5 Ways Printers Are Supporting Their Business Communities
During the early days of the COVID-19 crisis, many print providers scrambled successfully to be designated as essential businesses. For the future of many of these businesses, this was a life or death move — a valiant effort to protect both the business and the jobs therein. As the crisis has developed over the past few months, numerous companies have proven how truly essential they are to the communities they serve, providing capabilities, expertise, and a lifeline for other businesses. Here are a few ways PSPs are supporting their local communities — both during this crisis and well beyond.
1. Finding the Way
Addressing the need for social distancing, and to apply order to what, before the crisis, was a free-form shopping experience, many PSPs with wide-format printing capabilities are producing floor graphics urging social distancing, specifying “one way” in retail aisles, and signifying spacing in check-out or register queues.
One company, Plum Grove, of Hoffman Estates, Ill., produced graphics for these purposes, posting them online — with astounding success — to download for free. The company also offers printed versions of the graphics for sale. Founder Peter Lineal says Plum Grove also provides banners and other elements to support local businesses.
Other graphics producers are following suit, quickly learning the specifics of floor graphics and needed laminates. Acccording to Chip Basse, owner of Albert Basse Associates in Stoughton, Mass., “We’ve seen a huge increase in the need for floor graphics, and have worked with a lot of companies that are scurrying to get them in place.”
2. Creating Functional Barriers
One of the ways the world of retail shopping has changed due to the COVID-19 crisis is the creation of barriers between customer and cashier. These barriers, generally manufactured using sheet acrylic, are now being produced by graphics companies. Born of necessity during the crisis, these applications will likely stay, even when the threat of the virus has waned. Some producers are offering branding options, using printing, cut window films, or other methods.
At the time this article is being written, numerous graphics companies, including Image Options, Lake Forest, Calif.; Newman Signs, Jamestown, N.D.; and Keen Signs & Graphics, Augusta, Ga., are producing these essential barriers. While demand for barriers is high, the supply of available sheet acrylic has become quite thin. As a result, printers across the country are busily sourcing the material. “The supply chain is bumpy,” Tim Bennett of Image Options, notes. “It’s definitely a challenge.”
3. Increasing Cash-on-Hand
Many companies that decorate or produce printed apparel were hit hard by the pandemic, as much of their business focuses on providing product for schools (which were closed), events (which were canceled), and branding for local businesses (which were either closed or struggling to generate revenue).
Some apparel decoration businesses developed programs to support the local businesses that, before the crisis, were their key customers. Using a variety of different models, companies printed custom designs for limited-edition garments, including shirts, hoodies, and hats. The items were printed, then sold online, with a significant amount of the revenue going directly to the local business.
Rocket Shirts, based in Murfreesboro, Tenn., is selling shirts as a participant in the nationwide #hereforgood program, designed to support local businesses. Company founder Shelby Craig reports, “The program has allowed us to give nearly $130,000 to local small businesses. It may be just a $20 t-shirt, but it makes a huge impact.” Garrett Danielson, owner of Pine Print Shop, of Fort Collins, Colo., says that since the inception of its “Center for Distanced Shopping,” the company has distributed more than $30,000 for local businesses in its city.
4. The New Accessory
Face masks are a must-have for most people in this new, pandemic reality. As the initial, mad scramble for face coverings has waned, and the public realization that masks may be a part of our new reality for some time to come, they are morphing into essential accessories that provide protection and share personality.
Milwaukee-headquartered Olympus Group, a company whose core business is in exhibit manufacturing and wide-format textile applications, now offers custom-printed, dye-
sublimated masks that match corporate branding objectives and complement work uniforms. “We fulfilled an initial surge of about 200,000 masks, most in stock colors,” Olympus Group President Brian Adam says, “and lately we’re seeing a lot more interest in custom-branded masks. We see branded masks as a great fundraising opportunity for schools. We hope, as a product, it has legs.”
One step up the supply chain, Vapor Apparel is manufacturing pre-made, dye-sublimatable face masks that can be custom-decorated as needed. Even online giant Zazzle is selling custom-printed face masks, offering personalization using its existing B2C model.
5. Refocusing and Retooling
For many companies, the shock of the COVID-19 pandemic meant a reevaluation of directions and priorities. Certain print provider sectors — for instance, those serving non-essential retail businesses and events, including tradeshows and festivals — found both purpose and opportunity in creating surgical masks and face shields for medical teams and first responders.
While, in most cases, production of these essential elements didn’t match the production levels, staffing needs, and revenue generation of pre-COVID business, the work served the community, contributed support where need was strong, and kept employees engaged.
As one example, Federal Heath Visual Communications in Euless, Texas, moved from its traditional manufacturing of electrical and dimensional signage by committing to produce more than 50,000 masks for pandemic response professionals.
While the efforts to rebuild the damaged economy, shore up small businesses, and somehow see our way through the COVID-19 crisis will require a Herculean effort, it is this situation — at this time — that really points out how essential printing is to our broader society. This article has highlighted just a small number of the many efforts being undertaken by our industry.