We profiled Eric Lazar, co-owner of SpeedPro Chicago Loop, in our February issue (“Going the Extra (Digital) Mile”), where we took at close-up look at his company’s “evangelical” approach to large format printing. Eric and his business partner, Rebecca Considine, hail from a traditional media and agency background and are able to fuse that philosophy with the creative work that their small five-person studio provides—banners, decals, floor and window graphics, wall murals, wraps, event and tradeshow signage, etc.
His company’s motto is “We’re here to help,” and that slogan has taken on extra emphasis not only at the onset of the current COVID-19 pandemic but also now that the State of Illinois has issued a “Shelter in Place” order, with Chicago on lockdown until (at least) April 7. But some of the actions that his studio is taking can also be used as an example of the ingenuity that like-minded sign shops can provide during these difficult time.
As nearly half of SpeedPro Chicago Loop’s work involved producing graphics for tradeshows and events, unfortunately work in this field dried up over three weeks ago for Eric. “We could see the shutdown coming with the canceled orders we were receiving,” he says. “But we managed to work harder and get everything else finished in time and out the door.”
Eric had to turn his studio’s attention elsewhere and had the foresight to start offering preventative signs and posters related to Coronavirus (COVID-19) for retailers, offices, and other venues and public spaces (such as homeless shelters). They put their design skills to good use, developing custom posters based off of CDC guidelines gleamed from that organization’s Web site. “I figured lots of people were probably going to be asking about these guidelines, so we designed our own before there were any CDC-related COVID-19 posters to really look at,” says Eric. “Our first ones featured text on a yellow background. Several days later, the CDC had put out their own designs, so we began offering to print those for people as well.”
At press time, Eric figures they have printed between 4,000 to 5,000 signs of this type for the Chicago area—involving lots of magnets, as well as vinyl for glass and walls, sign boards, and posters. However with retail and hospitality businesses in the area temporarily shut down, he imagines these might be used in the future as good health practice reminders when his clients do open back up.
While this helpful solution helped make up some lost ground, Eric has now turned his attention over solely toward producing signage support for recognized essential businesses—floor markers and guides, warning signs, car window decals promoting social distancing, etc. “We also are doing signs that inspire people to give them hope,” he says, “something for the lawn or something that rallies people together instead of creating a continuous divide.”
SpeedPro Chicago Loop has done a great job at what many communication experts have deemed a necessity for businesses operating during a crisis—keeping your customers up to date as to what you’re doing. The company has been sending out regular e-newsletters out keeping their 6,000-plus database informed of how they’re operating, the types of signs they’re creating, and expectations on when they should expect orders to be completed. They’ve also been consistently posting this information on their social media channels.
“We’re trying to stay in front of people. It’s important to recognize your voice and make sure that you’re not tone-deaf. You don’t want to come across sounding like you’re trying to capitalize on a tragedy,” says Eric. “There are a lot of people hurting, so we’re trying to find a way to remain visible but also sensitive.
“Obviously we’re struggling like any other business. We want to continue doing sales but not at the expense of risking our reputation. It’s a careful line you have to tread.”
Eric is also very cognizant of not putting any of his employees in harm’s way. Right now, they are open for business a few days of the week. Their skeleton crew is only working on-demand during limited hours and “leveraging” their out-of-state printing needs. “I think it’s ethical for us to come in if someone needs COVID-related prevention posters or social distancing markers,” he says. “But I have to be careful and not risk anyone’s health here. We’re doing whatever we can to minimize and mitigate the risk to ourselves and our clients.”
His business partner, Rebecca, is working from home handling administrative work, while Eric and his production manager come into the office together when needed.
He recently had to lay off one of his employees, but to bring the company’s slogan (“We’re here to help”) back full circle, other members of Eric’s team have volunteered to run goodwill support missions for their clients and community in the Chicago area that fall into the “at-risk” category. This involves running errands, going grocery shopping, and performing any necessary tasks for anyone in need of help.
“I told my guys I would pay them and want to pay them,” says Eric. “If someone needs us to do errands, I will pay my guys to do that as long as they feel safe. I’m trying to keep them as busy as much as I possibly can.
“We consider ourselves, we value ourselves to be good corporate citizens with respects of our volunteerism, philanthropy, and getting involved, and this is just an extension of it.”