Life After COVID-19 (Part 3): Finding Opportunities
Laura Lockett is in the same situation many other higher-ed in-plants are facing right now.
“I’d say 90% of our revenue is event based, and when you’re not doing any events … it makes it a little more challenging,” says Lockett, director of Sacramento State University Print & Mail.
The coronavirus pandemic has wiped out many of the print jobs in-plants relied on. So what types of work can replace this vanishing event-based work? And how is the work mix at in-plants changing as the result of COVID-19?
Certain types of printing have been very much in demand during the pandemic, such as transactional printing. Curriculum packets have been a gold mine for school district in-plants in recent months. Other in-plants, such as those at universities, could look into insourcing this work from school districts without in-plants.
Deer Valley Unified School District (DVUSD) Graphic Communications, in Phoenix, has stayed very busy using this model; it already prints materials for 50 other Arizona districts, and during the pandemic has signed contracts with three more. Looking outside of your parent organization for business is going to become essential for in-plants that want to survive in the coming months.
The biggest opportunity seems to be wide-format printing due to the need for signage related to COVID-19. There’s a great need for floor graphics showing people where to stand to be socially distanced, directional signage to keep people moving in an organized fashion, and informational signage to tell them about new procedures. Many educational in-plants saw an opportunity to print yard signs congratulating graduating seniors.
Sacramento State’s in-plant has used its empty campus as an opportunity to print and install graphics for one of the parking garages. It will also wrap shuttle vehicles, which are currently not seeing much use.
Some in-plants are designing and printing backdrops to place in people’s home offices, to replace the view of their kitchen during video conferences. Similarly, DVUSD’s Martin James, manager of Graphic Communications, has been designing and selling personalized digital graphics that can be used as virtual backgrounds during calls.
“We’ll brand your department, we’ll brand your district, we’ll brand you. That’s a new opportunity,” he proclaims.
This is just one example of how in-plants are thinking creatively about how they can add value. It’s now more crucial than ever to consult with your customers and learn about their needs. Then recommend solutions to them that they may not have considered.
“Now’s the time to shine,” remarks Richard Beto, director of Document Solutions at The University of Texas at Austin. “You just have to look for the opportunities.”
He has noticed that departments that previously did their own folding and inserting or used student workers, are now unable to do that.
“Because they’re working remotely, a lot of this fulfillment has fallen upon our mail group,” he says. This gives that department a way to add value.
The pandemic has also made University of Texas departments more receptive to participating in the in-plant’s copier management program, to save money, and Beto has been in talks about expanding the devices in his program from 150 to more than 900.
“Never waste an emergency,” he quips.
At Sacramento State, the in-plant is marketing the Direct Color Systems 1800z UV LED printer it purchased last year so it can produce customized awards for campus groups, as well as rigid signage.
As customers grow to accept PDF files instead of printed pages, they may overlook the security issues inherent in digital files. A PDF can be altered. How can the in-plant add value by using its graphics expertise to provide more secure PDFs?
The document management services provided by Ventura County GSA Document Services have proved invaluable during the pandemic, because the in-plant was able to make the digital documents it manages – including scans of invoices – remotely accessible.
“As the staff got pushed out into more telecommuting, they were able to access our work and our platform,” says Steve Nelles, Business Support Services manager. “In other words, we were able to give them some work to do.”
This greatly increased the in-plant’s strategic value. During a crisis, your in-plant’s ability to help the organization function, even by providing non-traditional services, can work in your favor when it comes time for the inevitable budget cuts that COVID-19 will bring.
“In the event a customer comes to you with a not-so-normal request, assess what your bandwidth is,” advises Mike Lincoln, Colorado State Printer. “Can you service that need?”
This goes for ideas your staff may come up with too.
“When somebody brings an idea to you, you may spend a little more time thinking about it than in the past,” Lincoln says.
Certainly the creation of face masks and shields by in-plants, such as Ithaca College and the University of California, San Francisco, is one of those “not-so-normal” requests being fulfilled. Others, like DVUSD, have explored providing customized face masks through their promotional products suppliers (though James is still looking into potential liability issues with providing PPE that may not arrive 100% sterile).
Producing branded plexiglass “sneeze guard” barriers for the organization is another idea some in-plants have explored. Several have created such guards for their own service areas. Each location will have slightly different measurements, so this will require a lot of preparation.
Another complication will be availability of plexiglass, a material currently in high demand. In fact all wide-format substrates are starting to become scarce, managers say.
“We’ve noticed that some of our go-to products are unavailable,” confirms Sean Carroll, director of marketing and communications for Business Services at Vanderbilt University.
Even if supplies are available, it’s taking longer to receive them, notes John Cruser, global manager of Bloomberg Ink, the in-plant for Bloomberg L.P. People are doing so much online shopping right now, he points out, the shipping infrastructure is being strained.
“We’re going to have to be prepared for longer shipping turnaround times,” he says. This goes for the shipping of an in-plant’s printed material too, he says. This will increase turnaround times, impacting one of an in-plant’s greatest strengths: overnight delivery. Though his in-plant has been closed since March, once it opens he anticipates having to let printed materials sit in his shop for a full extra day to ensure the COVID-19 virus has time to die before pieces get delivered.
“There’s going to be a lot of patience that your customers are going to have to realize that they need,” he remarks.
(This is an excerpt from a longer article that will appear in the June/July issue of IPI.)
Related story: Life After COVID-19 (Part 1)
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, cosponsored by IPMA and In-plant Impressions.