Read our Q&A below with Ace Designs V.P. of Awesome! Sheri Robertson to find out how the sign company is navigating its business through these unprecedented times.
SBI: Tell our readers a bit about Ace Designs Inc. and what your shop offers/specializes in.
Sheri Robertson (SR): We are a large format print shop/display house. We specialize in POP displays, window displays, graphics of all kinds, and picture framing. Our specialities are Print! Prop! Visual! The majority of our clients are national retailers. Our equipment list includes flatbed printing, roll printers, plotters, CNC routing, thermoforming, printing, and fabrication.
SBI: How has the COVID-19 outbreak affected your business?
SR: The majority of our customers being retailers, this had a dramatic impact on our work. Most active projects were put on hold and a handful cancelled. Retail tends to be affected very quickly by economic change of any kind because it is market reactive. We were pacing to grow about 20% this year, however, everything came to a screeching halt with stores being closed. We are hopeful that when this is all over, in-store retail will see a boom with people having been cooped up in their homes and needing some “retail therapy.” It is my personal hope that people will want to help businesses, small and large, to bounce back from this. I’m sure many people may not even think of this, but often larger business support smaller ones!
SBI: Is your state, Pennsylvania, under a Stay at Home order? Has your sign company adapted operations because of COVID-19? If so, how?
SR: Our entire state is now on Stay At Home order. The initial order included “print” as a non-essential business so we had to lay off our entire manufacturing staff and about half of our support team. We have kept client support working from home for design, estimating, and sales support. We are trying to create a backlog so that we can bring back as much manufacturing as soon as possible.
Two days after the initial order, the Governor [of Pennsylvania] changed the businesses and “print” is now essential in my state. We have been working on some projects that require very few people in the building. We are also working on helping out the community during this time. We have been producing surgical shields to donate. We have a couple of machine operators coming in to create parts, and we spread our fabrication area that normally has about 50 people to stations for less than 10 to allow plenty of space between them. Gloves, masks, and shields are worn while working on that production. We’ve purchased enough material to produce about 18,000 shields and created a GoFundMe to help us be able to do even more.
SBI: Have you started creating any new products/signage due to COVID-19?
SR: The vast majority of our clients are still closed so this need has not arisen yet. We have the ability to create and turn these very quickly so we have been maintaining equipment and stock levels to ensure we can be there when that need happens.
SBI: How are you dealing with your building’s landlord and the rent (if you rent and don’t own the building)? Do you have any concerns or are you making any future contingency plans with your landlord?
SR: This has not been an issue that we have needed to address yet. We have been meeting daily to review the new stimulus package and the options available to help us. We are looking at the best way to ensure that we are poised to come out of this with the least damage possible to our business, including debt if at all possible.
SBI: What are your top challenges right now?
SR: Our biggest challenge has really been uncertainty. And I know we are not alone in that. It’s very difficult to make a plan or even contingency when every day something out of our control seems to happen.
The next challenge that we are facing is our clients are closed and unable to use or receive the products that we normally make. We are holding projects, holding shipments, and have had some orders that were cancelled. We are also getting communications that payments will be pushed out from typical net 30 terms to 90 and even 120 days.
SBI: Have you worked out any solutions?
SR: Regarding the unknown, we could hunker down and just wait for what’s next, but we have instead been mapping out strategies and focusing on what we “can” do and all things that are within our control. We are looking at how we can have a positive impact for those who need manufacturing like medical and health care facilities.
For our clients, we are holding the projects and trying to work out how to help them through this turbulent time. We are all in the same situation so we are working with them to ensure we can provide the services they need without digging a hole that we cannot get ourselves out of. We are also taking every opportunity to innovate and create new products that have an immediate need. Thus far, we have had several new industries reaching out to us and working on how we are able to pivot our capabilities to suit their needs.
SBI: Does your shop have any plans to take advantage of some of the relief/help offered in the CARES act recently passed by Congress?
SR: We are exploring this. There are a lot of question marks and a need for clarity on some of these options. We are working with business groups, attorneys, and our accountant to make an educated and informed choice about the best way to utilize this type of funding. We will apply for some relief but have a specific plan for execution and tracking of any funds received to ensure that we are not creating a debt for our business that could be detrimental.