Print Suppliers Talk Impacts of Coronavirus, Offer Hope for the Future
The novel coronavirus has upended life as we know it. With the United States now in the throes of full-on epidemics, most Americans are hunkering down in the name of flattening the curve until the end of April, though it remains unclear when we will regain any sense of normalcy.
Throughout this uncertainty, printers have kept the presses running. Part of a critical infrastructure industry as defined by the Department of Homeland Security, these professionals play a crucial role in protecting the nation’s food, medical and health care supply chains, to name a few.
As a supplier of packaging for food, beverage, personal care and medical products, Labels West Inc., Woodinville, Wash., has been working hard to keep up with the recent panic-buying taking place.
“People are stocking up on groceries and other products,” said John Shanley, president. “We produce the labels that are used to package those products. The sudden spike in purchases of these products has meant a sudden spike in orders for us. We are scrambling to keep up with demand.”
AmeriPrint Corporation, Harvard, Ill., is another company that prints important materials for many essential businesses nationwide. As such, the supplier is doing everything it can to mitigate disruption. In fact, Taylor Schulty, vice president of sales and marketing, said that in addition to fulfilling current orders, the printer is accepting new quotes, customers and orders.
“We have always printed labels for blood bags, labels for test labs, physicians’ orders, checks, buy/sell agreements, building supplies and the list goes on, but we are seeing an influx of these orders,” she noted.
HCF Inc., too, is currently experiencing an increase in health care-related orders.
“To date, we have had little to no interruption in raw materials or supplies,” shared Steve Patton, president of the Hillsboro, Ohio-based supplier. “We are seeing orders from all market segments with an uptick in products related to the health care industry.”
Lynn Hakenson, sales manager for Specialty Graphics, a full-service commercial print shop and mail house based in Des Moines, Iowa, said his company his fortunate enough to stay open and take new orders.
“[We] are working with other printers that have been shut down to work with them on their current work as well,” he commented.
It’s a mixed bag for others. At BCSI, a business card and stationery supplier headquartered in Burnsville, Minn., new orders are coming in. But, according to Emily Myers, vice president of sales and marketing, the company’s “incoming workload has slowed significantly.” Like its peers, the majority of BCSI’s new orders serve the health care and financial markets. In BCSI’s case, those products include business cards and envelopes.
For Lance Luka, president and owner of Elmhurst, Illinois-based Ignite Graphics, a full-service, trade-only printer of digital, sheetfed, web and fulfillment, this experience has rivaled some of our country's major historical bullet points.
“As an owner and operator of printing companies for over 21 years now, I have pretty much seen it all since 9/11, the great recession,” he said. “But, this is a new one for all of us. We all have to adapt and follow the social distancing to let the virus lose momentum.”
All suppliers are taking precautions to keep employees safe. Ignite Graphics has set up office staff to work from home. Plant workers are kept 15 feet apart, and they all wear gloves and masks.
“We have locked down our plant to a zero tolerance for visitors,” Luka said. “We even had a press OK with a client, and had to give him press sheets through the door outside. He was great about it and appreciated us protecting him as well.”
Similar cleaning measures and steps to limit in-person interaction have been implemented at the other facilities, including setting up extra hand sanitizing stations and disinfecting high-touch surfaces.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to grieve lost routines, social connections, family structure and our sense of security—both emotional and financial. Feeling scared or overwhelmed is a perfectly reasonable response here. But, the print industry isn’t new to hardships and unknowns. We are a resilient bunch and our suppliers are doing their best to maintain a positive attitude.
As Myers pointed out, technology is on our side, and if it wasn’t for BCSI’s automated presses, things might look a little different. The dedication of her team has also provided some much-needed reassurance.
“I know we are all struggling in our own individual circumstances, but have faith there is good that will come from this difficult time,” Myers urged. “Keep looking for the good and don’t let fear and uncertainty overcome you.”
The others were unified in their responses.
“This is one time where we are truly all in this together,” Patton said. “Keep your head up and look toward the future, because this too shall pass.”
Hakenson expanded on this point.
“We will get through this and remember, there is always someone hurting worse than you are,” he said. “The hill might seem too steep, but with perseverance, you will overcome this small obstacle in life.”
Shanley has learned to prepare in ways “he never dreamed of,” and predicts that a big shift to remote work awaits us on the other side of this crisis.
“I am certain that we will get through this, and I think we will be much wiser when we do,” he said. “I hope that people use this situation as an opportunity to better understand what is really important and stop wasting time and energy on what is not.”
For Schulty, solace comes from her father, Jim Schulty, who serves as vice president of AmeriPrint Corporation.
“These times can be very scary, and not knowing what tomorrow will bring can feel overwhelming, but my father always says, ‘Control the controllable,’” she said. “There will always be a positive and a negative to every situation in one’s life, so, right now, we all just need to try and focus on the positives.”
Luka is moved by the way Americans pull together to come through difficulties, even if it's the simple act of supporting local restaurants that have been ordered to shut down dining services. He would love to see that same support extend to members of the print space. This is an industry built on strong relationships, after all, and supply chain partners need to lean on each other now more than ever.
“We know the first reaction is to hold the marketing spend, but the amount of equipment debt through massive million-dollar-plus loans (most, if not all, with personal guarantees), maintenance programs, buying the latest technology and equipment to produce faster, repairs, payroll, and rent on large building to support you and your clients are enormous,” Luka reminded. “When a printer gets slow, we don’t just get to send people home; the loans are all still due, which is why many plants with huge debt can’t sustain consistent slow months.”
Elise Hacking Carr is editor-in-chief/content director for Print+Promo magazine.