Promo Industry Adapts To Stay-At-Home Orders
By tomorrow, 16 states representing approximately 40 percent of the U.S. population—California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Washington and West Virginia—will be under stay-at-home orders, and numerous cities and metropolitan areas across the country have put similar directives in place. The orders, which close non-essential businesses and direct residents to stay at home except for certain allowable activities such as grocery shopping and outdoor exercise, come as physical distancing and other measures fail to slow the rapid increase of coronavirus cases across the U.S.
With stay-at-home orders so widespread, numerous promotional products industry businesses have found themselves having to redirect or suspend certain operations in response. PPB Newslink has heard from or spoken with several industry companies for insight on how they are handling these changes.
California was the first to announce a state-wide stay-at-home order, with Gov. Gavin Newsom making the announcement last Thursday. Trevor Gnesin, president of Tustin, California-headquartered Logomark, in a statement released on Friday, said, “This is an unprecedented time for all of us. We have been taking precautionary measures at Logomark for the health and well-being of all of our employees up to this point, and we will now have to shut down our facility for a period of time. We are working to ship all orders scheduled for today. We will be contacting all customers who have pending orders. Although our facility will be closed, we will have employees working from home to accept all orders, answer any questions, work on projects, virtuals, etc. Other than production and samples, we are able to perform all functions to service our customers. … We very much appreciate your support as we manage through this fast-changing environment caused by the virus.”
Gnesin noted that for the fastest response, customers should email firstname.lastname@example.org or contact their regional sales manager.
The team at supplier Origaudio’s Fountain Valley production facility has also been affected by California’s stay-at-home order. In response, parent company HPG has moved large portions of its order fulfillment and inventory to Handstands in Utah and BEST Promotions in Texas to avoid disruptions.
Jason Lucash, co-founder of Origaudio and senior vice president of marketing and innovation at HPG, says, “This is a surreal time for everyone. First, our priority is to keep our staff and their families safe and healthy. Second, we’re grateful, once again, to be part of the HPG family and therefore capable of flexing on short notice to the Handstands facility in Utah and BEST facility in Texas. We do not expect any disruptions at this time, and our accounts team is standing by for any customer inquiries. We know this is already a difficult time for the world, our country, our distributors and our staff, so we are glad to have a solution in place to keep the Origaudio brand going during these difficult times.”
Distributors in the state have also had to adapt to the changing situation. Craig Nadel, CEO and president of Jack Nadel International in Los Angeles, says, “By good luck, we implemented Zoom company-wide a few months ago. The vast majority of employees can do their work from home, about 97 percent. It is true most are less efficient, but we are just living with that right now. We don’t know what will happen, of course, and it is going until mid- to late-April, best case. In short, we are making it work the best we can and that will be reasonably well albeit not full speed.”
Memo Kahan, president and owner of distributor PromoShop, also in Los Angeles, says, “We are all set up to work remotely and have been for the past week. Unfortunately, [stay-at-home] news brings yet another wrinkle to this already unknown. We are trying to over-communicate, be sensible to the world around us and try to figure out ways to stay in business. We did some hard moves yesterday. We laid off great, capable people, started a furlough across the organization and will continue to monitor and see what else needs to be done. I am most appreciative to all of our suppliers for their resilience and staying open as long as they can. As long as we have a supply chain, I believe we will make it through.”
Last Friday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a stay-at-home order for the state that went into effect on Sunday evening. Promo industry companies have shared how they are adapting to the situation, which prohibits on-premises operations for non-essential businesses until further notice. Stromberg Brand in Valley Cottage has released an update to its customers, noting that production and shipping have ceased until the restrictions are lifted, but that its customer service staff is working remote and is available during normal business hours. The supplier plans to contact all customers with open orders this week regarding fulfillment, and while it is able to take new orders, it cannot currently guarantee a ship date.
The offices of supplier Bulova in New York City are also closed, although the company has put into place remote work-from-home options for critical employees during this time of business interruption. Adrienne Forrest, vice president of corporate sales, says, “We are communicating this message to our customers and will update them as we receive additional information. We are thanking them for their business and partnership and wishing them and their families well during these uncertain times.”
New York City-based Compass Industries already had some employees working remotely, practicing social distancing and taking all necessary precautions. However, the company notes that the state-wide closure of business was a surprise. As a result, Compass’s art department, customer service and management are all working from home.
“At this point, communication is key,” says Michael Levy, company president. “We’re calling people on every order and I’m including my cell phone number with every inquiry that comes in because I want our customers to feel comfortable. We want to alleviate distributors’ tough situations and we want them to know we’re here for them and will help in any way.”
