'The only difference is our people.'
Technology demonstrations, educational sessions, and a mini tradeshow featuring 74 industry vendors were among the highlights of Empire Screen Printing’s national sales meeting and vendor show, held at its Onalaska, Wisconsin headquarters in July. The event, carrying the theme “Printing with Purpose,” drew 580 people comprising Empire staff and sales reps, vendors, special guests including government dignitaries, and – unusually – other, competitive printing companies.
The unique biannual event began in 2010, a year after John Freismuth became president of Empire Screen. Recalled Doug Billings, VP of sales and marketing, “We had not had a sales meeting in years and we wanted to make it well worth the time for those attending. At the last minute, the idea was proposed to add some vendor tables for the benefit of our salesforce.” Six vendors participated the first year, a figure that grew to 34 in 2012 and then doubled two years later, and the company realized that the event could become much more than a national sales meeting. “In order to make it appealing for our vendors, we needed to expand our guest list and open the doors to other printers, said Jennifer Schloesser, Empire creative director. “We needed to make this not only about Empire, but the industry as a whole.”
Most print shops would bristle at the notion of opening their doors to competitors, and Freismuth said that the decision to invite fellow members of the National Association of Graphic and Product Identification Manufacturers to the 2014 event raised a few eyebrows. Said Freismuth, “Our employees asked us why we would invite our competitors. I said, ‘They have screen presses, laminators, and die presses just like us. The only difference is our people. I am not afraid.’” Freismuth added that Empire views it competitors as potential customers, and that more than half of the competitors who have attended the event have bought product from the company. Schloesser pointed out that the broader attendance has fueled more interest from suppliers, whose financial support has enabled the addition of motivational sales speakers and breakout sessions.
Billings stressed that while the company’s trade secrets aren’t revealed during the event, the company welcomes the opportunity to share some of its innovations in UV-LED curing for screen-printing applications, sustainability initiatives, and more. “The vision has been to educate our salesforce and employees with the help of our valuable suppliers while building strategic alliances with other printers to strengthen our industry.”
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