From the Editor: Signs of Improvement
Here it is, summer again, and I still haven’t been to a live in-plant conference since the fall of 2019. That was the last time I saw an in-plant manager face to face. It no longer seems as surreal as it once did, especially since I talk to managers all the time on Zoom calls and group chats — even managers overseas. But still, I’m ready for some face-to-face conversations -- which I'll get in just a couple of weeks when I go to the Inkjet Summit, where more than 20 in-plant managers will be on site.
Educational opportunities have not been lacking during the pandemic, though. Most recently, the In-plant Printing and Mailing Association held its 2021 Virtual Conference in June, packed with interesting sessions. Since it was open to all in-plants, not just IPMA members, attendance was terrific, with more than 400 people signing up.
I watched every session, and it was nice to hear directly from managers about some of the obstacles they have been facing and projects they have carried out over the past year, such as adding smart lockers, fighting downsizing, keeping employees engaged, and calculating ROI for an inkjet press.
On the opening day of the conference, I gave a presentation about how in-plants have been impacted by COVID, highlighting accomplishments and new services they’ve added. I cited data from IPI’s recent research report, “In-plant Business Conditions During COVID-19,” but also unveiled some newer and more positive data. With so many now vaccinated against COVID-19 in the U.S. and the drastic drop in infections, attitudes and outlooks have changed since earlier this year, so I resurveyed the in-plant managers who responded to our February poll.
One big change was the growth in revenue since January. While 74% originally told us their in-plants had lost revenue during the pandemic (an average sales decline of 8%), 43% said their revenue has increased since January, with just 23% saying they have lost revenue.
And while 55% said in February their sales were trending downward, now just 14% say that. In fact, 44% report revenues are climbing. The amount of work in their shops is also rising. In February, 31% said work in progress was increasing; in May, 52% say that.
Though the work-from-home trend is sure to continue beyond the pandemic, more managers are returning to their offices. In February, 59% of managers were working onsite full time. That has now jumped to 64%. The percentage working remotely full time has shrunk from 7% to 2%. And it’s no wonder, since our new data shows that 91% of respondents have received their COVID-19 vaccinations.
Another sign of optimism: 75% feel business conditions will improve over the next three months — up from just 52% who felt that way in February. This is fueling a change in attitudes toward traveling to industry events. Earlier this year, nearly 50% felt their organizations were unlikely to loosen their travel bans this year. But by May, that had dropped to just 17%. Nearly half of respondents are either already allowed to travel or are confident they will be permitted to by Q3 or Q4.
The first test of this will be the Inkjet Summit, happening live in Austin, Texas, at the end of July. With more than 20 in-plant managers signed up to attend, this will be my first opportunity to meet in person with managers in more than a year. And while I’m not looking forward to the flight, I am excited to see them.
An even better opportunity will come in October when I host a full-day In-plant Forum in Orlando, the day before the PRINTING United Expo. That will mark the first official in-plant conference since the beginning of the pandemic.
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.