Industry Influencer: Warren Werbitt

Warren Werbitt, print industry commentator, influencer and industry veteran.
Warren Werbitt, print industry commentator, influencer and industry veteran.

Print executive, family man and avid fishing enthusiast, Warren Werbitt built a successful printing company based in Montreal, Quebec, which he owned and ran for almost three decades. At its peak, the business was highly profitable, employing 120 people and generating $18 million in annual sales. PostPress caught up with this “hook, line and thinker” commentator, influencer and outspoken industry veteran to get his opinions (which he is never shy to reveal) on some important issues facing the industry.

How did your career develop in the print industry, and what is your role now?

I got into the printing business in 1992 simply as something to do. My father worked in print in a small way. Suddenly, I realized, first and most importantly, that every single person in business needed print. In other words, everyone I met was a potential customer. Over the years, I built the company up by offering more services. At one point, I declared that we were “the first one-stop shop in print.”

We had a 40″ offset press and a 56″ UV offset machine. We had the first IGEN5 in the world with three extra colors and a large sheet size of 24 x 16″. We offered large-format roll-to-roll and flatbed printing. We had an HP Indigo 4500 digital printer, a Mark Andy 10-color flexographic press and digital cutters. We were the first to be FSC-, PEFC- and SFI-certified. Basically, I didn’t want to leave anything out. We also were Pantone-certified – probably one of only 20 companies in North America at that time.

While I was running and building the company, I made it a point to go to every industry tradeshow, join all the key industry associations, be an active and outspoken member in industry peer groups, and make sure that everybody knew about me and my company. I even created a video that went viral called Printing’s Alive. Even though I no longer had a company, I simply couldn’t leave print, because as I’ve always said, “Ink is in my veins.”

Currently, I’m partnering with Takitful President Kevin Abergel and helping consumers connect to brands using the science of touch – and digital embellishment printing technology. Basically, we work with equipment manufacturers to help them and their clients – the printers – succeed. We are offering sales, operations, design, go-to-market and estimating expertise to help more companies sell more touchable, embellished, sexy print.

What are the biggest challenges for the print industry, and how should it respond?

I think the challenges that the industry faces really have to do with just life in general. Everything constantly is changing. Printers, most importantly, must step up their game. There are a lot of good commercial printers that do everything right. But there are a lot that don’t, for whatever reasons. I think they need to sit down and closely examine their businesses and adapt to what their customers need. They must “get in front” of their customers and have some serious conversations.

So how do printers “get in front” of their customers? Well, they prepare programs, bring samples, talk to them, ask the hard questions, ask how their business is and most of all, ask how the printer can help them. There are so many ways that the printers can become a valued partner. As far back as I remember, the industry always has faced challenges. Think back to when there were negatives in platemaking, paper plates and cutting Rubyliths. Then computer-to-plate (CTP) technology came in and that was a gamechanger. Aqueous coating was a gamechanger. UV printing and embellishment were gamechangers. In short, printers must, must, must embrace ongoing change.

But what is the industry really doing about this? Manufacturers must make sure that their customers are buying the right equipment for their specific needs. Print companies need to make sure they’re buying equipment that’s right for their own production operation, as well as their customers’ needs. There must be better communication. Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are out to sell equipment, and rightfully so. But once they sell it to a printer, printers are stuck with it. They’ve got to pay for it. If a printer doesn’t know how to sell to his/her customer what this new piece of equipment produces, there’s a huge problem.

I think more than anything, the industry needs to come together. I think that we need to work more as a team. I know we often hear comments like: “Oh, it’s tough out there. We’re going to see companies close.” Yes! Some companies do, indeed, shut their doors, and some manufacturers do merge. The bottom line is that manufacturers, suppliers and printers need to work together for our industry to flourish.

What trends are emerging in print that will influence the future of the printing industry?

Like I said before, everything’s always evolving in this industry. So, when I think about trends and I think about print, I generally think about several areas – digital adoption, color management technology, workflow automation and robotics, print embellishments, targeted direct mail using variable data, and so on. All this technology will make the industry better, but printers and their staff must learn it, embrace it, and promote it to their own customers. We could talk about this forever, but if no one does anything about it, then where is our industry really going?

There are all kinds of solutions out there. Printers must take an objective look at their own company and explore what areas or operations could be improved. For example, just the other day I heard people talking about getting into the label-printing business. Yes, many label businesses are booming. What they didn’t discuss was that, if you open a label company today, you can’t get proper substrates because most already are allocated. So yes, the price of a digital label press has come down – but they didn’t consider the finishing, the rewinding, the diecutting or the embellishments.

Yes, the packaging industry is on fire. But are companies prepared to warehouse a million dollars’ worth of inventory? Because the packaging industry works quite differently in those specific markets. Entering new, lucrative markets can be very exciting, but at the end of the day, I’d really do my homework and have conversations with the people who can help ask the right questions and get the right answers.

There’s so much exceptional technology out there, but its success depends on three factors – what the customer wants, what a commercial printer needs and the future direction in which a company wants to go.

Which markets/verticals are growing their use of print and what is influencing that growth?

Well, we see a lot of large-format printing these days. Wayfinding and directional signage are on fire. Labels and print embellishments are on fire. At the end of the day, I think companies must look at where the opportunities lie, but be realistic about their equipment, budget and in-house capabilities. Each company must understand who its core customers are and what they want. If printers are going to look for new customers, they likely will have to learn and invest in new technology. They’re not just going to walk into a new market and hit the jackpot.

In terms of what’s influencing current growth in specific markets, I can’t really tell you, to be honest. All I know is the more we are bombarded by digital messages, the more we’ll see print cutting through the noise.

What are your predictions for the print industry in the next five to 10 years?

So where do I see the industry in five to 10 years? I don’t know. I don’t have a crystal ball. I do think print always is going to be around because there’ll always be a need for print. From the minute we wake up to the minute we go to bed, everywhere we look, there’s print.

If a company is lucky enough to be in this industry, keep an ear close to the ground. Be in constant communication with core customers. And understand what those customers are doing and why. That’s the best strategy, in my opinion.