So, Informa has finally done the decent thing and killed off Ipex, announcing that it has abandoned plans to continue running the show. This decision comes after “consultation with the industry”, which presumably means that none of the vendors were prepared to pay to exhibit at another Ipex.
Informa has blamed changing market conditions but markets constantly change and the trick is to understand the underlying trends and adapt to them. In my opinion, Ipex was doomed after the disastrous 2014 show in London.
There were a number of factors at play here, including the recent recession that hit in 2008 and the wave of austerity and general lack of investment that followed.
This also coincided with the development of single pass inkjet presses, which is still ongoing, but in those early days meant that most vendors did not have much to show beyond the prototypes from the previous Drupa. Coupled to this, there was a growing resentment against Informa over the costs of exhibiting at Ipex, with some vendors simply feeling that it would be more cost-effective to fly potential customers to their own factories and would likely lead to more sales.
Naturally, when people started pulling out of Ipex 2014, Informa enforced their contracts and forced those companies to forfeit their deposits. In my opinion, this was a remarkably short-sighted reaction that meant those companies would be a lot more careful in their dealings with subsequent Ipex shows.
The situation was compounded by moving the show to London, thereby committing everyone from visitors to exhibitors to much higher costs. It is almost always a bad idea to move an established show to a different location. People become used to these venues and to the facilities around them; they know the local restaurants and book hotel rooms years in advance. It often happens that when one show shifts to another city, another show pops up to take advantage of that familiarity. So it was with Ipex, which found the Print show doing a reasonably good job of catering to the UK print industry.
Many people in the British industry also blame Drupa, feeling that Messe Düsseldorf’s announcement of its intention to switch to a three-year cycle was deliberately aimed at de-stabilising Ipex. But I believe that Drupa was more worried about competition from other German trade shows, particularly Interpack, and instead saw Ipex as complementary. The Drupa people correctly realised that as press vendors looked to the packaging market, and that market started to embrace digital printing, so the packaging shows would grow by catering for converters. Fortunately they did listen to the feedback from exhibitors and quickly abandoned that plan and switched back to a four-year cycle.
But Ipex was more than just another trade show – it was the international British trade show and so the loss of Ipex should also be seen as a warning to the British print industry. For years I’ve been asking European vendors to name their biggest markets and they’ve always said Britain and Germany but in the last couple of years that has shifted. Germany is unquestionably the biggest market for printing equipment in Europe, followed by a range of other countries including Poland for commercial printing, Turkey for textiles, Spain for wide format. Britain is still an important market for most vendors but not as much as it once was.
We probably can’t blame Brexit for the demise of Ipex but nonetheless Brexit is casting a darkening cloud over British manufacturing. It is becoming increasingly obvious that our political leaders have no understanding of basic manufacturing processes like Just-in-Time supply lines or country of origin rules, and no idea of how Britain will function post-Brexit other than a vague idea that everything will somehow be alright. But with the likes of Johnson, Gove and Rees-Mogg playing in the orchestra, perhaps we should start preparing for the idea that the ship might actually be sinking.