Compass Industries’ laser-engraving partner is located outside the city and is part of the medical device supply chain, so the law allows it to stay open through the shutdown. It also has a large inventory of U.S.-made products, and a lot of the domestic manufacturers it works with, like MagLite, have military or government contracts and are deemed necessary, so it continues to operate even if the state has lockdown orders in place. Staff and decorating facilities remain in operation and the company has inventory to offer customers.
Levy adds, “I want to wish everyone good luck in this time. We have to look for the light at the end of the tunnel. We hope the situation ends soon and everything is back as it should be, but we will get through this.”
Also still operational is Hauppauge-headquartered Tekweld which due to its hand sanitizer category has been designated an “essential supplier of goods to combat the virus” and is exempt as it has a certificate to continue production of hand sanitizer.
Pamela Ferguson, vice president, says, “Tekweld is open at this time and thank God we have had no personnel go down yet due to the virus, more due to kids not being in school and we are working through that. We have sent most of our office staff to work remotely. We will stay at full force as long as we possibly can, and we will continue to practice responsible social distancing and maintain a strong focus at keeping all the surfaces of our facility sanitized.”
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker issued a stay‐at‐home advisory beginning at noon today. As directed by Gov. Baker, all non‐essential businesses have been ordered to close facilities and residents urged to stay home until April 7. This mandate applies to the staff at the Hub production facility located in Braintree.
“In response to these unfortunate and uncertain times, Hub’s employees, families and community remain our top priority. Hub is still open for business, but will be unable to produce and ship goods from Braintree until the mandate is lifted. The rest of the Hub team is safely working from home and is on standby to answer any questions regarding pending or future orders. On behalf of the Hub family, our thoughts are with you all during this difficult time. We look forward to better times ahead,” says Trina Bicknell, senior vice president of sales at HPG.
Following Connecticut’s stay-at-home order, which went into effect on Monday, Prime Line in Bridgeport transitioned all employees who can work from home to do so last week. The company purchased laptops and configured computers, and is fully operational from that standpoint. Production in Connecticut is also fully operational as the restriction excludes manufacturing companies.
“The safety and welfare of our employees is of the highest priority as well as continuing to service our loyal customers,” says Jeff Lederer, president of Prime Line. “Our Pennsylvania and California facilities have temporarily closed but since Prime operates multiple decoration facilities—Connecticut being the largest and open—to every extent possible we are load-balancing production.”
On Friday, the Illinois government issued a state-wide stay-at-home order for Illinois residents to limit the spread of coronavirus. Illinois residents are required to stay home except for essential travel. As a result, Union-based BAG MAKERS, Inc. is closed until at least April 7. During this time, the supplier will have a small number of staff processing orders from home but will be unable to produce or print orders until the company reopens. Its team is contacting customers who may have had orders in process or in production that will be affected by the temporary business closure.
While New Jersey issued a stay-at-home order on Saturday, all three Vantage Apparel locations—Avenel; Saint Louis, Missouri, and Santa Ana, California, are open and fully operational. The company has been exempt from the recent closure mandates based on the work it does through distributors with hospitals, the U.S. government and the U.S. armed forces.
Over 70 percent of the company’s team is working from home and those associates essential to production are working in safe conditions. It has increased the frequency of cleaning and sanitization at all locations, banned all non-essential guests from entering the facilities and is enforcing physical distancing on the production floor.
Rob Watson, chief experience officer at Vantage Apparel, adds, “These are certainly unprecedented times and we’re thankful to the transparency and partnerships with so many companies in the industry who have helped share their best practices so that we can all learn from one another.”
While stay-at-home orders are becoming widespread, many industry companies are taking a proactive approach. So far this month, Columbia, Maryland-based industry technology and services provider Artwork Services USA preemptively provided over 1,000 of its 1,700-plus team members with laptops that were set up with secured VPNs, allowing them to work remotely, and more are being configured.
“This level of preparedness is unprecedented in our industry. I'm extraordinarily proud of the way our leadership planned for and ultimately executed this operation” says Scott Nussinow, MAS, executive vice president of AWS. “The investment in planning and infrastructure made by AWS ensures the continuity and quality of our work, and also provides for the best interests of our people.”
Other companies are stepping up to provide resources and services to industry businesses during this transition. PromoPulse, a mobile app that allows distributors to search, browse, save and share content from suppliers, service providers and thought leaders, has created a special section in its system to monitor the promotional products industry for COVID-19 updates, display the information in one common place and push notifications to any device.
“PromoPulse was created to streamline the information flow between suppliers and distributors and we realized we need to do a better job in this time of uncertainty,” says Jason Nokes, founder of PromoPulse. “We have set up a COVID-19 Updates section on PromoPulse that collects any coronavirus-related information posted in our industry.”
Suppliers and distributors are encouraged to use PPAI’s new status page to post and view updates and status reports regarding supplier company’s operations.