The Screen Print Shop's Guide for Surviving COVID-19

Business Lessons

UPDATED: March 31, 2020

This is an unparalleled crisis for screen print shops.

You are not alone in this situation.

Governments across the globe are taking extraordinary actions to prevent a catastrophic loss of life from COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. 

There has been a severe disruption to normal economic activity, daily life, events, and gatherings of all kinds.

However, you can save your business. There is a universal theme among small business owners: you must make hard choices now to ensure that you have a business later.

How serious is COVID-19 for the screen printing industry?

There are some unpleasant realities with this situation:

  • Sales have cratered across many industries.
  • Social distancing and other extreme measures will continue through April (at least).
  • State and federal governments have passed aggressive relief bills to help people and businesses hurt by this crisis.

Here are important details that the Small Business Administration has communicated to the public.

  • Paycheck Protection Program
    • Emergency loans up to $10M
    • SBA will forgive up to 100% of the loan if all employees are kept on payroll for eight weeks
    • Click here to locate SBA resources near you
  • Economic Injury Disaster Loans
    • Immediate grant advance of $10,000 within three days of applying (this advance does not need to be repaid)
      • Roughly 1 million businesses will get these loans, so apply immediately
    • Click here to apply for the COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loan

You can take action to protect yourself and your business now. Your immediate priorities are consist of 4 steps.

First, protect your health and wellbeing.

Second, ensure that your employees are safe.

Third, help where you can.

Fourth, make sure that you have a business to return to once this crisis passes.

Emergency webinar: March 19th, 2020

Watch our emergency webinar with HR professional Wendy Davids, Max Hellman from Family Industries in LA, Justin Lawrence from Oklahoma Shirt Company, and Steven Farag from Campus Ink in Illinois.

We're also hosting another webinar this Thursday, 2:30 PM CST – we'll discuss how online stores can help you keep cash moving through your business.

What to do right now in your screen printing business

Without being insensitive, it's crucial to recognize that this is a time for action – and very possibly an opportunity. Here are some suggested actions.

1. Drive revenue from online stores

If you're not using online stores, you should start. There options out there specifically for shops and we've created Printavo Merch to help to make it easier too. 

Email your customers and offer to fundraise for them, just like Barrel Maker did. Create a webpage specifically for online stores and promote it.

Offer free shipping for the stores to incentivize shopping – and avoid possible infection.

2. Sick policy

Do not let sick people come to work. If you or your employees get sick, your problems get much worse.

Two important facts about COVID-19 symptoms from the Illinois Department of Health:

  • It spreads fast. People show signs of illness between 2 to 14 days after exposure to the virus
  • It is immediately contagious. People are extremely contagious as soon as they feel symptoms

Immediately create a clear written policy in case someone is sick.

You will have to determine what is appropriate given your situation, but you have a duty to forbid sick workers from coming to work for the near future.

Given the circumstances, consider (if possible) paying the worker full wages for a given period (perhaps 14 days) and reduced wages after that.

3. Clarify your terms & conditions

Have clear terms and conditions that outline exactly what you will do - particularly regarding returns, refunds, and order cancellations.

Your terms should now include:

  • Clear cancellation policy
  • Shipping details
    • If you're doing online stores at this time, note that shipping may be disrupted
    • Allow longer-than-usual delivery times right now
  • Payment details

As an example, check out Merch Monster's super-clear terms and conditions: https://www.merchmonster.net/terms-and-conditions/

Important: If a customer in good standing or a customer is responsible for a large portion of your revenue, be lenient right now.

4. Get paid: reduce accounts receivable

Have a staff member dedicated to reducing your accounts receivable. Collect as much cash as you can.

That means calling every customer that owes you money and getting them to pay – or figuring out a plan to pay as soon as possible.

Protect your cash supply at all costs. Settle up now!

5. Get rid of debt & delay accounts payable

Call your creditors and ask for help: leases, loans, and any other debt should be negotiated.

Immediately work to protect your cashflow. Audit your debts by cost and importance. How much risk is there in your shop?

Call all parties involved with any debt you have and inform them of your current status. If you can make three months of payments, tell them that – and be prepared to do it.

It is far better to be open with them early on before you are in crisis. There are deferment and reduced payments available from most creditors.

Talk to your landlord about reduced rent, speak with your banker about reducing payments or extending them, and realize that your creditors are likely looking for chances to reduce their risk as well right now.

6. Employees: offer furloughs and help them get unemployment benefits

If your employees are amenable to it (and are financially able), offer a temporary furlough. A furlough is when an employee is asked to temporarily stop working. However, in many states, furloughed employees may not be eligible for unemployment benefits.

If it's more favorable to your employees to lay them off temporarily so they can collect unemployment benefits, offer to contact them after a set amount of time to check in on the status of their job.

Additionally, if there is an employee that you need to cut or are contemplating cutting – this is the time. Make the hard cuts now.

Tip: Find your state's unemployment office website and send it to laid off employees. Many states have suspended insurance rate increases for unemployment claims. Some business owners qualify for unemployment in certain locales.

7. Leadership and management: cut hours and pay

First, take a pay cut yourself.

That is a bitter pill, but true leadership during a time of crisis. Inform the staff that you have taken this action.

Next, have a candid discussion with management about the situation you are in. They will not only offer their advice but help you decide what's possible. They may be able to take reduced salaries or hours.

Then, offer reduced pay or reduced hours to your rank-and-file staff.

While you still must abide by all labor laws, you can offer your employees the choice of a pay cut or reduced hours upfront.

8. 100% downpayment policy

Get pre-payment for all orders going forward. Now is the time to implement this policy.

No exceptions. This is an existential matter for screen printing businesses right now. Our industry is not in the position to offer customer interest-free loans during the best of times – and certainly not now.

Preserve your cash flow at all costs.

9. Back to basics: cut expenses

Review last month's expenses and begin cutting them. The sooner you feel the pain the easier the process. 

Here's how to structure this process: list all your recurring expenses from largest to smallest.

Then determine:

  • Must have expenses
    • Necessary, mission-critical overhead. Think rent, leases, etc.
  • Nice to have expenses
    • Any things that are nice, but perhaps not mission-critical.
    • Trade groups, high-end products, etc.
  • Must-cut expenses
    • Recurring expenses that don't impact operations.
    • Subscriptions, perks, other unnecessary but small things
  • Worst case expenses
    • Consider what you absolutely cannot live without – and what to do if you had to give it up
    • In what order would you lay off staff if you had to?
      • This is a scary thought: have a strategy to layoffs

10. Take care with any large equipment purchases

Be cautious with any large equipment purchases. 

You may want to continue planned expansions and purchases regardless of the economic conditions. Take stock of your financials and determine whether you can push forward with capital expenditures.

For businesses with lots of cash on hand or a steady stream of work, now is an excellent time.

11. Contact your suppliers now

No matter who you purchase wholesale garments and supplies from, contact them immediately. Inform them of your financial situation.

Ask them for guidance about their plan for dealing with the crisis. At the time of this writing, it is likely they are still formulating their plans as the situation develops and changes.

Remember: the wholesalers' supply chains and businesses are also deeply affected by this crisis. They want to preserve their business and yours – it's essential for their business continuity.

12. Ask your bank for help

Banks are publicly reporting that they are willing and able to work with customers that experience disruptions. Citi has already waved small business fees and early CD withdrawal fees. Wells Fargo, Capital One and others have urged small businesses to contact them immediately for help.

Bankers will also have access to extra capital in times like this and can help you expedite the process. Ask for the maximum credit possible and put it into a separate account. This is your emergency, short-term credit line. Use this only in dire situations. 

Discuss the state of your business openly with your preferred banker now. Here's what to ask for:

  • Ask for a 3 to 6 month deferment on any monthly payments
    • Interest rates are low and banks are willing to refinance and roll deferred payments into a new payment plan

13. Talk to your contract printers

Many contract printers are still open during this time.

If you have been forced to close production due to quarantines, furloughs, or other issues – but still have jobs in-flight that need production – get in touch with your preferred contract printer.

