From the Editor: How Are Smaller In-plants Faring?
One thing I’ve been dreading during the COVID-19 pandemic is a wave of in-plant closures. I particularly worry about smaller shops at smaller colleges and organizations, some of which are experiencing deep financial losses. So I reached out to some of them to find out how they are doing. Their responses have eased my fears somewhat. None indicated any concerns about being shut down. They said their parent organizations continue to support them despite the drop in business and revenue they have experienced. I heard story after story about how these in-plants have stepped up to help during the crisis, solving problems with innovative thinking and extra effort, and proving their value.
Many of those I talked to have remained open throughout the crisis. Even at those that were briefly closed, managers were able to return to their shops when jobs needed to be printed. Most are up and running full time now, and they credit wide-format work with keeping them busy.
Some small in-plants have had to lay off employees. Hiring freezes have prevented others from filling open positions. Some that normally hire student workers have not done so this fall. Managers have picked up the slack by running work themselves. “I’m usually pretty hands off, but I became quite skilled at operating our digital press,” noted Art Gerckens, manager of Print and Delivery at Sacred Heart University, in Fairfield, Conn.
The need for social distancing made him seek out a new solution for the pickup of student mail and packages, which usually brings lines of up to 100 students into his lobby. He used Microsoft Bookings to let students create appointments. His employees then retrieve the items and have them waiting for students when they arrive, eliminating the lines. This creative solution could continue beyond the pandemic.Some in-plants, like Western Growers in Irvine, Calif., have stayed busy by bringing work back in-house.
“We have brought back all our folding-inserting business, which was outsourced 10 years ago,” said Manager Robert Delgado. “The cost became too much for the company along with the mistakes that were happening. This is keeping us really busy, and we have not laid off anyone because of that.”
Other in-plants are taking advantage of their empty campuses to install wide-format graphics.
“We just installed some perforated window vinyl, and we’re printing some large wall graphics,” noted Kerry Mehle, Graphic Communication Technician at Moorpark College, in Moorpark, Calif. “With the campus relatively empty of students, and me not being as busy as normal, now is the time to print and install these kinds of things. If it were not for the ability to do the large-format work, I’d be almost at a standstill.”
Being flexible and looking for ways to add value are how in-plants have been coping during the pandemic.
“Our production staff have been taking on responsibilities completely unrelated to their job,” reported Ken Schanuel, director of Production Services for The Catholic Health Association of the United States, in St. Louis. “The upside of this is that they will add much more value to the organization after this is all said and done.”
One thing the in-plant has done is to help the organization manage the switch from in-person to virtual meetings.
“We have collaborated with the Communications and Marketing department to create and ship printed meeting materials to those who register for the meetings, along with ‘fun’ boxes for virtual receptions,” he said. “Keeping an open mind and being flexible and innovative is the key to survival for us during this time.”
In Harrisburg, Pa., Rich Hoffner, Print & Mailing Services manager for the Dauphin County Library System, returned to his in-plant in June after being closed for 10 weeks. Things have gotten very busy.“
July and August were two of the busiest months I’ve had on the press in over two years,” he noted. Though no budget cuts have been proposed, no major purchases will be approved for 2021, he said. Hoffner recently had a chance to prove the in-plant’s value after the finance department switched software vendors and were temporarily unable to print checks.
“I was able to use the variable data feature of the [Xanté] iQueue and our Xanté HWC to drop the information onto fields of the check,” he said. “That is what we are here for, to keep all departments happy and running smooth.”
By finding ways to continue to add value, smaller in-plants seem to be faring well despite the financial hardships their parent organizations are enduring.
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.