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Missing the old IPEX – Andy McCourt’s ReVerb

Tuesday, 05 September 2017
By Andy McCourt

Ipex 2014 in London was a good show, but sadly not patronized by many major exhibitors.

In a perfect graphic arts world, about this time, around 1,000 Australians and Kiwis should be booking their tickets and accommodation to attend what was once the second-largest printing-related exhibition in the world – IPEX in the UK. 

It’s not happening; the venerable event that spawned the famous (sometimes infamous) ‘ANZ BBQ’ has been reduced to what amounts to a finishing show, with none of the ‘majors’ of digital or offset print hardware there apart from Ryobi through their UK agent Apex who will also feature Konica Minolta digital equipment, Presstek and Xeikon.

That means no Agfa, Canon, EFI, Epson, Fujifilm, Heidelberg, HP Indigo, Kodak, Komori, KBA, Landa, manroland, Ricoh, Screen, Xerox. Then there’s a host of wide-format manufacturers not listed as exhibitors: ATP, DGI, Durst, Mimaki, Mutoh, Roland, SwissQprint. Add to this, hundreds of other exhibitors usually on display at an Ipex.

The Ipex website claims 133 exhibitors but when trade magazines (‘Media Zone’) trade associations and shared stands where a single exhibitor’s brands are listed several times; when these are taken out, it’s more like 82. Drupa had something like 1,600 and previous Ipexes up to 1,200.

PR is no cover for facts

No amount of padding and puffery can disguise the fact that this once proud and international graphic arts trade show, much loved by the ANZ market, is a pale shadow of its former self, despite the move back to its home of 30 years, the National Exhibition Centre near the centre of England – following the disastrous move to London for the 2014 event. On the plus side, Ipex 2017 is well represented for finishing equipment as Autobond, Duplo, Horizon, Morgana, Technau, Hunkeler through Friedheim Int., Plockmatic, Moll, Bauman-Wohlenberg, Bograma, Col-Tec, CP Bourg, D&K, Kolbus, Renz, Watkiss and others are listed as exhibiting, either on UK dealer stands or directly. If you’re looking for finishing kit, you will find most of it there.

The timing is awful, three years after the last one in London, only one year after a drupa and opening as autumn blends into sleety winter on the last day of October for just 4 days instead of the balmy Springtime or Indian Summers of May and September 8-day Ipexes past. Traditional agreement had Ipex 2 years after each drupa but drupa’s fling with a three-year cycle, subsequently aborted, meant Ipex had to either go early or go later or risk clashing in the same year as a drupa.

If Ipex 2014 at the Excel Centre, London was a smallish international event; Ipex 2017 at the NEC is looking like a smaller UK-domestic event. Looking back at the great Ipexes past such as 1993 where digital print was launched and we hosted the first ANZ event which was literally ‘beer and skittles,’ Ipex 98 that built on that strength; Ipex 2002 and 2006 that just grew and grew, Ipex 2010 where the biggest ANZ BBQ ever was held at the delightful Newbold Comyn Inn, Leamington Spa – the legacy is outstanding. It’s a crying shame what has befallen Ipex.

But the cold hard fact is it costs a visitor from the ANZ region about $10,000 to attend a European show, so there must be a compelling, all-encompassing reason to do so. The ‘Print in Action’ conference is a good initiative, as is a tie-in with the London College of Fashion but they not enough to make up for lack of major exhibitors.

Those were the days: ‘Lee Hernia’ at a previous Ipex ANZ BBQ.

What happened?

Ipex used to be 50% owned by an industry association known as the BFPMS, for British Federation of Printing Machinery Suppliers (now Picon). The other half was owned by Reed Exhibitions, who also handled the organization. In 1992, the BFPMS bought Reed’s 50% share out. Big trade shows tend to favour countries where there is significant manufacturing and, as Britain saw its press and prepress manufacturing base diminish (Crosfield, Monotype, Quantel, Hyphen, Itek Colour Graphics, Strachan Henshaw, Cobden Chadwick, Timsons, Crabtree, Baker Perkins etc); Ipex had to reach out to be more of an international showcase.

Organisation for the event shifted to IIR Exhibitions, part of the global Informa Group from 2002 and in 2006, Picon sold Ipex to Informa – a highly accomplished exhibition and conference organizer with over 150 events in its portfolio. Despite the GFC and an erupting Icelandic volcano disrupting flights, Ipex 2010 was a huge success, with international attendance up 8% to a record 48% of the 50,000 visitors, with a healthy contingent from ANZ, many of who enjoyed the ANZ BBQ complete with band and court jester.

Then the shock announcement was made that the 2014 show would move to London following the 2012 Olympics. The Docklands Excel Centre was to be the venue – essentially two big parallel sheds, as opposed to the NEC’s multi-hall ‘village’ design. It proved to be an unpopular decision with major exhibitors – still smarting from GFC cutbacks and now free to re-assess exhibition budgets, as the customary practice was to re-book for the next show at the end of the prior show. The Excel Centre was untested for a show such as Ipex and many exhibitors perceived higher costs associated with getting machinery in and out, housing staff, transport and so on, associated with London as the venue.

