How PSPs Across the Country are Managing Coronavirus
Last updated Monday, March 30, 2020.
While the situation is changing rapidly — sometimes by the hour — there is no denying that COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus, is having a chilling, and sweeping impact on businesses across the country. And print service providers (PSPs) are no exception. From large commercial printers, to in-plants, to package printers, to wide-format shops; from large operations, to small family-owned businesses, the reality is that there is no one not touched by this pandemic.
As of Tuesday morning, March 24, there have been more than 390,000 confirmed cases worldwide, with more than 46,000 in the United States alone. And the Surgeon General, Jerome Adams, even went on record Monday morning warning, “I want America to understand — this week, it’s gonna get bad.” There have been more than 17,000 deaths worldwide directly attributed to the virus — more if the number of deaths attributed to other causes that couldn’t be treated because hospitals had no room left for patients is included — and that is another number expected to rise significantly in the coming days and weeks.
So, what should a print business owner be doing to survive this crisis not only healthy, but with a working company still intact at the end? PSPs are being forced to find creative ways to manage the situation.
Linda Fong, owner of the FASTSIGNS franchise in Oakland, Calif., is located in the first — but not the last — state to implement strict shelter-in-place orders to try and slow the spread of the virus. “We learned about the shelter in place mandate in with our two centers in our county at 1pm Monday (March 16), and my entire team of 18 had to work remotely the very next day. It was a very busy, sleepless first night with completing projects that were already in place, and a very busy first day working remotely on Tuesday.”
For Rich Thompson, president of AdGraphics, located in Pompano Beach, Fla., there hasn’t yet been an official shelter-in-place order issued, but he is still seeing the impact. “The number one industry in Florida is tourism. Right now, there is none — theme parks, cruise lines, beaches, sporting events, concerts, etc. all stopped.” And for a print shop that relies on that type of work to keep the doors open, that is a major concern. “We are evaluating our cash position right now,” he says. “Conserving cash seems to be the most prudent path, therefore we are making decisions on cutting staff, cutting hours, and cutting benefits.”
But the news isn’t completely grim. Some, like TentCraft, based in Traverse City, Mich., is finding ways to help those in need. The company launched a Hospital and Medical screening tent package to help combat the spread of COVID-19, and keep potential patients in drive-thru, independent, and isolated locations outside of the general hospital populations to keep them safe from exposure. “This effort has been fast-tracked to respond as quickly as possible to the crisis and help containment and social distancing efforts to prevent the spread of coronavirus,” said Tom Straub, Vice President of Sales at TentCraft, in a statement.
Another PSP that has pivoted to provide services to industries in need is Olympus Group, based in Milwaukee, Wis., which shifted its production lines to begin producing PPE face masks for hospitals in need. While not rated as medical devices, with the mass shortages of protective face gear across the country, this will provide doctors and nurses at least some measure of protection. Olympus Group plans to produce thousands of the masks daily for the foreseeable future, and is getting them to hospitals for the cost of the time and materials, without taking any profit on the job.
And in cases where it very much isn’t business as usual, Fong is one example of how PSPs are keeping an upbeat attitude as much as possible. “This is giving us the forced opportunity to practice something we were hoping to do anyway — work at least part of the time remotely. It shows us where we are already doing a good job, and where our shortcomings are with all the tools readily available to us. We now have the time to explore how to be more efficient and productive.”
That doesn’t however, mean that anxiety isn’t running high across the board. Thompson notes, “Employees are very stressed and concerned. This is the main topic of ‘water cooler’ conversations right now. They know that this is having a major impact on our business, and therefore their lives. I have personally been making the rounds consistently every day, letting my presence be known and putting myself out there as a sounding board I let everyone know I am just like them. I have more questions than answers. I am experiencing the same uncertainty as everyone else.”
Fong notes that for her business, which is already shut down while the order is in place, all she can do is try to plan ahead as much as possible, which is difficult with the situation changing so quickly. “I have provisioned for paying my employees normal hours of operation during the three-week shelter-in-place, but they are aware that we will have to revisit that, and I cannot continue to do so beyond the anticipated April 7th lift of this mandate. I hope I do not have to reduce my employee count, but I’m giving my team members a heads up in case so they can prepare. This is my biggest worry for my team members to be healthy physically and mentally.”
