Trend Talk: COVID Learnings
In our recent FESPA Innovation & Trends (FIT) virtual event for wide format print, we brought together three printers from different countries to discuss trends in wide format and hear their thoughts on what the future holds.
Graeme Richardson-Locke: Technical Support Manager, FESPA. With 35 years’ experience in the industry, Graeme began as an apprentice and progressed through several directorships before joining FESPA in his current role. He is also a member of the Academy of Screen and Digital Printing Technologies.
Christophe Aussenac: FESPA’s President-Elect and Founder of the ATC group, France, which he established in 1991 and has taken the lead in developing sustainable solutions for its clients in point of sale and wide format graphics.
Keith Ferrel: General Manager of Operations at Cactus Imaging based in Sydney, Australia, which specialises in large-scale outdoor advertising applications and retail point of sale using the latest digital technology.
Javier Rodriguez Centeno: Director General of Grupo Panorama, Spain, a leading printer for retail, events and visual communication.
What will be your key focus over the next 12 months and what has been the biggest lesson from living through the pandemic?
Christophe: COVID-19 has had a fundamental impact on our business. There has been a financial cost and our company has had to make changes to the way it runs. We are fortunate to work across different sectors as some sectors in France stopped completely due to the pandemic. However, sectors including industrial, interior décor and car wrapping continued.
We also used this time to work on the organisation of our teams and the implementation of a management ERP. We call it MIS in English. We have updated all our marketing communication to be ready for when the business reactivates.
A lesson we have learnt from the pandemic is that we must be more aware of the activity level across all our customer groups and not just depend on a single market to balance our portfolio. However, our biggest lesson I would say is to have empathy and to stay close with our teams because employees have also suffered personally during this period.
Keith: Probably the biggest lesson that we've learnt from the pandemic, and bear in mind we haven't been affected as much as Europe, is the emphasis on our staff and to look after them and care for them. For us, the worst we came to is that people had to take any excess annual leave and go down to four days a week to help the business out at that particular stage. It was very important that we looked after our staff and their families, we're very supportive and we never actually laid anybody off at all. We had a lot of things in place before the pandemic and it was just working through them – diversification, automation, speed, quality, efficiencies, get closer to your customers. All that stuff.
Javier: As Keith said, things in Europe have been really very different. I remember in March 2020 when we were at the very beginning of the pandemic, we reduced our activity by 99%, we were producing just 1% of what we were supposed to do. This is a lot. What we have learnt is that we are really vulnerable, much more than we thought.
I remember three years ago, when I was with my team and we were working on a ‘post-mortem strategy’, an exercise where we had to think about why potentially the business could close. None of us thought of something like this.
We have learnt that we have to be much more flexible. Our company is working to be much more flexible in two different ways. We want our people to do very different tasks and we want the company to also do very different things, that's why we are a group. Right now, we are focused on four areas; printing, fixing or installing, e-commerce and digital signage. I think that based on these activities we can find a better future where we won't be so vulnerable.
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