From the Editor: COVID Brings Revenue Increases for Some
One of the interesting findings in our newly released research report, In-plant Business Conditions During COVID-19, was that while 74% of respondents say their in-plant’s sales have decreased during the pandemic (an 80% decline for some in-plants) a small segment (13%) noted their 2020 revenue actually increased.
How did they do it? I contacted each of those respondents to find out. In short, there was no magic formula. In one case an equipment purchase kept a whole line of work in-house. In another, a fortuitous university rebranding gave the in-plant plenty of printing last year. For most, though, the very pandemic that decimated demand for printing at other in-plants created a need for the types of printing these in-plants do.
Take Mercury Marine, a manufacturer of outboard motors.
“With people not taking vacations away from home, it appears they have decided to go boating and fishing,” observes Mike Schrader, manager of Printing Solutions. “That means they are either spending money on their current engines … or upgrading their engines -- or better yet, buying their first engine. That all means more printing for us.”
He estimates his in-plant’s revenues were up 10% in 2020, fueling his push to upgrade the shop’s print and bindery equipment.
The pandemic hit Americans hard, increasing the need for social services. This brought more printing to the Washington State Department of Enterprise Services’ in-plant.
“We had spikes in benefit-related mailings such as unemployment and DSHS [Department of Social and Health Services] benefits,” remarks Damien Bernard, Print & Mail Program manager. “There was also heavy PPE fulfillment activity early in the pandemic.”
One company that provides information and consulting services to lawyers, and tax and finance experts saw its business boom last year due to the federal Paycheck Protection Program and the loan deferment program. This created mountains of printing for the company’s in-plant. What’s more, the manager told me, two of his operation’s biggest customers did a panic purchase of books early in the pandemic, which kept his shop running 24 hours a day for a while.
Several school districts reported an increase in 2020 revenues stemming from the massive orders of curriculum materials they were called on to print last spring.
“With all of the kids at home, the district was having us print all of the lessons/homework, to be distributed at the food distribution sites,” says Tom Licata, Print Shop manager for the Rochester (N.Y.) City School District. “This was a huge amount of printing that we never had before.”
His shop also had a “a tremendous spike” in orders for envelopes, postcards, signage, floor graphics, and graduation yard signs.
For Des Moines Public Schools Printing Services, it was a major curriculum replacement project that saved the in-plant.
“We’ve been fostering a relationship for the last few years with our curriculum department,” explains Forrest McGuire, Printing Services supervisor. As a result, the curriculum department began evaluating new curriculum orders before purchasing them from outside vendors to determine if they could be printed in-house. This brought Printing Services two large curriculum replacement projects in 2020
“Adding these two curriculums offset the losses we experienced elsewhere,” he says, which included lost income from dormant copiers and printers in the empty school buildings last spring.
Missouri State University Printing and Postal Services was one of the few higher-ed in-plants posting revenue gains in 2020, due chiefly to recruitment efforts.
“All of this increase is tied to the SEM [strategic enrollment management] variable data projects we produced,” remarks Manager Mark McCarty. These included such items as variable data viewbooks, junior and senior search letters, academic interest letters, admitted student letters, and transcript postcards, as of which have helped reduce the expected drop in enrollment due to COVID-19, McCarty says.
Rhode Island Hospital’s in-plant was very busy printing COVID-related projects for five hospitals in the Lifespan network: laminated posters, screening forms, labels, and most recently information packets for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
A county in-plant that saw a large amount of window stickers and signs being outsourced, was able to justify adding a wide-format latex printer to bring this work in-house. The savings from just the first two jobs paid for the equipment, the manager told me. This work continues to keep the in-plant busy.
“I think signage/stickers and the wide-format printing is the key to keeping an in-plant thriving,” the manager says.
Throughout the pandemic, this has been a lesson many other in-plants have come to learn as well.
Bob has served as editor of In-plant Impressions since October of 1994. Prior to that he served for three years as managing editor of Printing Impressions, a commercial printing publication. Mr. Neubauer is very active in the U.S. in-plant industry. He attends all the major in-plant conferences and has visited nearly 170 in-plant operations around the world. He has given presentations to numerous in-plant groups in the U.S., Canada and Australia, including the Association of College and University Printers and the In-plant Printing and Mailing Association. He also coordinates the annual In-Print contest, co-sponsored by IPMA and In-plant Impressions.