Print companies are able to continue in operation during the Covid-19 pandemic, though a number have chosen to close until the crisis fades.
On the other hand some cannot close. This week printed letters signed by the Prime Minister will be delivered to every household in the UK. Companies printing for the NHS and other front line services may even have staff classified as key workers because of this. This would qualify them to continue to send children to school.
The BPIF has received calls saying that people have been stopped on the way to work by police and have been unsure of the rules. No official pass or proof of work is currently necessary, though in France there is a letter system to explain the purpose of a trip outside the home.
It and other print associations, the IPIA and BAPC included, have been feeding into the impact study organised by the department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy and meeting civil servants to press the case for print.
High street print shops, which have counters for walk up business have had to close the shop element of the business, though are able to continue working away from the public. This covers the franchise chains and others with town centre or business park units that welcome customers on site.
Kall Kwik managing director Nigel Toplis wrote to all the network’s centres repeating government restrictions and advice. “Ultimately the decision to stay open or to close must be yours,” he says. “But your first consideration must be to your staff and their safety – can they get in? and are they safe when they are in?”
One of the centres that has decided to close is that in Staines, owned by Pippa Frewil. “We deal with a lot of PLCs for whom we print a lot of collateral about events which have all been cancelled. Work has dropped off a cliff,” she says. “But we are still offering print, working remotely by phone and we believe it’s still very important for our customers to keep in touch with their clients, which they can do with direct mail. They will still need advice, so there will be no difference in the service we offer to them even if they are not ordering as much because of what’s going on.”
Matt Galloway, managing director of Galloways in Stockport, has also decided to close temporarily in a move supported by customers and suppliers. In a letter to explain the decision, he says: “We do not believe it is possible for us to stay operational whilst meeting the requirements and guidelines set out by the government. Neither can we guarantee that we will not contribute to the spread of Covid-19.”
On the other hand there have been companies swamped by new work. In Nottingham, carton printer Wilkins has seen a surge in orders as supermarkets struggle to keep the shelves full. Sales and marketing director Justin Wilkins says: “Due to the current global and domestic situation and increased demand, the business is urgently seeking skilled operators from the printing industry.”
If packaging is enjoying an increase in demand, so to should other sectors. Europe wide trade association Intergraf has called for print to be designated an “essential service” during the crisis. It points out that print is needed for packaging, hygiene products and medicines; information leaflets, posters and government communications; newspapers (though distribution is an issue if workers are not commenting to pick up their daily and one in ten at least has no access to the internet; and books, which need to keep up with demand from a population confined to their homes except for the weekly shop at the supermarket.
The BPIF is pressing for changes to the furlough system, under which the government will pay workers for three weeks at home, as it is considered too inflexible, especially as infection rates rise and non furloughed staff have been forced into self isolation.
Toplis has also urged Kall Kwik centres to remind customers that they are still in business, and that they should be keeping in touch with their customers using printed direct mail as a cost effective channel. And, in advice that is applicable to all print companies, he ends: “This is the time to reinforce who you are, what you can do and how you can help your customers communicate efficiently, effectively and at a reasonable cost.”