Other Noteworthy Responses
These aren’t the only PSPs actively making changes to their business models in the wake of this pandemic. Here are a few others who have made statements. If you — or someone you know — wants to share what you are doing to stay in business and survive the coronavirus shutdowns, share it with me at email@example.com, and it will be added here.
Thomas Printworks is now offering contactless delivery, noting in a statement, “As social distancing continues to be a norm in our society related to Coronavirus concerns, we want to make sure that our customers have safe ways of continuing normal business with us. We will now begin, as an additional precaution, offering contactless delivery when requested. Thus, if you would like your Thomas delivery driver to drop off your order at your door or outside of your office, you can specifically request this in your order.”
At Trinton Falls, N.J.-based Hatteras, president Bill Duerr issued a statement detailing how the company is currently continuing production, and what precautions it is taking, including allowing front office staff to take work-from home shifts, and implementing a 15-minute gap between shifts to allow for stations to be sanitized between every shift, among other precautions.
Image Options, based in Foothill Ranch, Calif., is another PSP that has shifted production capacity to producing face masks for local hospitals.
Influence Print NYC issued the following statement: "We are open for business with a limited staff. We've been granted a waiver due to the large amount of graphics we supply for the New York City hospitals. A good portion of our staff is working remotely and only essential personnel are in the shop. All of our critical database and IT services are hosted in the cloud so and accessible remotely. So please, if you need printing of any kind (small or large format) give us a call and our sales staff (working from home) can assist you."
At Vomela Companies, a statement was issued that the organization has been deemed "essential", allowing it to keep operating. That said, it also detailed the measures it is taking to protect employees while maintaining critical operations.
Suttle-Straus has also been deemed an "essential" company, and has made a statement detailing how it is balancing employee safety with crucial operations to continue to serve customers during the pandemic, as well as plans in place for how it will evolve the plan should the situation continue to worsen.
Australian PSP Mediapoint posted a video detailing how they are keeping their business afloat, and giving specific tips for other printers on they steps they can take to help their businesses survive as well.
At SinaLite, Brian Meshkati, vice president, notes that he has seen a sharp decline in products such as business cards and postcards, but has seen a sharp increase in demand for things such as labels for hand sanitizer, instructional booklets for hospital equipment, and coronavirus-related signage. "We have been transparent with our employees about the situation and the decline in demand in certain departments" he says. "We have been transparent with our customers, giving them updates on any changes to our service or operations. And we are reaching out to vendors and suppliers to see if they expect any disruptions - we want to support the community." He goes on to note that SinaLite does expect the demand to continue to get worse before it starts to get better, and the company has plans in place to allow it to deliver all orders, regardless of the number or volume coming in. "We know how important it is for our distributors to deliver essential print," he says.
bluemedia is another PSP that has seen major changes in the past few weeks as this crisis has unfolded. Hayes Holzhauer, the EVP of operations for the company, notes that while there has been a definite decrease in overall volume, and the shop has transitioned to work-from-home setups for as many employees as possible, it hasn't been all bad news. "We are fortunate to have quite a bit of work that is unaffected by the COVID-19 situation," he notes. "We have flexed staff ... to accommodate demand." He notes that this is different from other disasters the company has weathered in the past, partly due to the sheer scope of the problem, and the speed at which it has taken hold. "This is a global situation," he notes. "In the past, 9/11 and the 2008 Great Recession had impact in the U.S., but not globally. COVID-19 is having a VERY fast impact on all corners of the globe. I do think that once we are cleared to resume normal operation and human interaction, we will see a fast and very strong economic rebound. There was already a ton of capital on the sidelines ready to invest in the global markets. Now there will be more pent-up demand once COVID-19 is contained. I think August will be the tipping point and the world economies will explode with activity and growth."
In New York - one of the hardest hit places in the country for the outbreak - Duggal Visual Solutions joined forces with Navy Yard neighbor Bednark Studio, a fabrication company, to covert their capabilities from printing and graphics to the production of personal protective equipment (PPE). The first 50,000 face masks were delivered to first responders on March 28, and the companies plan to have the next batch of 70,000 ready to deliver by March 31. “This is just an inspiring, beautiful effort, and we’re going to make sure New Yorkers see a lot about this and understand how powerful this is,” said NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio. “You’re going to see a surgical mask, gloves, surgical gowns, all sorts of things being made right here in New York City manufactured right here to protect our fellow New Yorkers.”