When the Coronavirus struck many were understandably concerned about the impact the pandemic would have on commercial print. Demand for many applications did indeed dry up, but before long printers began producing new products, or moved into sectors that had remained busy.

We asked some of the country’s most innovative printers whether they introduced new solutions during the pandemic, whether they plan on introducing more in the coming weeks, and whether they expect these changes to be permanent.

Iain Clasper-Cotte
Managing director, Northern Flags and FaberExposize UK

As one of the UK’s specialist wide-format printers, some of the largest sectors we service are those that had to shut down immediately, such as sports and exhibitions. However, unlike lots of other printers, we chose not to close down completely. Instead, we immediately organised a series of senior management meetings to decide on alternative and viable strategies. A quieter period allowed us to embark on some R&D, expanding our green, environmentally friendly range and also researching new fabrics and providing further specialist training for our team.

While we did take advantage of the Government’s Furlough Scheme, we kept a core of experienced individuals in our production, estimating, sales and marketing teams, in order to quickly and efficiently fulfil these new strategies. The first of these was the free manufacture and supply of a range of PPE equipment to care homes. We knew these environments that suffering badly from the effects of the coronavirus so, given that we had the machines and staff available, we wanted to do something to help.

This gave us vital insight into designing and producing new products, but this is something we have always kept in mind when building our team – recruiting the knowledge and skillset necessary to diversify and expand. Using this experience we created an entire range of social distancing products; including new items such as hand sanitiser stations, desk dividers and community face masks. This enabled us to work with a number of large national retailers, assisting in their reopening campaigns. It also led to a good ongoing relationship, which continues to this day.

We believe that social distancing products, particularly the core items such as signage and sanitiser stations will be here for the foreseeable future. No vaccine is immediately available so a key to preventing the spread will be sensible and responsible precautions, reinforced by clear, informative messaging. That’s why our products are high quality and durable, in order to allow for longevity, but we’ve also introduced offers and schemes allowing businesses to freshen up or change their solutions depending on evolving circumstances.

Discussing Digital: Coronavirus products

PPE has become a staple of many printers’ offerings over the lockdown period

Longer term, we are looking towards sectors in which we can predict some real growth over the next few years. Our idea here is to move beyond just wide format print and flags, and instead provide a full service package. From review and audit, to design and production and all the way through to installation, these larger-scale projects will have a dedicated project manager to ensure a smooth customer journey. This bespoke handling means that it may be necessary for us to provide entirely new products, specifically for that unique project, which we will have the capacity, knowhow and resources to fulfil.

Simon Cooper
Managing director, Solopress

Throughout the pandemic, we have kept a close eye on the guidance that the government has been producing. Rather than guess which new products would see an uplift in demand, we have mainly added new ranges that will help businesses follow these guidelines. This approach has allowed us to launch the right products at the right time.

Products such as hand sanitiser stations, social distancing stickers, face masks, face shields and sneeze screens have all sold well, helping us to make up for some of the shortfall in revenue we have experienced from traditional print.

As well as offering products to keep people safe from the virus, we also looked at other ways in which we could support our customers. One unexpected success is our range of green screens which have proven popular with people working from home and taking video calls.

I don’t expect us to launch any more new products related to coronavirus in the coming weeks. I think our range is reasonably comprehensive as it is, plus the sales of these products are reducing now that most businesses have their preparations in place.

We did however show what an agile business we are in being able to launch so many new products in such a short space of time. I want us to take this ethos into 2021 and beyond by making new product launches more frequent.

Of the new products that we have launched during the pandemic, we intend on making a number of these permanent offerings. Vinyl floor stickers were a product that we had on our roadmap, so the demand for social distancing stickers forced us to launch these sooner than originally anticipated. There was a demand for these products before coronavirus which we are now well set up to serve.

I also believe that there will be an ongoing requirement for hand sanitiser stations, and that there will be an expectation that businesses have these in their premises for years to come. As well as being included in fitting out a new business premises, there will also be the need to replace dispensers after a period of time.

Discussing Digital: Coronavirus products

Many printers have branched out into areas such as social distancing signage

In regard to other products such as face masks, there is a huge multitude of suppliers with a range of products meaning that demand is dispersed. Additionally, the products are primarily washable, meaning consumers only need to order once. Therefore, we do not anticipate strong long-term demand in this area for any individual supplier.

Matt Magovern
Sales and production director, Typecraft

Right from the beginning of lockdown it was clear that commercial print was going to suffer and Typecraft was no exception; very quickly it became clear that our ‘normal’ work wouldn’t be coming through.

Ordinarily we produce a lot of materials for the events sector such as Cheltenham Festivals, UCAS conferences or Superdry when they have a global sales meeting as well as businesses hosting meetings, conferences and exhibitions. Obviously Government regulations around social distancing meant that an entire revenue stream dried up overnight.

Our usual workforce of over 20 people was whittled down to just two of us for around five weeks during lockdown with others furloughed but we’re almost much back to full strength now.

As a result we had no choice but to try and think outside the box and come up with some new products to try and keep the presses turning. We anticipated that signage would be one area where demand might actually increase and as such we produced a Covid-19 Safety Sign mailer that was sent to clients old and new. That sparked an influx of orders of floor stickers, vinyls, Foamex and the like that actually went far beyond what we had expected. 

There was so much demand in this area that we actually had to turn away other forms of work. For example, several local companies approached us about producing protective acrylic screen products, as we are the only business in the area with an Esko cutting table, but we had to explain that we were (luckily) just too busy.

We did branch out into some new areas however; lockdown and social distancing might have impacted our exhibition work, but they opened up other avenues. When English football returned in June it did so in front of empty stadiums and clubs quickly started offering fans the chance to have a printed version of themselves placed in the stands on match days. We provided Foamex cut outs for various football clubs, including Northampton Town, Cheltenham Town and Chester City the we printed on our Anapurna 2.5m wide flatbed and cut on the Esko, which really raised the profile of Typecraft as we were featured on both local and national news reports. Other clubs have since been in touch and also we’re in talks with a few racecourses about how we can help them with similar projects.

If there is one silver lining to this pandemic, it has shown how adaptable and creative our sector can be. Going forward everyone at Typecraft will be constantly on the lookout for new ideas and processes that we might turn our hands to and we are looking to launch some new material very soon!