The printing industry exhibition cancellations started with FESPA, then Sign & Digital UK, and if you think Drupa is going ahead then you will want your head checking. Coronavirus is nothing short of a shit shower for businesses in every industry sector, but it’s also not the end of the freaking world. The Gill takes a look at what you can do to leverage the situation to benefit your printing business.

 

Nor should you be thinking that this could be be the end of your print business. It’s a flu pandemic; not a zombie outbreak. There will be an end to it, probably once we have all caught it, coughed, wheezed and had pneumonia - and as the UK government has cheerily pointed out - some will sadly die - but it will (as all things must) pass. Then everybody will wake up and wonder what they are doing sitting at home surrounded by a ton of toilet rolls. 

 

I have already made my own COVID-19 emergency plans. At the ripe old age of sixty, and with a recent history of throat cancer, I fall into one of the ‘at risk’ categories. So if the world’s supply of toilet paper runs out by the time I get the dreaded flu I am fully intending to wipe my backside on bible stock, or better still cut down copies of Lidl’s customer news magazine which is printed on a rather lovely ultra lightweight soft paper. It will be a marvellous way of remaining sanitary and keeping up to date with the latest Middle of Lidl bargains at the same time. 

 

 

Even as I write this my wife has the flu. She came down with it a couple of days ago but felt well enough to go back to work after a couple of days, and was sent home again ‘as a precaution’. She was told to go home and call NHS 111. Well good luck with that. I spent more than two hours this week holding on a call waiting system trying to get through to my central heating boiler manufacturer (Baxi - you  bunch of useless bastards) before being driven completely mad by the repetitive on hold music and I had to quit. She has been waiting for over an hour already and the incessant call waiting music is driving us both around the bend with madness. So if the COVID-19 flu doesn’t get you - you can bet your bottom dollar you will be driven totally crazy by something else as a result of it. 

 

So has the world gone mad? You would think so wouldn’t you. Every news agency in the world is covering the story on a minute-by-minute basis - it’s relentless. Even the UK Health minister and Conservative MP Nadine Dorries has been diagnosed with coronavirus. So what chance do any of us have of avoiding it? None is the honest answer. Not unless you want to sit around at home for the next four months while the world around you goes totally insane. 

 

In seriousness though, exhibition cancellations are seriously bad for business. Vism project management software system founder Dan Tyler recently posted this question on LinkedIn: “What are all the show organisers going to do in September when their postponed shows come back around and half their suppliers and sub-contractors have gone out of business because they left them in the lurch?” It does make you think. 

 

No exhibitions also means that print companies won’t get to see any of the latest production kit or new applications in action. Manufacturers have nobody with which to showcase their offerings, and the knock-on further down the line is that many display printing companies that would have produced work for these cancelled exhibitions are busy scrabbling around looking for customers for their print services that they can cross-sell into new market sectors. Nobody wins. 

 

So should you be using COVID-19 as an excuse - like many did with the ‘uncertainty of Brexit’ as a means of saving money and not investing in your printing business? After all, the world is obviously coming to an end and you can’t take your money with you, but let us assume that this really is just a bad case of the flu - albeit a super flu - and as such when the dust settles and all of the media hype subsides, you will still be left holding the baby that is your printing business. What should you do?

 

 

Ian Carrotte of ICSM Credit warns that keeping a tight grip on credit control is essential and for the moment to put a freeze on inessential spending and even a recruitment block as cash flow dries up. “As with all crisis’ this one will not run for ever,” he says, “we expect with the summer months things will return to normal and we then may get a resurgent economy so those who survive this downturn will be well positioned.” Wise words indeed, but if you look at the other side of the coin it is very much a buyers market at present. 

 

So if you were thinking of going to FESPA, Sign & Digital UK or Drupa with a view to investing in the future of your business, the spring and early summer might be a very good time to start shopping around for the things you were interested in. Furthermore, keeping in mind that it is clearly a buyers market, many equipment manufacturers will be desperate to sell you something and as such you will be in a prime position to negotiate a very nice deal for yourself. The shoe is clearly on the other foot when it comes to making purchasing decisions right now. 

 

As somebody who has worked in the printing industry for over 40 years I can honestly tell you that the best thing to do at times such as these is to not put your head in the sand and hope the problem goes away. In a career spanning over five decades I think I have pretty much seen it all, so take my advice and act now and do something about it. Whether that is picking up the phone to reassure your customers that you are still there to support them 24\7 or to investigate new routes to market. If you are a display printer then you should be talking to Ricoh or Xerox to explore how you can move into the cut sheet digital printing sector. After all, your customers will be buying this from somewhere - so why not from you? The same goes for those in the litho/cut sheet digital market. Buy a wide format printer and grow your business.

 

This is what central London digital printing company IPW1 did to grow its business last year.

 

You can listen to the podcast here.

 

If moving forward with your business means making an investment in plant and machinery think about financing it rather than buying it. The UK government has just announced an emergency cut in interest rates in a bid to shore up the economy amid the coronavirus outbreak. Rates have been reduced from 0.75% to 0.25%, taking borrowing costs back down to the lowest level in history. The Bank said it would also free up billions of pounds of extra lending power to help banks support firms. This comes as the chancellor is expected to announce further measures to support growth and jobs in the upcoming Budget.

 

Here is my final piece of advice. You won’t find it in any business books or business builder courses but when the shit is really hitting the fan, put the kettle on. Make a brew. Put your feet up on your desk and stare out of the window while having a good long think about the business. You will be amazed by how productive this process actually is. 

 

When you have done that and can see a clear path forward, go forth and negotiate a great deal and invest in the future of your business while you still have one to invest in. 

 

"Take a listen to my podcast interview with senior partner Glen Robins to find out how IPW1 is deriving profit through technology and why investing in wide format printing was the best thing the company did to make more money."