When the UK was placed into lockdown on March 24th 2020, many of us forecast the effect on our industry. We expected food retailers, medical facilities and pharmacies to stay open, albeit with strict social distancing measures in place, while non-food retailers, schools, and bars and restaurants would reopen (with limited opening) in two or three months.
Travel would recommence towards the end of the summer – domestic, followed by international – before the return of exhibitions and large gatherings such as sporting events and conferences, likely towards the beginning of October. Now, as we head towards the end of 2020, we can look back and see which of our predictions came to pass.
Remaining challenges – and opportunities
Travel remains largely on pause; bars and restaurants had significantly higher levels of restrictions placed upon them than our initial thoughts; schools stayed closed until the autumn term; and offices have reopened but with far fewer staff. All of these realities have reduced the demand for signage and graphics, even those relating to social distancing. However, in other areas our expectations were correct, and to support these trends we have developed and reimagined our core products and services. We helped customers maximise their opportunities with social distancing, physical separation and hygiene products along with associated marketing collateral.
We expected a second wave of COVID-19 but we didn't anticipate the level of restrictions preventing the predicted 'V'-shaped economic recovery. However, anticipating economic shifts and adapting as necessary should continue and, to that end, we have identified key trends and the opportunities they may offer to sign and display businesses.
Schools, higher education institutions and nurseries have competing priorities to protect students and staff while satisfying parents that they are adequately prepared. The return to normal activity has driven a spike in infections, but the government is resolute in ensuring educational institutions stay open. This means challenges for these sites, but some opportunities for businesses able to provide signage, printed floor stickers, sanitising stations, partitions and screens, and more. Navigating this sector can be complex, owing to government guidelines and procurement processes that are often centrally controlled, but with over 20,000 schools in the UK there is scope for repeat business.
Office and commercial
In many industries, companies are delaying the return of staff to offices until at least Q1 2021 but these sites need to be made COVID-secure now, including re-visualising spaces to allow social distancing and increased cleaning. Full fitouts can be expensive, but making robust and properly considered adaptations now can future-proof an office throughout the pandemic and beyond. Some sign and graphics companies have valuable transferable skills here; experience in exhibitions can be repurposed for interior spaces, providing partitions, work pods, modular stand solutions, showrooms, video conferencing backdrops and other applications.
Sports, events and exhibitions
These industries have been hit hard this year and restrictions, based on the science of how COVID-19 is transmitted, will continue well into Q2 and Q3 2021. Businesses and organisers in these sectors will be understandably reticent about making or taking bookings, owing to the cost of insurance and real possibility of cancellations. However, as with other sectors, there are opportunities. Restrictions on group numbers may mean smaller, more frequent or longer events, held throughout the year rather than seasonally. We may also expect several regional events rather than one large one. Many could move outdoors where the risk of spreading the virus is shown to be lower, and technology will make online virtual events commonplace. Again, display businesses have the innovation to succeed. New crowd control systems, stand designs, backdrops and vehicle displays will be needed, potentially across larger spaces and for longer periods.
Travel, often grouped with events and exhibitions, is likely to remain subdued until summer next year due to quarantine restrictions and consumers' financial concerns. However, travel businesses and transport hubs, like most others, will be looking for economical yet creative marketing tools, potentially providing work for sign companies. And businesses should bear in mind that travel will return and they should prepare for when it does.
Retail and hospitality
Kind summer weather supported the use of outdoor spaces and social distancing. Over the autumn and winter people will be less inclined to queue or congregate outside, requiring many businesses to create COVID-secure environments indoors and pushing a resurgence of click & collect. Retailers, plus restaurants, pubs and bars offering takeaways, will have to adapt with queuing and collection systems, weather protection, and information displays for track and trace. We expect growth in home deliveries, so retailers will have to make their physical stores more enticing with marketing collateral for new lines and discount sales to deal with surplus stock from the first lockdown. Furthermore, social distancing and directional signage, possibly installed as a temporary measure several months ago, will need replacing and improving with longer-term solutions. People are weary and wary of visiting places that aren't – or don't appear to be –COVID-secure, so business owners will need to invest in new systems and graphics to reassure customers.
Overcoming the next challenge
The next six to nine months will be as difficult as the past six. Sadly, we expect a number of companies will not survive. However, creativity, innovation and reinvention – things we see every day in our industry – may help your businesses overcome the next set of challenges. As a key supplier we are also here to support you. We are developing new products, both related to COVID and our core products, many designed in line with our forecasts. We have made our marketing collateral more user friendly, including four new micro-sites that can be used to drive sales on your business's website, and offer 3D CAD support including site survey visits for larger enquiries. We'd also love for you to explore our new showroom and COVID product range with 1-2-1 virtual tours. Finally, we are available to chat through any concerns, ideas or predictions of your own. We are stronger together, now and into 2021.
The above information is from the Innovating to Survive COVID-19 Together guide, the full version of which is available for download from the Ultima Displays website