Narrow Web Europe

No business like trade show business?

By John Penhallow | October 9, 2012

Last month’s Narrow Web Europe column reported on European trade shows, several of which are struggling. Prospects for the UK-based Ipex show, coming up in 2014, took a knock when HP announced that it would not take part. Now comes the double-whammy: Heidelberg has also decided to give Ipex a miss. Both of these giants of the print world cited economic conditions for their decision, and both hinted that their global strategy was turning more to emerging markets. Heidelberg’s UK manager Gerard Heaune, commenting on the decision, remarked that for international customers visiting Ipex, Heidelberg’s Brentford showroom is on the way in to London from Heathrow airport, and that his company was investigating the possibility of “complementary open house event” to coincide with the exhibition.

Exhibiting at a trade show is an expensive business, and Heidelberg is not the only one to look at ways of attracting trade show visitors without actually taking part in the event. At the drupa show in Germany, several locally-based manufacturers offered free transport to and from the show; narrow web press manufacturer MPS is an hour’s drive away from Düsseldorf, over the border in Holland, but this did not deter the company from organizing a daily shuttle from the show to its plant. According to CEO Eric Hoendervangers: “In total, MPS welcomed around 200 visitors from over 45 different companies. Three of our presses were sold during the Open House period and we have started fruitful conversations with several other interested companies.

Exhibition organizers look down their noses at such “freeriding” practices, but can do little to outlaw them.

Greek fire
Against stiff competition from Spain, Portugal and Ireland, the Greek economy is still holding its position as the worst basket case in Europe. When the debt crisis broke in Athens, the banks went overnight from begging their customers to take loans, to suddenly refusing all credit. The possibility of a Greek exit from the Euro zone (for which some clown, probably an economist, has coined the word “Grexit”) is a sword of Damocles hanging over every business in the country. Nobody wants to wake up one morning and find that their euro bank account has been transformed into devalued drachmas, so the whole country is becoming a cash economy, with piles of euro notes accumulating in mattresses or in foreign bank accounts. Supplier credit has dried up, and checks are mostly not worth the paper they are printed on. The graphics industry, composed of over 3,000 mostly mom-and-pop workshops supplying the local market, has seen almost daily bankruptcies. The only slightly brighter spot in this doomsday scenario is, yes, the label sector, where a handful of converters are using modern (and in some cases digital) presses. One example is Forlabels, which runs HP Indigo, Nilpeter and Omet presses (and which was profiled in the July/August issue of L&NW). Another is Hermes, a roll label converter owned and run by Dimitrios Skordakis, who is also chairman and founder member of the fledgling Greek label association. His business, like that of other Greek label converters, is kept afloat by making labels for exported products in the wine and agricultural sectors.

German label converters: situation ‘neither serious nor hopeless’
There has been some talk lately in the European media of a slowdown in the German economy. If this is true it has not affected the Rako Group. The group’s plants in Germany, France, China and South Africa operate a total of over 80 label presses, and group sales in 2011 topped 200 million euros, or around $250 million. Rako, based near the North German city of Hamburg, specializes in labels for the pharmaceutical and cosmetics sectors, and is also building a reputation in other more sophisticated products. Rako’s RFID tags are used by clothing manufacturers the world over, providing inventory control, traceability and anti-theft protection. Another company in the Rako Group specializes in hologram labels, used as anti-counterfeit protection for everything from luxury goods to spare parts for aviation and automobile industries. Company CEO Ralph Koopmann says it is set to increase sales.

Those readers who know Germany will be aware that, like other countries one could name, Germany has a North and a South, with very different mentalities. These differences are summed up in the anecdote which says that when the economic situation gets tough, the North German businessman says it’s “serious, but not hopeless,” while his South German counterpart says “it’s hopeless – but not serious.” That certainly does not apply to the Schreiner Group, which is based in the Southern region of Bavaria. Schreiner gets itself into the news with ingenious label solutions, many of them in the medical field. Its latest baby is a label for the very small cylindrical syringe attachments (down to just 5mm diameter) used in dentistry. These very small labels are multi-layer, with an outer transparent laminate protecting the label itself, which can be laser-marked with batch number or other variable data. This does not make a visit to the dentist any more pleasant but at least it reduces the risk of medical error.

Two musketeers?
A duel took place in France recently between two narrow web press manufacturers. Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, the days of D’Artagnan are passed, and this duel between Mark Andy and Edale was conducted with words rather than swords. Published in the French label magazine Etiq & Pack, it shows Christophe Evrard of Mark Andy France and Bruno Vitali of Edale’s French distributor GIC squaring off to answer the same or similar questions about their presses, their policies and their predictions. Spare parts, currency fluctuations and the threat of digital all come up for discussion, as well as a comparison of two models of flexo press: Mark Andy’s P5 Performance and Edale’s FL 350 model. The result? An honorable draw, of course!

Young managers
The Young Managers’ Club (YMC), an offshoot of label association FINAT, seems to have its sails spread to a following wind. It is now three years since a handful of sons and daughters of label entrepreneurs got together to discuss the problems of succession. Many European label businesses were set up in the 1960s and 70s by men (not many women) now reaching retirement age. The Young Managers’ Club is for those under the age of 40 who are reaching, or have reached the top slot in their family’s label converting business.

Raw materials and sustainability
Jules Lejeune would probably qualify for membership of the YMC on age grounds, but as FINAT’s general manager he has other questions on his plate. His recently published views on the uses and abuses of labelstock take a broad, long-term view. Innovation in materials and equipment has led to the use of 100% filmic labelstock which can be “seriously downgauged.” Lejeune believes that this is a win-win product innovation, which reduces material usage, while helping the environment because filmic liners are generally made from polyethylene. With regard to paper-based labelstock, Lejeune is less positive, convinced that the industry has not taken enough advantage of the recycling potential of used glassines.

If indeed the industry is missing out on glassine recycling it is certainly not the fault of UPM Raflatac. According to the manufacturer, companies in Europe can now have spent release paper collected for recycling at UPM’s paper mill in Plattling, Germany. The recovered liner is desiliconized and then used as a raw material for other UPM paper products. Brilliant – but who pays? UPM’s Business Development Manager Erkki Nyberg confirms that UPM pays for the cost of transport to Plattling, and can collect lots of between 3 and 5 tons minimum.

International brand owners have long been preaching sustainability: for their used liner at least, they can now practice it!
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