generate leads and maximize your show ROI more than any competing show in the world.
Printavo: Actually, we don’t really go to this show to sell a bunch of stuff. It’s kind of just a fun party and we use it to recharge.
IE: Uh, so you’re not interested in making a lot of money at the show?
P: That’s nice but, I don’t think that’s actually the point here? We are kind of trying to connect with our people that we usually only see through like…email, Zoom, and the phone? And that doesn’t really have a measurable number?
IE: We’d love to speak with you about how Impressions Expo Long Beach can help you meet your objectives and generate new business.
P: I mean, we made Power Scheduler. Uh, actually, we have to get back to talking to our people. Thanks!
There’s also the pilgrimage aspect to the whole experience. People travel from around the world to go to Impressions Expo at Long Beach. A shop from Alaska dropped by this year! It is the show. Then Coolio plays and your mind is blown and you realize you are singing your face off with a few hundred other print shops.
But, look, it’s exceptionally inspiring to be part of the Printavo booth. Every person I talked to from the team came back equally humbled, exhausted, overwhelmed, and full of gratitude. Well, that was if they had a voice at all. We’re back in the saddle and, well, we have a ton of work to do!
The trends: DTF “definitely percolating”
Okay, here’s the bottom line: everyone said DTF was surprisingly prevalent at the show. Now, keep in mind that ROQ was the sole major equipment manufacturer presence this year. That left more space for upstart DTF manufacturers to join the show. And they joined!
“There were so many DTF machines. It used to be DTG was where it’s at. But now DTF is where it’s at. But there’s no clear winner. It’s going to be interesting for the space,” Bruce (Printavo’s founder) said. “The DTF thing is sweeping at a speed we haven’t seen a new tech come into the industry.”
Meanwhile, Matt Marcotte was actually surprised in the other direction. “I expected there to be more DTF than there was! DTF is not as industry-accepted as it’s going to be in a few years,” he said. “The digital world is sprouting legs and getting momentum. Onward!”
And Printavo’s Jason Ketchum – while relatively new to the trade show circuit – reflected on the state of the industry. It’s leaning toward community. “I almost want to say: the community based decoration shop is going as strong as ever. We see a lot of growth,” he said. “There’s always going to be a place in the US for community based operators. People that know their community, their neighbors, local businesses and schools. They have that relationship.”
What we learned: passion first
We have really, really passionate customers. “What I saw firsthand was doing this show with Printavo for the first time and seeing how passionate every single one of our customers really are. It was a learning experience,” Matt Marcotte told me.
Here’s an interesting thought that keeps us up at night: what if there aren’t actually enough shops using Printavo? Mike Dorrance, Printavo’s Product Manager, pointed out, “A lot of people lurk and watch our videos and content. But they should be using Printavo from day 1.” He added, “We want you to get to $500k with Printavo. We want to be how to scale your business. Printavo is part of that plan.”
Jason agreed that Printavo’s impact is something he was surprised by. “I’m so new to the industry, but I know exactly what Mike means.” He’s fired up about powering growth after meeting so many shops that have used Printavo or are thinking about taking the leap. “It makes small shops feel bigger. It makes big shops feel like a family business because it’s so organized.”
We didn’t all get to Bruce was totally slammed and wasn’t afraid to admit it: “I should have picked up on more but I was so busy at the booth! I should have poked around more!”
Most memorable interaction?
“We’ve really built a community. We’re such a staple,” Printavo’s video producer Chris Saballos told me. Bruce was blown away by the reception for Power Scheduler: “The sheer interest is really exciting. There’s so much people are clamoring to do.”
“Getting to put a face to so many names I’ve got to know through Zoom and email over my tenure at Printavo is always the best,” Matt Marcotte said.
Mike Dorrance relayed an awesome anecdote about Calimucho, a shop that’s right near Long Beach and has made Printavo Merch a centerpiece of their business. We visited their shop in 2020, take a look.
“The Calimucho guys came by. Merch saved their business. Now they’re going after their core business. Not relying on Merch, but they use it to lean more into the customers that were already the most successful with Merch,” Mike said.
Coolio performed at the show thanks to ROQ. “I think honestly ROQ has done a great job cultivating a community and making it fun. I appreciate them for spending that money. They don’t have to do that at all,” Bruce explained. This brought together the crowd in what Jason called “a true human colossus moment.”
Isn’t that what it’s all about?
Besides Matt running into Coolio outside the hotel and grabbing a selfie, there were a handful of surprises at the show.
- A constant crowd. “We just constantly had a crowd at our booth! It was bumping! It was insane.” – Jason.
- Supportive community. “Everyone wants everyone else to succeed and pull the industry forward. From an old health tech guy, this continues to blow my mind.” – Jason.
- DTF taking over. “It will be interesting to see how it evolves over 5 years. But it’s coming really fast!” – Bruce.
- Alaska! A shop from Alaska stopped by to give us props. What a journey!
- Opportunity. “I was surprised by how many people came to the booth that had Printavo and didn’t know the full potential of it.” – Chris.
- Instant feedback. “Mike integrated feedback on Power Scheduler right there from the customers talking to him. That was neat!” – Nick.
We also teased our new mobile app for attendees at the show. Surprise!
Nick Martin from Printavo couldn’t believe the impact. “People were losing their minds over the mobile app, by the way. Just totally losing it. We didn’t anticipate it to be as big of a deal!”
Overall: a changed industry emerges
There hasn’t been an Impressions Expo at Long Beach since January 2020. That’s two years!
I remember writing an article in early 2020 pontificating about how digital printing and online stores were probably 5 to 10 years in the future.
So here were are in 2022 with a totally compressed timeline for digital printing and online stores.
We’re getting really close to the push-button-make-t-shirt model, and if there’s one thing you should take away from Printavo’s experience at the show it’s that the community around the industry has actually grown a lot stronger despite the outrageous turbulence of the past two years.
“Anyone there really wanted to be there. It didn’t matter if they could see the big players or not, that’s not even why they came. The wanted to talk shop and talk shit back in the community after everything that’s been so detrimental to all of us,” Matt Marcotte told me.
I don’t think I could say it better.