When Kevin Peters, ’95 Graphic Communications, was hit with the economic impact of COVID-19 in March, the president of IDL Print pivoted his business, addressing a health-care need and saving his Pittsburgh-based company from having to lay off employees.
Like many companies affected by the pandemic, Peters’ Print division of IDL Worldwide saw business lag as some of the national brands his company provides signage to were slowed by the virus’ spread.
“Our traditional retail work was down 15 percent due in large part to some of our customers operating at a reduced level. So, we became entrepreneurial and nimble and figured out a way to serve a need and save jobs,” said Peters. “We had the machinery and workforce know-how to manufacture Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), so we retooled and began producing face shields to address a health-care and first-responder need, while at the same time keeping our workforce employed.”
Peters credits Production Arts Department employee T.W. Haragos, an employee and Clemson graduate, for IDL Print landing the government contract to manufacture the face shields.
“T.W. is the one who had connections that helped us secure the government contract with FEMA for nearly 2 million face shields,” Peters said. “All totaled, we ended up producing more than 3.2 million shields, which also went to a medical supply company and some were sold on our ecommerce site.”
Peters said his business did pick up some COVID-based work from retailers, such as barrier and seating-related signage, but the pivot to PPE was quick and results came fast.
“The PPE became our magic. This kind of transition to another completely different manufacturing line was something none of us had done before,” he said. “We immediately began looking for as many organizations in need of PPE, and we turned a vacant warehouse into a full production facility within three days.”
Those moves not only prevented layoffs from occurring, staff was added and IDL’s print division will have a record profit year. And benefits from the pivot to PPE manufacturing didn’t stop there. More than 5,000 face shields went to friends and family in the Pittsburgh area, free of charge. Mail carriers, veterinarians, orthodontists, librarians and other local community responders received the face shields at no cost.
“We have always been a safety-first business and being able to allow our IDL family to provide safety to first responders was the right thing to do. Our people came to work with a meaning and the heart of our business showed to employees and the community”, said Peters.
Though face shield demand has dropped off some, Peters said IDL Print is reaching out locally to colleges and other organizations in the Pittsburgh area as the school year approaches to determine if there is a demand for the shields, which some consider more protective than traditional face masks.
“Our vision statement is ‘to enrich lives through amazing experiences,’ ‘’ Peters said. “Before the pandemic, we were doing that through retail. But the statement became more real during COVID. We were enriching experiences for health-care workers and other first responders. Our employees viewed it as a noble effort, one we were all able to rally around to do the right thing, and in the process provided support for those who needed it.”
Among IDL’s Print division are four Clemson graduates, all who majored in graphic communications. In addition to Peters and Haragos, Kelly Thompson, a 2017 graduate, and Cassandra Nicholl, an intern this summer who performed her duties virtually, are among those employees.
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