A Conversation with a 28-year GRAPH EXPO Veteran

For almost three decades, Tom Zwickel has been making the short trek from Wisconsin to Chicago to attend GRAPH EXPO. During his attendance streak, which started while he was still in college, he has observed drastic changes in both the printing industry and the show.

“I used to worry about getting clothes singed by a cigarette,” he recalls. “I used to worry about getting ink on my shirt, too. When I first started coming it was all ink, a lot of moving parts, and a lot of noise. Back then, if you couldn’t find it at GRAPH EXPO or PRINT, they didn’t make it. Today, if you don’t find it at the show, they’ll make it for you.”

Zwickel says his company, MailSource based in Fall Creek, WI, has about 100 full-time employees who stay busy seven days a week. He does no printing, instead concentrating strictly on direct mail. He says that, while in times past most printing-related machines were “purpose built,” today’s offerings can often be adapted.

When asked about his annual attendance at GRAPH EXPO, Zwickel says: “I guess what brings me back year after year is that somebody said we have to keep up with the Joneses. I had to explain in no uncertain terms that we are Jones, at least in our niche of the industry. Last year we bought some sophisticated cameras with many, many heads that can read barcodes at very high speeds. We also have upgraded many of our inkjet imagers and drop-on-demand imagers to do QR codes.”

Recalling his GRAPH EXPO visit in 2001, Zwickel remembers the eerie feeling when almost all transportation out of the city came to a standstill. “We hired a limo for the trip back. The poor driver had been up all night with a party of teenagers but he managed to stay awake long enough to get us home.”