Epson’s Bob Ochalla offers takeaways from this year’s show.
After not seeing each other in person for well over a year, over 750 members of the label industry (plus more virtually) reconvened in Chicago for Label Congress 2021. With masks, wider aisles, and a pared-down list of exhibitors in smaller booths, the show still sent a signal that the industry is coming back to life.
Epson Regional Sales Manager Bob Ochalla was at the show and shares his takeaways in this Q&A.
Q: What was this year’s show like?
Typically, Label Expo is a large trade show where Epson brings multiple presses and runs them live through the whole show. In 2018 we had four of them running at once. This time, the show’s organizers moved the show into a smaller, more intimate, and conversational setting. With no on-site product or in-person demos, the show was the perfect way to get the industry kicked off again and reengage our customers. Based on feedback we heard, our customers felt the same way. Without the event, we would’ve felt like we were still locked down.
Q: How did Epson feel about the turnout?
We were pleased with the number of attendees, but I think more importantly, who attended: the decision-maker-type people — presidents, owners of companies, directors of manufacturing. I think the people that did come felt it was important to take time out to attend, just to get things going. Zoom calls are convenient, but they’re not the replacement for doing business in person.
Q: How were the conversations at the show?
Conversations were definitely more intimate. Rather than people just running around all day, checking boxes, saying, “I saw Epson, I saw these other guys…,” I think we were able to have more of a one-on-one conversation. You don’t have to cover hundreds of thousands of square feet, so you can spend more time with each vendor.
Q: What were your takeaways in terms of trends?
I think, in general, there’s a lot of talk around embellishments. We are still seeing trends around run lengths and the challenges around short run lengths. Volume may be growing for a lot of label printers, but it’s growing in shorter runs and multiple SKUs. So, the question becomes how to handle that and how to differentiate at the same time.
I think one of those ways is embellishment, which can enhance the surface of the image, either tactilely or visually. Sometimes it’s a gold foil stamp, sometimes it’s varnish, matte, gloss, or even holograms – anything to make the surface of that image stand out.
Q: Tell me about Epson’s booth.
With everything locked down over the last 18 months, we, like everybody else, had to find ways to get creative. We outfitted our Carson, Calif., facility with the latest technology, which allowed us to conduct live demos.
We brought our live feed to Label Congress, allowing people to see our SurePress L-6534VW UV inkjet digital label press with an in-line finishing solution in action. Attendees could talk to Mike, who runs our demo facility, and ask him questions in real-time while watching the product run.
We were able to show our digital-varnish solution, which we just announced earlier this year, as well as an in-line finishing solution in partnership with Denmark’s Grafisk Maskinfabrik (GM).
Q: Tell me more about the new in-line solution.
Our new in-line solution means more automation. Without touching the material, now we can feed larger media rolls, print, and then transfer that in-line to a laminator, coater, die-cutter, slitter — all in-line. Normally that’s a separate process. Most of the competition prints roll-to-roll and uses additional equipment to foil-stamp or digital-varnish. We can do that in one pass. And because it’s digital, each one can be unique if you want it to be. With Epson and GM, the converter chooses whatever workflow fits best for the job: in-line or off-line.
Q: You mentioned automation — do you feel like that’s a thing that’s growing?
Automation is actually on everybody’s mind. The more you can automate and the more touches you take out of a process, the less labor is needed. That should drive your bottom line, right? And we’re not the only industry that’s struggling with labor. That’s been an issue in the printing industry for a while. If you can automate things and make them more user-friendly, I think that can play well into your business. At Epson, we pride ourselves on having automation and robotics built into the press.
Q: Coming out of the show, what advice would you give someone looking to grow their business?
My advice is to go digital. I think companies realize that if they are using analog equipment, they need to have some digital solution to stay relevant. I think being able to differentiate is critical, and one way to do that is embellishment through a digital solution. Believe it or not, I don’t think there were any analog vendors at the show. I think the vendors that had booths were all in the digital sphere. This just reinforces the power and importance of digital.
Bob Ochalla is Epson’s Regional Sales Manager, Central, representing Epson SurePress in the Midwestern and South-Central U.S. To learn more about Epson’s digital label-printing solutions click here.