The two pandemic years in Kanpur and Lucknow - The Noel D'Cunha Sunday Column

Avadhesh Awasthi, founder director of Kanpur-based Vidya Laminators; as well as Mohit Jaggi of Modern Printers and Sanjay Kohli of Kohli Printers in Lucknow share their thoughts with Harjinder Singh, the honorary treasurer of 2020-21 at the All India Federation of Master Printers and director at Swastika Printwell.

A Sunday Column Special

16 Jan 2022 | By Noel D'Cunha

Looking at the two pandemic years
Avadhesh Awasthi: During the lockdown, we managed to run our factory safely and carefully, as per the government norms, following all the government rules and regulations for Covid-19. Like every other business, we also faced a lot of difficulties during the pandemic. But we are a manufacturer of essential goods. 

Consequently, we had followed all the government norms and kept working during the hard time to provide supplies to our customers. 

During the ensuing price hike, we informed all our customers and requested them for a price increase. But, of course, profit margins were reduced accordingly. 

Avadhesh Awasthi, Vidya Laminators

During the pandemic, we followed all the government rules regarding safety strictly and carefully. In our factory premises, masks, sanitisation and social distancing were made compulsory. We had also spread awareness among our workforce about the safety norms regarding Covid-19. 

During this period, regular monitoring and medical tests of the workforce were also done. We had also strictly monitored the vaccination of all our workforce.

Mohit Jaggi: The first lockdown was relaxing as we press owners don't get to spend quality time with our families. And so, those 18 days were spent with the family. Thereafter, we resumed working after we got the necessary permission from the government authorities. 

Since the lockdown, and during the past 18 months, we have been impacted by raw material price hike + policies which have not been pro-print. Plus the hike in raw material prices has impacted the print business significantly. The rates of printing have not been revised for aeons. One is trying to survive. 

The problem is, the commercial segment has settled at levels far below pre-Covid volumes. We've also seen the industry evolve into an inflationary driven market. The commercial print market as we all see has been going down since the arrival of Covid. Hike in input costs has crushed the margins. Many big units in Lucknow have shut down. This has resulted in job losses.

Therefore we are trying to focus much-more on packaging. There has been strengthening of the packaging and label segment in Uttar Pradesh. I hope our industry can take advantage of the opportunities that come with economic growth or recovery in 2022.

Sanjay Kohli: During the lockdown and later the pandemic months, we had to increase our printing rates. We had to do this, strategically. We produce a lot of commercial printing (mainly, job work) on paper and cardboard. The raw material prices skyrocketed. As a result we had to hike our prices. This impacted our job orders with our customer base. 

Mohit Jaggi, Modern Printers 

We saw volatility in the education sector as the print run decreased by 40-50%.  Likewise the jobber work was affected due to loss of sales and volumes. 

The point is, due to the pandemic, the commercial print market in Uttar Pradesh has been at the receiving end. There has been a fall in print quantity due to corporate cost-cutting by the customers. This has resulted in fewer orders. 

Quite a few print firms have shut down in the city or reduced their staff by 30%. The overall quantity demanded by the customers and education publishers have fallen by 50% due to price hikes in print coupled with a pro-digital policy.

Key lessons from the pandemic
Avadhesh Awasthi: We were regularly monitoring and managing our inventory. But we got the real benefits of our inventory management system during the pandemic. By monitoring market forecasting and customer requirements, we were able to procure the raw material at the lowest price at the correct time. As far as the print business in Kanpur is concerned, during the pandemic period, many of our print business associates were facing trouble due to declining orders and requirements. The print industry was in trouble due to the uncertainty of the work and jobs in the market. To survive, many of the print firms were doing commercial short-run jobs during the period. 

Post-Covid, in Kanpur, we have more challenges and less opportunities. This is making it difficult for every print business in the city. I would like to see the changes for the betterment of our city. As our city is famous for industrial units and business houses, there is lots of scope in the development of skilled workers and technical staff, and for this, a technical institute should be established in Kanpur. 

Our industry has faced so many different types of adversities in its print journey. My one piece of advice to cope up with the pandemic is this: “Our observation, proficiency and perspective are our strength to convert the challenges into opportunities and adopt a crisis management system to avoid this situation in future.”

Mohit Jaggi: I firmly believe we need to keep investing in the future of our industry. We need to attract and retain young talent. Otherwise, the print industry is going to end up with a significant skills gap in the next ten years or so.

The most important lesson I learnt during these 18 months has been to control expenses. "Money saved is money earned "

Sanjay Kohli, Kohli Printers

Lucknow city needs to see a paradigm shift within the print industry. Firstly there should be unity amongst printers and the printing prices need to be collectively revised. Only if we stand with each other in these tough times, can we survive and thrive.

One piece of advice, in order to cope in these tough times ... "Have faith, keep expenses low. I see a lot of light beyond all this all-pervading darkness."

Sanjay Kohli: The past two years have been tough. One lesson I have learnt is: Set a limit to your credit work. This is not the right time to invest any more money in the print business.

The Covid situation has taken a brutal toll on the print business in Lucknow. There has been a 40% fall in the quantity demanded by the customers. This has resulted in fewer orders. This has impacted our P&L.

Other than the pandemic, print volumes have dipped due to the WFH policies of schools and colleges as well as banks and financial institutes. Plus the 45th meeting of the GST council which increased the GST on print and packaging items from 12 to 18% has severely dented the fortunes of innumerable small print firms.

Presently in Lucknow, there has been an effect on printing run lengths which has decreased and short-run has moved to digital print.

Today, most of the print companies in Lucknow are trying to survive on bare minimum expenses.

A sense of pessimism prevails. Print firm owners are not keen to expand their business. Also, they are keeping the workforce to a bare minimum. Because no one knows what will happen tomorrow ...

The only solution in the present situation is, more and more educated (and enlightened) people should invest in our industry; and revitalise its fortunes.

What did you do during the past two years? Please eMail your experience to Noel D'cunha: