4 December 2013
Putting the post-recession plunge in perspective
TORONTO—Here's a new one: printing performed well in 2012. "We grew last year. Has anyone ever told you we grew last year?" asks Josh Ramsbottom. "We're doing something right."

Ramsbottom, head of research at NorQuest College, spoke at Graphics Canada 2013 about business trends and opportunities, beginning his seminar by shedding light on the dark years of the recent recession.

NorQuest's Josh Ramsbottom speaks at Graphics Canada 2013

From 2010-2011, the industry lost approximately 300 reported companies. Ramsbottom estimates another 300 went under in 2011-13. But North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) data that measures the presence of printing doesn't account for the entirety of the modern industry, said Ramsbottom.

Left out are related business that now overlap with traditional printers, some franchise locations, small businesses that go unnoticed because reporting is not mandatory, and several other "grey" sectors. "The numbers reported are a worst-case scenario," Ramsbottom said.

The researcher explained that printing is a "lagging" industry, meaning that it sells services to other industries rather than new products, and as such, it experiences economic waves later than other sectors. The recent downturn is not necessarily a sustained impact from 2009 so much as it is a delayed reaction.

"We spent almost a billion in new equipment during the recession years. Faster, more automated, and requiring a higher skilled workforce to operate it," he said. Printers had purchasing power they normally don't thanks to a strong Canadian dollar and historic low interest rates.

This led to a climate where shop-floor tech is better but new printing jobs proved scant. While overall the manufacturing sector currently enjoys an 80% utilization rate of machines, printing sits at around 70%. With machines idle, price wars ensued in B.C. and Ontario.

Looking ahead, StatsCan predicts overall manufacturing output in 2013 will be higher than in 2006. Food, plastics, textile, leather and wood have enjoyed an upward swing; so, Ramsbottom said, printers with clients in those sectors are well positioned to leverage the movement. As well, a number of printing markets are expected to grow, including smart packaging, customized printing and variable data, printed electronics, RFID, specialty inks, augmented reality and 3D.

Ramsbottom stressed the importance of lean manufacturing when exploring ways to grow new business. "Find the dollars that are already on your shop floor by eliminating waste," he said. Of key importance are increased automation and the adoption of web-to-print. "You have to be in this space," Ramsbottom said.
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