It’s been common to see frequent references and riffs on the title of Gabriel García Márquez’s novel Love in the Time of Cholera, but in this day of quarantining and social distancing, the Marquez title that springs to mind for many of us is One Hundred Years of Solitude—but not for sign companies.

On our special COVID-19 coverage page, we have been tracking what businesses across the industry have been doing to help battle, or at least cope with, the crisis. We are also conducting a short survey to update our Printing Outlook 2020 report as obviously our outlook for the year has, um, changed since December when we wrote the report. (You are welcome—nay, encouraged—to take the survey here.)

In this, the first of what I plan to make a series of periodic “check in” articles, I take a look at how the crisis has impacted businesses in the wide-format and signage market. “We’re very fortunate that we have a good amount of work with businesses and industries that fall into the ‘essential’ classification, mainly healthcare and construction,” says Rick Bult, owner of FASTSIGNS of Saratoga Springs, N.Y. “Even though restaurants are considered essential, the amount of work they generate for take-out and pickup isn’t enough to sustain a business. We’re also increasing our advertising efforts by offering free CDC signs to businesses that would like to post them around their office, and helping people realize that washing your hands needs to be a way of life for everyday, not just today.”

And in many, if not most, states, print businesses are considered “essential,” as well they should be. “Our studios are considered ‘essential businesses’ so they remain open,” says Elliot Parks, COO of SpeedPro. “And [SpeedPro studios] have banded together. We’re seeing a lot of activity on our message boards and they’re gathering a lot of ideas for things they can print or things they can do during the downtime to get through it. They’re leaning on each other, and the home office is doing everything they can to support them, as well.” Companies that heavily served the events market were especially hit, with events being cancelled pretty much everywhere and SpeedPro studios that specialized in event graphics were especially hit. (A quick look at some of the comments in our preliminary survey results confirms that event graphics providers took a hit early on in the crisis.)

Some are even going beyond printing. SpeedPro Chicago Loop is volunteering to run errands or perform tasks for their clients and others the greater Chicagoland community that fall into the “at-risk” category.  

(By the way, the classification of printing as an “essential” business varies by state. Minnesota, for example, had initially considered printing and paper to be “non-essential,” which drew the ire of Printing Industry Midwest, which successfully lobbied to change that status.)

The essential nature of printing is obvious to us, but it is most conspicuous in the area of signage. “All of our Image360, Signs By Tomorrow, and Signs Now centers have been impacted in some way by the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Ray Palmer, President of the Sign and Graphics Division, Alliance Franchise Brands. “Thankfully, in most states, sign and graphics centers are considered essential businesses because we supply safety and critical signage for hospitals, testing facilities, banks and restaurants, and other essential businesses. Many of our centers remain open providing these important services.”

Signage has become an important—and, yes, essential—print application. Today in our Newsfeed, Sacramento, Calif.’s Time Printing Solution Provider is using their Heidelberg Versafire to print CDC signage for hospitals and businesses to encourage social distancing and hand-washing. And HP today also cited several Latex customers that are producing important signage, such as Kirkwood Printing of Wilmington, Mass., that is printing outdoor wayfinding signage for drive-thru testing centers, as well as signage for retailers indicating that they are closed. Not the happiest of signs, but it’s signage.

Equipment manufacturers are also stepping up to help out their customers. “Roland DGA is dedicated to doing everything we can to support our customers and partners during the ongoing crisis,” said Dan Wilson, marketing director for Roland DGA. “We are also focused on providing ideas, useful content, and inspiration to make the best of this difficult situation.”

“In the meantime, we’re getting work out the door just as fast as it comes in,” says FASTSIGNS of Saratoga Springs’ Bult. But, he adds, “ask me again in 30 days!”

The crisis and its effects change almost daily. Feel free to share your stories and experiences, either in comments below or by writing to me at richard@whattheythink.com. I’ll be “checking in” periodically as the crisis continues—and hopefully abates.