UK printers last week responded to the shut down of social activity with across the board reduction in hours, lay offs and slamming the brakes on ongoing investment projects.
But Friday’s announcement of help for struggling business by Chancellor Rishi Sunak may see some winding back on the initial reaction taken to save their businesses. Companies exposed to the events and entertainment sector have suffered the worst hit, as expected orders for large format print, tickets, programmes and promotional clothing vanished. One company in this position told the IPIA that it had lost 75% of its income, amounting to £250,000 a month.
Other printers have introduced contingency measures to help them through the quarantine period. Working from home and reliance on video conference technology has been universal for office staff, though this option is not available for employees needed to operate equipment.
Halstan Press in Amersham has instigated its business continuity plan, involving restrictions on travel, working from home and increased cleaning through the factory. It has split its production team into two shifts with a 30 gap between the end of one and start of the next rather than the traditional overlap. It aims to avoid unnecessary face to face interactions. Should any staff member contract the virus, contamination will be limited in this way.
Park Communications has gone a step further, checking the temperature of everybody arriving at the factory in Beckton. Desks in the office areas have been moved to keep a minimum of 2 metres between people and there is no sharing of pens, pencils or notebooks. Surfaces are cleaned multiple times a day. In a post on Linkedin, managing director Alison Branch, writes: “We’re open for business, but working in ways that only last week would have seemed unthinkable.”
Bluetree is loosening its requirements to help stricken printers by introducing additional services. Instead of fixed quantities, Route1 customers can order bespoke quantities, can specify customer sizes and cut outs and other bespoke cutting for point of sale work.
As yet the Rotherham business has no confirmed cases of the virus, though as a precautionary measure, account handlers are working from home. It will also produce variable data work and personalised direct mail. Perhaps unfortunately, in explaining how this might work, the company says a customer working on behalf of a consumer wanting personal invitations to a wedding, can combine a standard design and variable data file for all the guests coming to a wedding – one of the gatherings that is at best, currently frowned upon.
Print is stepping up in other ways. Print Evolved in north London has printed thousands of leaflets to be distributed around volunteer groups in the area trying to look after people confined to their homes.
The artwork is a simple form that residents can fill in and leave for the volunteers to pick up and perhaps provide food or other help. The artwork is a standard file that the company has printed on old coloured paper that had been sitting on a shelf in its warehouse.
“It’s about enabling people to help their neighbours,” says managing director Spencer Slee. “Quite a few groups have been around. Print helps them get a positive message out.” The company is itself taking precautions with as many staff as possible working from home with online meetings.
“We are very lucky that a lot of our work is web to print and that we have a number of lines of business.” And while none of his staff has contracted the virus, there will be people absent to look after family members, including children unable to go to school.
The closure of schools, colleges and universities has hit the academic implant sector. Exams have been cancelled and students sent home without presenting nicely printed and bound dissertations, wiping away much of the volume of work that university print rooms handle at this time of year.
That at Loughborough University is down to a skeleton staff and open because it handles post for the population of overseas students who remain on campus.
The print room at Leicester University remains open as it takes on outside trade work, but has also reduced manning levels and split people into Team A and Team B who come in on alternate days. “We will keep going until there’s a lock down or we run out of work,” says Ian Lakin.
If seasonal print associated with the summer events has been most badly hit, not all work has dried up. Print for the financial sector, especially updates to investments as the value of shares dives, continues. NHS work remains as necessary as before and there are predictions of an increase in demand for printed books. Consumer magazines may also benefit, but the reduction in commuting to work has been met by reductions in print sales for newspapers. City AM has suspended its print edition; the Evening Standard has dropped print runs and is restarting home deliveries. The Guardian and Daily Mirror are others that are offering readers free home delivery for a limited period to compensate for the loss of newsstand or over the counter sales.
On the other hand the forced closure of pubs and restaurants is likely to lead to a surge in orders for beer labels and packaging for convenience food and ready meals as people are confined to home with or without the virus.
Desks at Park Communications are being moved to ensure that people are kept outside the 2 metres minimum stipulated by Government. Others are working staggered shifts and different teams to minimise the risk of passing any infections on.