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“Could You Jot Down a Few Notes?”



Once, in a seminar for Royal Philips Electronics, C.K. Prahalad, a renowned business writer and corporate strategy consultant and, that day, a top management-seminar leader, read a morning-fresh newspaper clipping that said Royal Philips was approaching bankruptcy, and world bankers wanted to know its management’s plans to avoid the crisis. He later announced the news clipping was his own invention, but, by then, the panicked management team had devised a radical restructuring plan, which, later, and in a less radical form, was implemented successfully.
Prahalad, with his brief untruth, stirred Philip’s execs from their comfort zone and inspired them to view their company and its operations in a new light: a sinking ship needing saving.
Business Week has rated Prahalad (August 1941-April 2010) as one of the most influential business-strategy thinkers.
In a 2003, Harvard Business Review online article, Prahalad, and equally lauded Gary Hamel, wrote “The Core Competence of the Corporation,” a piece that tells how a company can grow by recognizing and using its core competencies.
Essentially, a core competency is a production-based profit center that resides within a company. Signshop examples could be an install team, or the neon, sheetmetal or welding sectors – or a digital-print division. Your design department may also qualify, if it produces exceptional work.
The authors examined companies that secured, expanded and integrated their core competencies, and compared these with other firms that, for various reasons, have dumped such competencies.
A key comparison was Honda vs. Chrysler. Honda has expanded its excellent, engine-building core competency across several fields: cars, pickups, motorcycles, watercraft, ATVs, generators and lawnmowers, whereas Chrysler, who’s management saw engines as a cost (not profit) center, outsourced engines to Mitsubishi and Hyundai in 1987. The comparative achievement stories are everyday news.
A comparable, negative, signshop situation would be to out-source some or all of your digital printing. It’s negative because outsourced work is limited by the outside source’s skills and workload, and, worse, outsourcing prevents your shop from acquiring inhouse skills and equipment, which can help you develop new business channels.
The authors believe a company, to grow, must control its core competencies. By strengthening and expanding your core competencies, you’re creating even more obstacles for your competition.
They said business owners shouldn’t view their operations as untouchable units but, instead, identify the projects – and people – that personify the core competencies and use (borrow) this amalgamation to launch the next competency.
For example, expand a digital-print division to include fabric printing, then expand that division to become another core competency.
Think about it – if you’re digitally printing now, everything but the fabric-print machine and the marketing process is in place.
You should carry this type of thinking to a tradeshow, because it’s a cornucopia of ideas, with advisors.

ISA Sign Expo ’10

The International Sign Assn.’s (ISA) publicity said its Sign Expo 2010 (Orlando) hosted 17,000 attendees from around the globe that visited 476 companies housed in 601 booths. ISA said the 160,000-sq.-ft. exhibit area was the largest since 2008.
ISA President and CEO Lori Anderson said, “Despite the challenging economy of 2009, 2010 appears bright for the sign industry.” She said the Sign Expo show is the premier, U.S.-based, business platform for the sign industry.
At tradeshows, I’m great at asking this: “Could you jot down a few notes on what you find interesting, and send them to me?” Truth is, this year’s group – Chris and Kathi Morrison, Vince Cahill, Liz Cunningham, Brigitte Hunt and Jim Tatum – are top-end scanners, meaning, because of their personalities and careers, they see things others may miss.

“Was it a good show?”
Jim Tatum, president of Signarama (West Palm Beach, FL), was encouraged by what he saw at the tradeshow and about the positive attitude of suppliers. He believes sign-buying customers have opened their wallets to invest, again, in advertising, promotion and branding.
He should know. Signarama has 900 stores in more than 50 countries, with new master franchisees opening in Colombia, Singapore, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Angola and Mexico City. At ISA, Jim dispatched seven corporate staff members to work with suppliers, create strategic alliances and investigate new, core-competency opportunities.
Positive news: Many of his company’s stores are showing increases of 15-20% above the same date last year.

“Will business get better?”
I interviewed Brigitte Hunt, the exhibition director of Viscom, Italy, in April ’09 and talked to her again at this year’s ISA tradeshow. Last year, in the middle of the economic crisis, she said, “Sales [in Italy] just stopped from one day to the next, not because the market died, but partly because people were insecure of what would happen – but mostly, it was the lack of bank loans.”
She said no one had anticipated how radical the economic crisis would be – in terms of both financial and social changes.
Brigitte said she’d observed the first signs of the market picking up at her November ’09 Viscom tradeshow (Milan). She said show visitors, then, had stopped talking about the crisis and were ready to buy new products.
This year, Brigitte said both exhibitors and visitors have learned that a new business model has evolved, one that has transformed from a consumption-based economy to a real-needs one.
She also said sellers must re-learn how to sell.

“What did you like?”

