Initially, demand for commercial printing declined during the COVID-19 pandemic especially in the early months of intermittent lockdowns. Many events were subsequently canceled which has led to lower demand for promotional materials, new products, and related services. Numerous businesses have also transitioned to a remote workforce which has accelerated the trend towards paperless operations (Businesswire, 2020). We do however argue this effect will be temporary, although some losses will remain constant, other areas for printed materials have shown promise such as those related to the pandemic (6ft social distancing, masks required for entry etc). In addition, Americans have collectively shown to possess short memories of bad things. Just after the September 11th attacks, air travel was down considerably. Within two months it was back and surging to new highs through the holiday season. The same holds true for Corona as a vaccine emerges, and people forget leading us back to where we were, but this time with a few twists to the mix.
Some commercial printers are adapting to the new normal by focusing on other areas of demand to offset losses from advertising and promotional materials. Printers providing labels and packaging for pharmaceuticals, medical devices and food and beverage sectors have seen an increase in demand as fears around virus transmission have outweighed concerns over the excess packaging. Some printers have also seen increased demand for COVID-19 related signage from retailers who want to assure customers they are taking necessary safety precautions. While others are turning to UV printing on items like plexiglass shields, flooring and more permanent signage (Businesswire, 2020).
Like the broader U.S. economy, the commercial printing industry has certainly been profoundly affected by the COVID-19 crisis, and the first wave of industry data designed to measure conditions and recovery in the sector is telling.
Based on the contraction of the U.S. economy, there was no surprise that recent data is beginning to show a bottoming out as industries and consumers adapt. One can easily find toilet paper now when two months ago the product was non-existent. Although sales and production both trended downward and federal stimulus has been a lifeline to businesses and employees, we still believe that additional short-term stimulus will be needed until a vaccine can be tested and implemented society wide.
As mentioned, there are bright spots in our industry as printing companies of all types become essential in helping their customers communicate effectively with clients and relay important messages to the general public on how to simply stay safe.
According to respondents of PRINTING United Alliance’s recently released report, “COVID-19 Print Business Indicators Research: A Path Forward” (published May 11, 2020), the following were seen as strong business priorities in managing the coronavirus crisis. The report can be found online at the Printing Impressions COVID-19 Resource Channel.
- Protect employee health: Numerous strategies are being undertaken in this area, including providing PPE, safe spacing of employees, sanitizing workstations, shiftwork, and enabling work-from-home for certain positions.
- Control costs and protect cash flow: Undertaken in this was the reduction of salaries and hours, discontinuing contributions to 401(k) plans, minimizing non-essential costs, delaying purchases and payments, and seeking available governmental aid.
- Focus on growth: The pandemic has some companies growing rapidly, prompting other firms to seek similar opportunities in growth areas, such as packaging. A question is how ready companies are to make these moves and the degree of success with which they can.
- Employee support: A wide range of strategies were seen in this area, including checking in with employees, paying staff to volunteer within the community, and offering interest-free loans to employees in need.
- Prevent a temporary separation from becoming permanent: While layoffs or furloughs may be inevitable for some printing companies, some are taking steps to re-engage employees for when the recovery occurs. (Dan Marx, Printing Impressions, 2020)