Sat, Jun

IR talks to... Carol Swift, Director, Fespa UK Association

Fespa UK Association has been around (in various guises) since 1934, providing business, technical and legal guidance, educational services and events and networking opportunities to digital wide-format, screen and specialist PSPs - and to suppliers. Carol Swift took over the helm from Peter Kiddell last summer. Now she’s settled into the role - and given it’s show season - I took the opportunity to ask her how the association is representing the large-format sector, and to comment on hot topics like business confidence and investment plans.

By Lesley Simpson

Carol, Fespa UK aims to be the key association for large-format digital print businesses. When you became director you said you were looking to increase membership. How is that going, and do you think that with the membership as it stands that the association is in a good position to represent that sector?

When I took over the helm at Fespa UK I was looking forward to growing the association in a number of ways, not just membership. Numbers aren’t always the end goal - we aim for quality not just quantity. Our vision - that is mine, that of my fabulous team Suzi, Mark and Elle and our board members - is to have an association that provides positive input to the industry. One of our main goals is to know our members on a first name basis, to understand their needs and to fulfil them.

Our membership is diverse, from specialist screen printers all the way through to industrial print. We’re keen to grow our membership and are doing so by organising relevant industry seminar and networking meetings. Recently we attracted a number of print professionals to a manufacturing based event that gained positive feedback and we’ve both a textile conference and a partnership event with Sheet Plant Association (SPA) coming soon. These events are increasing our printer membership as they really add value to our members businesses through knowledge gained and excellent networking opportunities. 

Printer members are our target audience and those I believe will benefit the most from membership, but they are a hard nut to crack. PSPs are primarily our printer members but over the last few years we have been developing our contacts with the textile and industrial sectors.  

What key messages are you getting from your members - both PSPs and suppliers - and what is Fespa UK doing to try and address their hopes and fears?

It’s a challenging marketplace at the moment for some of our members with the uncertainty of Brexit, but others are finding that business is booming, so it’s a real mixed bag. I think everyone wants to grow their businesses with profitable work. Fespa UK is committed to helping do this by helping with marketing and networking opportunities. We are also assisting companies with operational activities as we have a solid network of suppliers as part of our membership.

As you know, Image Reports has just undertaken its annual Widthwise poll of 247 of the UK/Ireland’s large-format PSPs. It would be great to have supplier data too. Is that something Fespa UK has considered gathering?

The Widthwise Survey is a great resource regarding the state of the current print climate. Primarily as a print association we believe a supplier survey would be beneficial to the industry, and even though surveys are not in our current remit, nor are we in a position at the moment to carry them out due to time constraints, we would be very willing to support a supplier survey.

The Widthwise 2019 data shows that UK-based large-format PSPs expect to invest relatively little in software and kit throughout 2019/20. What do you, and your members, say about investment levels?

I would also like to add that despite all the uncertainty of Brexit, the feedback we receive from the industry is still positive. We see PSPs are continuing investment in equipment and software. Simpson Group’s Mark Jerrard recently said: “Anticipating the market and our technological requirements, as a business, we took the decision in 2017/2018 to heavily invest in both MIS software solutions and machinery. These are all now at the installation and development stages. As such we may well not decide to invest heavily during the coming 12 months, as we benefit from the investment decisions already taken.”

I was recently speaking with Nicole Spencer of RMC Digital who stated: “We’ve just invested £450k on a new printer and nearly doubled our factory floor space. We’re looking into further investments next year with new offices and potentially further machinery upgrades. We’re currently looking into a couple of software platforms that can help our employees do their jobs quickly and more efficiently. You can’t stay still for long in this industry as you need to keep up with technology and developments.”

Back in October 2018 Fespa UK ran a conference ‘The Future of Print i4.0’ and your predecessor, Peter Kiddell, was adamant that PSPs needed to sit up and take more notice. Our WW19 shows still way down list of priorities. What’s your take on that?

The Future of Print I4.0 Conference was very well received and the feedback was fantastic. The venue was Manufacturing Centre of Excellence in Coventry. The presenters opened up new ideas and opportunities but as you say getting the message through regarding the concept and advantages of I4.0 is a difficult task. There is up to 50% funding available so for companies looking to expand and improve efficiency it’s a ‘no brainer’.

I know I keep harping on about the benefits of membership, but attending the events we put on really pays dividends, for example at the I4.0 the contacts, new information on R&D Tax Credits, 50% contribution to have the MTC come in and review your workflow, carry out a free site survey. We have four new printer members resulting from this event, and attendees made new contacts. It’s an ongoing issue trying to promote new concepts, particularly to the print industry. It is hard work!

Your interior textile printing conference ‘A Passion for Print’ is just about to take place - and textile will again be a key focus at Fespa Global. But our WW19 survey shows this is a very slow burn among UK PSPs despite all the talk of it being a massive potential market. What are your members telling you about getting involved in this area? Is it being over-egged?

We are so excited about our Passion for Print Conference.  The venue is superb and we have a stellar line up of sponsors and exhibitors. After the success of last year’s textile conference we were asked by several companies to run another textile focused conference in 2019.  We decided to look at the interior print and design sector as this market is fast moving and has experienced a huge growth over the past couple of years.  With some fantastic industry speakers we aim to provide our delegates with the latest, most relevant market information. This is also a great networking opportunity where delegates can benefit from meeting and chatting to the industry experts and others within the textile design and print area. 

How much input does Fespa UK - and other associations - have on shaping the Fespa Global event and its constituent parts?

Fespa as a whole would not exist without its network of associations. The associations have at least two formal meetings a year with senior Fespa staff, and we keep up-to-date with each other through an intranet that connects all the associations and Fespa Limited. 

Fespa welcomes feedback and support from its associations, be that financially through the projects committee, Profit for Print, and attending association events throughout the world.

The printers that are members of Fespa UK also have access to the global Fespa community. This can lead to collaborations with the rest of the print world. The UK has a big part to play in the shaping of Fespa as a whole as we’re one of the stronger memberships. There are a number of meetings and events that involve Fespa UK and other associations. 

What do you see now as Fespa UK’s core remit going forward?

Our remit is to grow the association, but not necessarily numbers, more by providing relevant services and a point of ‘know where’ contact. 

Over the last couple of years the association has become more involved in putting on conferences and events. Going forward, conferences, exhibitions, etc, will play a greater role in the way the association links into the industry, but our core remit of helping our members will always be the main focus.

One area of particular note is how are we, as a whole, going to introduce new blood into the print industry? The industry as a whole needs to be united in recruiting newbies.  

While NVQ’s and apprenticeships are routes in, I personally believe we need to get out at the school level to engage with kids about the world of print.


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