Chris and Kathi are ST’s product reviewers; they own The Image Specialists (Clements, CA). Chris is a certified, Microsoft systems engineer. Their last “notes” paragraph comprised the most interesting one. It said, “The back story is, manufacturers are fine-tuning their lines. They’re adjusting products to be more cost effective for buyers.”
Truth: A successful product buyer continues to be a successful product buyer.
The Morrisons also noted that two of the “big boy” manufacturers – Roland and HP – had introduced products that would significantly impact the digital-print industry: Roland’s eco-solvent, inkjet-printer/cutters optimized for metallic silver ink; and HP’s latex-ink technology, especially as applied to its 44- and 60-in. L25500 latex-ink printers.
Roland, during the worst of the downturn storm, developed and manufactured its eco-solvent, inkjet, silver-ink printers. Its high-density, metallic ink will print on vinyl, paper, film, banner materials and canvas, and it can be combined with other Roland inks to produce such metallic hues as gold, bronze and pearlescent colors.
With it, creative shops can produce surprisingly unique work.
The reasonably priced HP L25500 printer (HP’s engineers scrutinized small-shop situations before building this one) will image various media, included paper, vinyl (think signs and vehicle wraps) and polyester fabric. The machines have user-replacement printheads, optical-media-advance sensors and an embedded spectrophotometer. The prints are odorless, and no external dryer is needed. The printer complies with energy-efficiency guidelines.
The Morrisons said they generally see a show theme that, unplanned, “pops up” in numerous booths. This year, it was flatbed cutting equipment, an apparatus type, they said, that’s similar to a CNC router, but designed to cut out digitally printed images on such thinner substrates as foamcore substrates and adhesive vinyl.
They noted Gerber’s M series cutters (which, this year, included a turbocharged version); the Zund cutter line; Summa’s F Series flatbed (that incorporates its Opus registration system); and Esko Artwork’s Kongsberg finishers. They also listed MultiCAMM’s Digital Express finisher, which, they said, “Clearly incorporated the best aspects of the company’s CNC routers.”

"I observed…"

Vince Cahill, the president of VCE Solutions (Waynesboro, PA), a business-consulting and brokering firm for the printing industry, said signmakers were buying equipment and preparing for an economic recovery.
Vince noted the benefits of EFI Vutek’s “Mediamaster” automatic, materials-handling system that’s installed on its GS3200 printer. The automatic loader allows higher productivity and, therefore, reduced labor costs. The 5.24-ft.-wide Media-master bed can handle boards up to 10.4 ft. long, but you can also load multiple smaller flat media. He said Fred Rosenzweig, EFI Vutek’s president, by announcing the company’s offer to upgrade its previously sold GS3200 printers to the Mediamaster configuration, had positioned his company as one equipment pur-chasers can trust. The upgrade offers twice the print speed at the printer’s highest resolution.
Vince said several, third-party ink manufacturers offered new product lines, particularly for printers using Epson printheads. INX, for example, introduced a silver ink; Graphics One its Sepiax line of latex ink for Epson head printers; and Ink Mill, Bordeau and Budget Ink have offered new, low cost, bulk-feed ink systems.
Agfa, Vince said, introduced its recently acquired Jeti printer line, which is now painted Agfa red. The company unveiled its new Jeti 1224 UV HDC hybrid flatbed/roll-to-roll printer with 1,200-dpi, Ricoh Gen 4 grayscale printheads. The Jeti 1224UV HDC prints four-process colors, plus white, on media up to 2 in. thick. Agfa offers its Anuvia HD inks with this printer.
Agfa also exhibited the Jeti 3324 Aquajet 10.5-ft.-wide, disperse-dye, soft-signage printer.
Vince noted that Mimaki displayed its recently introduced 1,440-dpi, JV5-320DS adhesive-belt, textile printer that can image fabrics up to 10.5 ft. wide, using four, high-speed, Epson DX5 printheads.
Mimaki indicates the printer yields 197.8 sq. ft./hr. at 540 x 720 dpi at its maximum print speed.
Fujifilm Sericol exhibited its new Acuity HS, a high-speed, UV-cure flatbed with a roll-to-roll option. It will print 245 sq. ft./hr. in fine-art mode, 430 sq. ft./hr. in quality mode and 700 sq. ft./hr. in express mode. It can print 49.2-in.-wide by 98.8-in.-long rigid sheets up to 1.89 in. thick. It can print roll material up to 36 in. wide.
Océ also exhibited its version of this printer, which it manufactures.
Sericol also presented its UVISTAR roll-to-roll (with flatbed option) 16.4-ft.-wide (also available in a 11.4-ft. width) inkjet printer that can print up to three rolls at one time at speeds up to 3,800 sq. ft./hr.


“Watch your step…”

Liz Cunningham, a long-time industry journalist and consultant, remarked that digitally printed signage was king at this and ISA’s previous show. She said, “…inkjet printer sprawl overwhelmed the show floor.” Liz noted that several former HP-Scitex staffers have formed JeTech Inc. (with Asher Adar as president), which has introduced the Sky Jet Premium Synchro, a double-sided, 10-ft.-wide printer. Adar’s LinkedIn resume includes HP and Scitex Vision.
Liz said, “The Sky Jet Premium may not have had the best-looking output on the floor, but it was the only roll-to-roll that prints both sides simultaneously, including two different images.”
Like the Morrisons, Liz looked at finishing technologies and noted Universal Laser Systems’ line with table sizes from 16 x 12 in. up to 48 x 24 in. Their professional series comprises three models, with laser power up to 150 watts.
She also lauds the new Fotoba XLD-1790 Dreamcut machine (distributed by Colex Imaging) because it will cut a 150-ft. roll of media in less than 15 minutes. It will cut both flexible rolls and flat sheets – photo material, PVC, film, canvas and encapsulated prints – up to 67 in. wide and 35 mil thick. Get this: It automatically realigns itself to the edge of the printed image, regardless of any feed misalignment.
She noted that Durst Image Technology’s U.S. Rho printers – the Rho 800HS, 900 and recent 1000 flatbeds with optional auto- and semi-auto feed tables were impressive. She favored the Rho 500R, a 600-dpi, 5-meter, roll-to-roll machine that simultaneously prints three, independent images from three separate job queues, on three different 5.24-ft. rolls. It’s market powerful, she said, because it prints on fabric, vinyl or polycarbonate at speeds up to 4,300 sq. ft./hr.
Liz said you might first think the 500R is for large, high-volume shops, but, she said, a medium-size shop could capture several niche markets with this one device.
Another core-competency group?






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