First Heidelberg, then HP, Canon, Kodak, Xerox and others announced they would not be at Ipex 2014 and, although never a certainty, Benny Landa’s Nanography extravaganza piloted at drupa2012, decided to keep its powder dry until 2016 – although Benny graciously did host a seminar together with EFI’s Guy Gecht that played to a packed house.

The NEC in the heart of the UK, enabled visitors to stay cheaply in delightful nearby towns such as Stratford-on-Avon, Leamington, Warwick, Oxford or even hire a country manor house, as former trade publishers Paul and Ann Callaghan did at Ipex 1993, welcoming industry guests for rollicking good evenings of fine food and wassail. Some visitors even stayed in or near London and caught the train up, directly into the NEC station. Komori once hired Warwick Castle for a huge party.

After the disappointment of Ipex 2014, Informa had a management clear-out and decided to shift the show back to the NEC – with only a three-year gap instead of four. Despite the move, the prospect of another full-blown trade show cost so soon has spooked exhibitors away…combined with another factor.

Benny Landa addressing a packed house at Ipex 2014.

Competition

Seizing on home industry dissatisfaction with Ipex, a UK trade magazine publisher, Link Publishing, decided to start The Print Show – a UK domestic-focused event organized by people in the industry, for the industry. It is economical for exhibitors and – amazingly – is an annual event! The publishers run both commercial print and sign industry magazines and websites, so have been able to attract exhibitors from both field, much in the same way as the Visual Connections/GAMAA merger has helped PacPrint and Printex.

The first show in 2015 was at the NEC and a smallish affair, but very well received by the UK industry. 2016 was bigger and the 2017 show was all booked when Ipex announced it was returning to the NEC – in the same month as The Print Show. Only the Brits can do squabbles like this.

It was ridiculous to hold two print industry shows in the same month at the same place, so The Print Show 2017 moved to what is a quite attractive modern venue at the Telford International Centre on the opposite side of Birmingham to the NEC, 70km away and the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution in 1709, when construction of the world’s first cast-iron bridge commenced. (It still stands today – encouraging news for our own ‘Iron Bridge’ in Sydney)

With an audacious and blatantly jingoistic motif of Britannia riding her beflagged chariot, flanked by a lion and a bulldog; the October 11-13 event bills itself as “The PrintShow Is Great Britain.” And they have succeeded where Ipex has failed.

The Print Show has attracted more exhibitors including Canon, Epson, EFI, HP, KBA, Konica Minolta, manroland, Tharstern, Duplo, Riso, Mimaki, Oki, Xeikon and a host of others. Co-located is the SignLink show with a large area dedicated to this industry sector.

Other competition that Ipex faces is from the fragmentation of specialist growth areas of printing into dedicated shows such as the hugely successful FESPA and Labelexpo series.

Lessons to learn

It’s sad to see what has happened to Ipex but all trade exhibitions – including our own PacPrint, PrintEx and Visual Impact – must constantly be on the lookout for changing trends, cultures and indicators. While Ipex no doubt has fallen victim to a perfect storm of GFC, slashed budgets, higher costs, Brexit annoying the European manufacturers, a declining print sector, online media and so on, there has also been a failing of organizers guilty of:

  • Believing the show brand is bigger than the brands exhibited. It’s not; people visit an A -Z of exhibitors, not an Ipex, drupa, Fespa etc
  • Poor consultation with exhibitors and visitors. Even where surveys were conducted, Ipex ignored the opinions and advice, or acted inappropriately on them.
  • Disengagement of an industry event with vested industry interests as represented by trade bodies, industry groups, companies, media and ‘greater good’ initiatives. Drupa succeeds because it is embedded in all of these.
  • Arrogance: one highly respected member of the Indian printing industry was moved to comment: “The recent history of the Ipex organizers at least from the Indian point of view, is a combination of denial and colonial arrogance.” He also stated that Ipex used to be ‘a wonderful event.’
  • Ignoring affordability: exhibitors are not a bottomless pit of funds – they have to pay for trade show attendance out of company profits, if any.

and lastly…

  • Forgetting what it is all about. Ever since the Great Exhibition of 1852, trade shows have been just that – show-and-tell and that means exhibitors, no amount of galleries, workshops, conferences or seminars will surpass square meters of floorspace dedicated to technology, services, consumables and good advice – and they come from exhibitors – who will bring in the visitors.

Maybe, after November, Ipex should re-group, re-plan, re-strategise and aim for a 2022 show, 2 years after drupa. It’s just show business after all.

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2 Responses to “Missing the old IPEX – Andy McCourt’s ReVerb”

  1. September 17, 2017 at 12:09 pm,

    said:

    Great informative, analytical article, Andy. Enjoyed the read, as I usually do when reading your articles.

  2. September 18, 2017 at 10:33 am,

    Andy McCourt
    said:

    Many thanks for the feedback Hazel. I do try to walk a mile in the ‘other person’s shoes.’ I hope Ipex does regroup and re-focus; it was always a delight to attend. I think many visitors saw it as ‘drupa without the shoe-leather wear!’

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