By Jack Kenny | October 4, 2011

A crowd of label industry people can offer the equivalent of a college course. Around the world, small groups of converters and suppliers mingle at open house events, product roadshows, educational forums, and regional association meetings. Larger events, such as those produced by the Flexographic Technical Association, Dscoop and the Tag & Label Manufacturers Institute, allow for several days of learning and networking. And then there is Labelexpo, the biggest of all.

The successful Technical Conference produced in September by TLMI is a good example of how these events benefit those who attend. Over a day and a half, 10 structured, in-depth sessions were presented to educate attendees. The topics, carefully chosen and crafted over a year of planning, were broad enough to attract good crowds and specific enough to engage the attention of the best minds in the industry. The learning and sharing continued outside of the sessions. After a serious panel discussion about the aspects and benefits of strategic planning, I stood with a group of converters who compared notes about how they conducted their planning sessions. One said his company had recently implemented formal strategy sessions. Another said that his team of top managers usually met at his house once a year, somewhat casually, and spent the afternoon coming up with ideas. Two other converters were silent. But there was no question that they were thinking about what they do or don't do to plan.

In the recent past, I spent time with a converter who acknowledged that his company did not belong to any industry organizations. "We tend to go it alone," he told me. "We have our own way of doing things." That's not the first time I had heard comments of that sort, and it makes me wonder what type of business mind benefits from isolation. I have been to countless industry gatherings, and from each I take away a wealth of knowledge, and I'm not even a converter.

Here's the other side of the coin. In the course of research for articles in this issue of L&NW, I had the opportunity to spend time talking with Ramon Fernandez, founder and president of ProLabel, a 16 year old label shop in Miami. Ramon recently joined TLMI, and has been to only one of the institute's meetings, but that one event sent a powerful message to him. He found himself having a long talk with the CEO of a large converting company, and discovered that his industry education was just beginning. "You think you know labels, but you don't until you get out of your world and talk to other label guys," he says. "I am kicking myself for not joining sooner."

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