Here in the US, we’re entering the fifth month of the coronavirus pandemic that’s turned our world upside-down and inside out. Actually, it’s more like outside-in, seeing as how the stay-at-home directive has us staying in, at home.
The massive changes to daily life seemingly happened overnight. One day we were reading about the lockdown in Wuhan and the overflowing the hospitals in Italy and Iran, and the next day we started homeschooling our kids for what we were told would be two weeks.
The devastation is enormous. Unemployment numbers in the US are the worst since The Great Depression. Many businesses forced to close will sadly never again open. Only time will tell what kind of impact the pandemic will have on kids – my little ones are getting used to this new way of living, and it’s not “normal” by any stretch. But above all, the amount of people that have lost their life is unimaginable.
In 2008, when the stock market collapsed and the recession took hold, I was still new to the label industry. Around this time I would start visiting many label converters both at home and abroad. Asking about the health of their label businesses before, during and after the recession became standard practice, and the answers revealed what would become the general consensus: the label industry is recession-proof.
Weathering the storm
During the ensuing years that followed the crash in 2008, I learned a lot from talking to converters. A distinct theme emerged from these conversations – the crisis affected businesses and profits, but by and large label converters got through it. They weathered the storm, so to speak, and survived. Sure, some shifts had to be cut, investments and expansions were put on hold, but many emerged stronger.
While credit goes to company leaders for making good decisions, a lot of credit also goes to the label industry itself. Even during times of great economic strife, people will always need food, medicine and household goods, to name just a few sectors that did not take a dip or dive. Converters alluded to their diversified customer base that helped keep them afloat.
The economic crisis of more than a decade ago shed a lot of light on the strength and staying power of the label industry. The world needs labels and packaging. Whether goods are purchased in brick-and-mortar stores or through online retailers, labels are a must. Ingredients, nutritional information, instructions for use, warnings, and even branding elements like logos, taglines and color schemes are extremely important and sometimes mandatory. That doesn’t change with e-commerce.
Speaking of e-commerce, that segment is predictably surging. According to Daphne Howland of Retail Dive, consumers have gone online for even more shopping than usual, speeding up an existing trend. She notes, “Digital revenue in April far outpaced previous years and previous months. Traffic was up 30% year over year and 15% month over month; conversion rates were up 22% year over year and 18% month over month...and social media delivered, bringing 89% more traffic to retail sites compared to April 2019.”
While expected, that’s neither here nor there. We’re now in the early stages of a new economic crisis, brought on by the ravaging pandemic, and it remains to be seen just how far-reaching it will be, how long it will last, and what recovery looks like.
What is clear, however, is the health and reliability of our great industry. Converters are reporting being busier than ever, though they lament that they wish it were under different circumstances. Their customers are entering the hand sanitizer industry, among other new ones brought on by demands for safety and cleanliness. Pressure sensitive signage indicating six feet of space and other social distancing directives and guidelines is another area fueling new business. And of course with restaurants shuttered for indoor dining, food and beverage retail sales have been huge. CNN reports alcohol sales have grown 27% over the last three months.
When lockdown measures in the US states were announced in March, people intently learned what businesses were deemed “essential” and allowed to remain open for business. When liquor stores made the cut, it was a bit controversial, but also made sense. Of course, beer, wine and spirits need labels – just like every other product on shelf.
We knew the industry was recession-proof, and now we know it’s not only essential, but is also “pandemic-proof.”
Look for the helpers
There are always silver linings to be found when there are hardships and tragedies, though they can be difficult to find.
The late, great Fred Rogers, otherwise known as the children’s television show icon Mr. Rogers, told a story where he recalls seeing scary things on TV news programs when he was a boy. He said, “My mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”
As label printers, you are the helpers, a critical part of the supply chain. Your products play a pivotal role in promoting healing and comfort. Your labels identify and decorate food products that feed and nourish the masses, as well as those that adhere to the pharmacy items that heal the sick. While most people are working from home, press operators aren’t afforded that opportunity. Despite the many advances in machine automation, label presses do not run themselves. Nor does platemaking or finishing equipment or rewinders. And with an influx of new business, many converters added shifts, and many operators worked overtime.
I say cheers to these men and women – we’re grateful for all of your hard work. When literally leaving your house is putting you in harm’s way by running the risk of being exposed to the virus, your efforts are most appreciated. Thank you.
Some of you reading this may be wondering what happened to Jack Kenny’s Front Row column. I am both happy and sad to report that Jack – the founding editor of Label & Narrow Web – has decided to put down his L&NW pen and ride off into the sunset of retirement.
Like many of you, I looked forward to reading his Front Row reports and always enjoyed his unique take on the industry. Unique. Yep, I wrote that just for you, Jack. One of the first things you taught me was to avoid writing that word. You said very few things are in fact unique, meaning “being the only one of its kind; unlike anything else.” I think it justly applies to you. Enjoy retirement. You will be missed.
That brings me to reintroduce myself and my new column, called @LabelSteve. That’s my Twitter handle, and within this column I aim to bring readers insight that I glean from making the rounds on the internet, specifically social media. There is a lot of great information out there on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram. I’ve learned about a lot of great companies, technologies and products online, as well as seeing some very “unique” labels, which I look forward to sharing with you in the issues to come.
Steve Katz is the former editor of Label & Narrow Web and is now a regular contributor. He is focused on helping companies in the label industry share their news and tell their stories. Follow him on twitter @LabelSteve.