December 4, 2020

COVID-19 Journeys: Screenworks Transforms To Rebound From Lockdown Losses And Generates New Growth

Duncan Gilmour, managing director at Screenworks explains his Covid-19 journey and the focus ahead

Screenworks is one of the longest established garment embroidery, screen, digital and direct to garment print service providers. Based in Haverhill in Suffolk, the company has been delivering the best in promotional products since 1991 and has a processing capability of 6.5m items per year. Supporting a whole range of sectors, Screenworks produces everything from printed t-shirts for music events, to branded uniforms and embroidered caps and clothing for major sporting events.

 

Covid-19 response and pivot

Covid-19 has had a huge impact on the promotional merchandise industry, with sporting, music and corporate event cancellations across the board.

As a report from Sourcing City[1] highlights: Nervousness entered the market in February, and it will come as no surprise to anyone that enquiries ‘dropped off a cliff’ as soon as the national lockdown kicked in Mid-March 2020. (16.03.2020). Indeed, an immediate impact was felt with a significant decline in industry enquiries for the remainder of March. In April things got dramatically worse with enquiries dropping to 22.6% of the equivalent month in 2019.

At the onset of lockdown, Screenworks massively pared down operations, and furloughed just under three quarters of its workforce – 48 members of staff. It was at this stage that Duncan Gilmour (managing director), and his management team undertook a huge business pivot. Duncan explains:

“Screenworks is a family business, set up by my father in 1976. We are so proud of what we have achieved and our growth to date. Over the last few years, we have been steadily investing and working to become leaders in developing sustainable practices and processes in our sector. For example, we are looking at the use of new to market technical materials and have been consistently investing in equipment to support a more sustainable manufacturing process. It has been a difficult period and we have kept on as many people as we can.

“The printing and promotional product sector has become a forgotten victim of the pandemic. Whilst everyone talks about how travel and hospitality (amongst others) have been impacted, our industry heavily relies on the workflow from promotional events and activities. If these stop then so too does our production line. Even before lockdown, we noticed a knock-on effect in our supply chain as global manufacturing slowed down, but when lockdown came, our sector was facing a real struggle.

“We knew we had to think on our feet, and to come up with something that would not only help to make up the lost sales, but which would also support the future growth of the business and be in line with our goals, working practices and ethics.”

As such, Duncan and his team opted not to take the standard approach of reselling disposable PPE, but instead looked to create a new product that would support the ongoing fight against Covid-19. In June, following a period of comprehensive research and development, Screenworks launched the UK’s first-to-market antiviral facemasks and snoods through a new brand – Bumpaa™.

 

Bumpaa, in partnership with Polygiene, share in worldwide first for ViralOff antiviral treatment achieving a pass for ISO test on Covid19

Since the new products launched, the company has seen weeks with sales in excess of 100,000 units, and more than 1 million of orders placed within the first three months alone. The Bumpaa brand has continued to grow and expand its offering to include an antiviral glove range. 30 per cent of the original workforce are now back at work, supporting the Bumpaa growth, across office and factory floor.

In October 2020, the company reported its biggest month – in terms of sales volumes – since 2019.

The fabric masks are manufactured in the UK and packed at the Screenworks facility in Suffolk. They are manufactured using a technical fabric, which is treated with an anti-viral treatment – ViralOff, a technology which effectively reduces viruses and bacteria on the product by over 99 per cent in two hours*. ViralOff has now become the first commercial textile treatment in the world to pass the ISO method* test on the Covid-19 virus[2], with the Screenworks mask also obtaining this certification.

The treatment is designed to protect the textiles from harbouring viruses or bacteria. It does not interfere with the skin’s natural bacterial flora and lasts for the product’s lifetime. When a mask or snood is safely removed, if any virus or bacteria is present on the surface, 99 per cent will be safely deactivated within a maximum of two hours. For best performance and sustainability, the products should be washed less, only when needed3.

 

The Future

“When lockdown started, we didn’t know what the outcome might be for the future of our business,” adds Duncan.

“Moving forward we are still facing real challenges to keep going through uncertain times. The events and promotions industries are flat and may not return to normal business until Spring 2021 – meaning our day-to-day production lines are not as busy. There are so many unknowns that mean we are already having to scale back before growth. However, when the events industry does return, we will be ready. We have maintained our client contacts and plan to re-hire.

“We are determined to create a strong, positive plan for the future and Covid-19 has shown myself and my team that we can adapt to anything. Our business model has always focused on the trade, but with the new Bumpaa brand we have seen a shift to include selling to end users, either directly, or through resellers. We have learnt through the pandemic that it is crucial to be diverse in both our product offering and the markets we are selling into and this will be a big part of the strategy as we move into 2021.

“The opportunities are endless – when it comes to markets and products. I am so excited by the new phase that Screenworks is now entering. Covid-19 has turned so many businesses on their heads. Being flexible, agile and reactive seem to be the key attributes we all need to adopt.”

Duncan continues: “Putting aside the commercial and financial effects of the pandemic, the human impact has been the hardest to manage. Screenworks is and has always been a business made by its people and the impact of lockdown and the pandemic has been huge.

“The pandemic has delivered some of the toughest days in my 20-year career. We have tried our best to keep the team together, communicating as frequently as we can and I hope I can look back in the years to come and say we did the best we could under very difficult circumstances.”