Flash Poll Finds Flexographic Printers Staying Relevant & Competitive

Strong… Moderate… Little… None—As business barometers go, these measurements, simple as they are, can’t be easily misunderstood. Applied to everything from conditional circumstances to customer expectations, bottom line focal points to strategic directions, and plant-wide priorities to essential steps to success; such highly descriptive terms paint a portrait of the package printing and converting industry.

At the start of a new decade, it’s one that speaks to the depth and breadth of dynamic enterprises, as well as all the goings-on in them.

Flexographers participating in a rapid-fire, 20-question FLEXO Flash Poll, conducted in the two-week window between Nov. 20 and Dec. 3, rated factors influencing the business on that scale and assigned prominent positions to the usual suspects: “The 5 ‘Ps’”—prices, pressure, productivity, profitability and personnel.

Collectively, the 141 poll takers—all FLEXO Magazine readers; 93 percent FTA members, 7 percent non-members—subscribed to one certainty: “Efficiency, in every sense of the word, is the enormous concern.” No facet of any operation is exempt; no criteria is more important. Emphasizing the point, several printers surveyed explained, “Plant-wide efficiency is at the heart of every strategic initiative. It has to be.”

Revenue Stream

Great news came at the start—the very first question. In excess of 85 percent of respondents, representing a full 30 percent of 470+ individual FTA member plants, charted sales growth for 2020. Just 10 percent indicated business is expected to be flat or stagnate at 2019 levels. An even less significant 5 percent predicted their plants will experience a drop off in revenues collected.

Considerable numbers of those surveyed were highly optimistic. What, exactly, did they say? Succinct comments offered had a lot of power: “Strong economy, coupled with high consumer confidence—2020 should be a good year for manufacturing.” Also: “We are a new start-up, so we will grow exponentially in 2020!” Plus: “Hoping to grow business by at least 20 percent!”

What are your expectations for bottom line results in 2020?

“Trump economy made our business increase profitability to a degree we never imagined!” opined one survey respondent. Other voices chanted, “Strong year, significant pricing pressures”; “Positive 2020!” “Good income potential!” “We are rapidly growing and are placing a lot of emphasis on our customer service and sales and marketing teams.”

“Economy is booming!” “Recovering lost business!” “Our sales have been growing and we’re poised for even more gains.” “We’ve grown 11 years running, no end to the cycle in sight!”

With 35 percent of poll takers willing to offer their assessment of what might be impacting package printing positively, citations went to:

  • Many new clients
  • Pipeline projects
  • Continuous improvements
  • Agricultural rebound
  • Environmental campaigns against plastic and more paper products introduced
  • Diversification into other markets
  • Ever-present awareness of new technology—new equipment and assets brought into production—affords expansion of capacities
  • Additional sales and marketing activities
  • Organic, new business and aggressive acquisition initiatives

Optimistic, yet slightly less excited printers also had a take on what is occurring and why. One was willing to put out this extensive appraisal: “Calendar year 2020 looks to be positioned well for flat sales, or perhaps even a slight uptick in business. In 2019, we had nice growth and it will be difficult to maintain. Uneasiness about the election will have some effect, as it will make decision making a little lumpy. Directions will be influenced by changes in the public dialogue. Shorter runs are here to stay. Asset options to invest in to get you to the finish line are still too numerous, plus they are prone to inefficiencies as runs become longer.”

What steps will you take to strengthen your plant’s competitive posture?

Somebody else explained, “Business is expected to grow 3 percent next year.” Another predicted, “small growth,” with a third that indicated, “Slight but consistent growth is anticipated,” and a fourth, who specified, “Our annual gains normally exceed the inevitable shrinkage, so with modest growth in the economy of, say 2 percent, the wild card is trade and tariffs.”

Of those who perceived slight declines in activity, one forecasted, “Shrinking margins, due to competition, translates to same volume sales.” Another pointed to macro-economic problems. A third anticipated, “Tough year to come—one in which we must improve on productivity to best meet customer rebates.”

What 2020 trade events are must-attend?

Finally, one hinged all bets and said, “We will have to see how 2020 is going to end. All the pressure from our customers to reduce price and the worry we all have from global warming and the political environment we are in, keeps us engaged in little more than a guessing game.”