Multiple high-volume contract shops around the US report that they are still operating as normal.

14. Contact your landlord now

Landlords are also hard hit by this crisis.

Contact your landlord immediately and ask for 3+ months of rent abatement.

Also ask if you can re-negotiate your rent for the inevitable post-crisis rent decreases.

Banks are working with landlords too.

15. Wait to pay your federal taxes – the IRS deadline is now July 15th

States and localities may also offer tax relief, abatement, or deferments (this depends on your locality).

However, the federal tax deadline has been extended to July 15th.

16. Get 2 free months of Adobe Creative Suite

Adobe has advised customers to reach out directly for a temporary hardship credit. You can still use the trick below, but we've heard reports of Adobe offering 90 days of service for free (or more) to subscribers during this crisis.

Save a few bucks on Adobe's Creative Suite with this tip: 

For creatives and freelancers who need editing software while working from home during the COVID-19 outbreak, Adobe is briefly offering two free months of Creative Cloud access—but only for existing subscribers. Signin to your Adobe ID on Adobe.com, then go to “Plans” and click to cancel your current subscription—but don’t follow through. While in the cancellation process, look for the “Offers” link and you should see the special discount. Click the offer, and the two months will be automatically applied to your account.

Read the full details at Lifehacker.

17. Get organized - contact your representatives in government!

It's urgent that you contact your local, state, and federal representatives during this crisis.

They cannot write a truly helpful rescue bill without your input – and many agencies are looking for help in directing their efforts.

Use your voice and contact your representatives. This is a low-effort task that can yield big returns. Additionally, your local and state governments have a lot of resources available to help you – and they will share them with you if you ask.


Tips for keeping sales coming

Shops across the world are reporting that sales have come to a halt and customers have canceled jobs.

You will almost certainly have a dip in traditional retail sales for events over the coming months. There is no way around that.

However, you can get clever with marketing.

Here are just some ideas:

  • Cancelation gift packs
    • "Your event is off. But we're still on. Delight them with our Cancellation Package."
    • Offer free shipping for your goods to them and their participants
  • Gift cards to preserve cash
    • Buy now, shop later!
  • Online stores are still viable!
    • "A totally touch-free experience...just like you want right now."
    • If you're not using online stores, you should start. There options out there specifically for shops (and we've created Printavo Merch to help to make it easier too).
    • Email your customers and offer to fundraise for them
    • Partner with a local food bank, church, or health organization to raise funds
  • Email campaigns
    • No-sales campaign: "We know it may not be time to order shirts, but we wanted to share something else cool with you!"
      • Stay in contact. This is crucial.
    • Sanitary campaign: "All shirts sanitized by heated dryer! Shipped totally touchless! All employees wear PPE!"
      • The items coming out of your shop are safe!
    • Checking in: "How's business? We can't get a drink, but I'd love to chat with another small business owner."
      • Now is the time to strengthen good relationships even if you're not doing any business at the moment.
  • Handwritten notes
    • "Thank you for your patronage throughout the years. It may not be the right time to order shirts, but I'm thankful for the connection we've made. Best wishes from the entire print family."
      • Humanize your staff and convey your gratitude
  • Free ground shipping on all orders
    • Offer free shipping for a limited time on all orders
  • Sell social distancing signage
    • If you print signs, now is the time to pitch social distancing signage!
    • This could include sticky floor mats to indicate where people stand, signs to help people understand new protocols, and other signage to reassure customers at essential businesses

1. Want to preserve sales? Preserve customer relationships now

Be confident that things will, in time, return to normalcy. Don’t lose your patience with valuable customers. Keep your long term vision about your brand in mind: how do you make people feel?

Everyone is feeling pain right now.

Particularly other small business owners. But they value the relationship they have developed with you and your company. They are your customers for a reason.

They will remember your positive, hopeful, helpful actions during this crisis – and they will stick with you when times are tough.

We will recover from this.

2. Implement mandatory follow-ups for every canceled order

Don't think the event organizers, marketers, bands and organizations you serve are thrilled to cancel events and orders for merchandise.

This is devastating for everyone involved. Share that devastation.

Of course you should try to persuade them not to cancel their merchandise – they can still use it! But ultimately, you want to have a good conversation about how sad you are that their event isn't going as planned. That they won't get their awesome merchandise. That you don't get to share what you love doing with them.

So follow up with every single canceled order. You don't need to do this immediately – but make it a point to circle back to every lost order. Once the dust settles, many of these orders will re-materialize. They are easy candidates to convert to online stores, shipped orders, or another model for selling customer merchandise.

Empathize and offer solutions!

The only thing your customer will remember about you once this is over is how you handled this crisis.

3. If you're locked down, utilize the time!

There is a lot you could do with downtime, particularly if your staff is healthy and ready to work. While these things might not get you sales right away, if you do them right they will make future sales and operations easier.

Some great ideas we've seen floated around:

  • Do a deep clean
  • Rearrange your shop
  • Reboot, rebrand, re-do your entire operation
  • Explore your "customer flow" - what does a customer ACTUALLY see and experience when they interact with you?
  • Set up and improve your Printavo workflow
  • Learn to use online stores to sell
  • Use some garments from a canceled order to experiment with a new print technique
  • Dive into business, marketing, and sales education video series
  • Read Traction and start thinking about how to emerge as a new business from this
  • Beef up your social media presence, including Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, TikTok, and even Google Business
  • Audit your shop's website and update it (particularly if it's been more than a year)
  • Start a YouTube channel
  • Join the local small business movement
  • Call and write your local legislators for relief

If you're on a self-imposed quarantine, practicing social distancing, or just being cautious – this is a chance to work on your mental muscles and develop new knowledge, skills, and techniques for the future.

4. Partner with small businesses and your community

We've already seen print shops position themselves as "businesses for businesses" – by offering fundraisers or splitting the profits from sales.

This is both an incredible tactic. You are not only helping in a time of need, you are acting as a hub for activity and goodwill.

One of the most powerful models has been Tiny Little Monster's efforts: #HereForGoodSTL. Check out the details here. They sold more than $12,000 in t-shirts and are offering this model to other shops (with attribution).

Several other examples include:

If you're using e-commerce to help your community, contact us and share your progress!


What the pros are doing: what restaurants teach us

The experts at Chicago's Alinea Group are not screen printers. But they run a world-class restaurant operation.

Restaurants, like print shops, operate on thin margins and depend on cashflow to ensure steady operations.

Their model could provide guidance to screen printers right now. They implemented the following polices (taken from their blog post about the crisis)

  • Eliminated overtime hours wherever possible
  • Reduced business team’s and managers salaried wages by 35%
  • Pressed managers into working stations / service
  • Ownership has eliminated salaries completely
  • Requested rent abatement from our landlords for the duration of the crisis
  • Reduced and utilized existing stock of dry goods (wines, etc.) instead of buying new supplies

These are all sensible actions you could emulate in your own business. While Alinea Group's restaurants have been closed by Illinois' governor, they provide a positive model to follow: they've even opened affordable pick-up options (they're normally a $500+ per meal restaurant).

What to do if an employee is sick

There is little you can do if an employee arrives sick at your shop. So prevention is key.

You should openly discourage any sick employee from attending work right now. 

If a worker does arrive sick, ask them to immediately leave work and contact their doctor.

If you are hypervigilant, you could implement a screening policy like Alinea Group has in its restaurants. They have done the following:

  • Temperature checks: "Every Alinea Group employee is temperature checked when arriving to work, the temp is logged digitally, and any reading over 100F results in the worker being sent home for self quarantine. No one gets in without a temp check, period."
  • Mandatory hourly hand washing "All BOH, FOH, and support staff is required [to hand wash then it's] monitored and logged."
  • International travel restrictions. "Any employee who has recently traveled to a CDC Zone 1,2, or 3 country must not come to work for 14 days."
  • US travel information. "All travel outside IL must be logged with a manager and Human Resources and the employee will be marked for observation upon return, or quarantined should CDC guidelines change."

What we're doing

You may always access us via e-mail at support@printavo.com. We encourage you to reach out at any time.

What we have done:

  • Moved to remote work. All Printavo employees are working remotely
  • Moved to remote customer communication. All Training and Implementation programs are remote
  • Canceled trade shows and events.

What we have not done:

  • Changed Printavo service in any way. You may continue accessing Printavo and using Printavo Customer Care as usual.

How you can help

You can help in several simple ways:

  • Prevent the disease. Follow the CDC's recommendations to avoid social gatherings and practice social distancing.
  • Stay informed. Better information means better decisions.
  • Stay calm. Lead with a calm and steady hand – this, too, shall pass!
  • Stay positive. Persistently positive business owners find solutions when others don't. Keep looking up.
  • Share info - help us improve this page. If you have resources or help to offer, please comment below or email us with it.

We will continue to serve you and the industry throughout this trying time.

Many major partners have reached out to us confirm that they are also deeply concerned about the future.

Feeling worried or anxious? Need a little help to feel better? Try virusanxiety.com, a curated website with multiple exercises to help you feel less anxious.


Government and small business resources

Staying informed is essential. This situation demands your full attention so you can make the best decisions as quickly as possible.

Your State's Department of Health
Familiarize yourself with your state's Department of Health website. They may offer a hotline and current updates to keep you informed. This is the most direct source for accurate information about the health crisis on a local level.

US Small Business Administration
The US Small Business Association is offering loans for up to $2 million at a 3.75% interest rate. The Small Business Association can be contacted via telephone at 1-800-659-2955 or through email at disastercustomerservice@sba.gov. If you have no other options for getting credit right now, this is an excellent resource. 

Reach out to your bank first before you take a SBA loan. They cannot be discharged in bankruptcy and your bank likely offers more favorable terms. However, these loans are available to anyone regardless of their creditworthiness and should be considered a source of last resort for capital.

Update: more details have emerged about the SBA's plan for issuing loans:

  • You can borrow up to $25,000 without collateral. Loans over $25,000 will require collateral.
  • The amount of your loan request must be substantiated by normal revenue and expenses prior to COVID-19.
  • You must show that you have ability to repay the loan amount - again, based on normal business operations prior to COVID-19.
  • This is a working capital loan that can be use to pay regular expenses - equipment or expansion costs are ineligible.
  • If you are declined, you will have six months to provide additional information to support your loan request.

First, the SBA has created https://www.sba.gov/funding-programs/disaster-assistance to help small business owners apply for relief.

Second, sign up for updates about the program at https://www.sba.gov/updates.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
The CDC has the most accurate and up-to-date information available about COVID-19. Learn about the spread of the disease, what to do if you are sick, and the best practices for protecting yourself and your family.

Inc. Financial Assistance Tracker for Businesses Affected by COVID-19
A detailed document with region-specific resources for business owners curated by business organization Inc. This will give you some guidance for what assistance to expect based on other states' reactions.

US Department of Labor Coronavirus Resources
Current information about OSHA guidelines, effects on wages and hours worked, and unemployment benefits.

US Chamber of Commerce Coronavirus Response Toolkit
Messaging and imagery to help prevent the spread of coronavirus in your business and community.

Wendy Davids, BHRS Partners
We discussed how to deal with HR problems, including furloughs and layoffs, with Wendy Davids from BHRS Partners. Check out the full webinar with Wendy here.

The Small Business Development Center
Free counseling and training for small business owners. Vital during this time. Use this link to find your closest Small Business Development Center.

Mike Michalowicz's Recession Response Plan for Small Businesses
A straightforward, one-page guide for dealing with this upcoming economic period.

Have an idea for something to add here? Please email us.


Next Post: Resetting Your Print Shop During COVID-19: Redding Company

About Printavo

Printavo is simple shop management software. Whether your shop works with screen printing, embroidery, signage, digital printing, or awards & engraving–we make your complex workflow simpler to manage and understand. Printavo keeps your shop organized by handling scheduling, estimates, quote approvals, workflow, payments, accounting and more. With Printavo, you’ll work smarter–not harder.

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