We sent out inquiries about Corona Virus Covid-19 to the best and brightest in our industry, and most of the CEO’s in the decoration and garment and promotional products industry responded. In all we made inquiries to the management of almost 100 of the top companies.
The best response was also the shortest response. One CEO wrote back simply, “Wash your hands!”
They must have read the CDC and health expert advice, which is to best prevent spread of the disease, wash your hands for twenty seconds with soap and water. The other advice, don’t touch your face until you have washed your hands.
The most common response was that the panic is worse than the actual disease, and that the panic is being fueled by unrealistic fears, bad information, and lack of transparency from governments. Ironically governments think that bad news will panic people, but it is actually lying and not supplying information which is making things worse. One of the more savvy CEO’s said, “It is not the people falling ill that will impact our economies, but the response to it.” They also said, “As more cases occur in the US, much will depend on how our government responds.” Based on the past week of the American government’s rhetoric, finger pointing, gag orders, and contradictory statements, that’s not a comforting thought.
The preparedness of many of the companies was quite remarkable. Almost no company reported being blindsided or unprepared. Many had alternative supply chains already in the works, deep inventory, and were immediately taking action. Also, like any bad news, it often means good news for someone else. The Chinese companies that might have lost or are losing business means that a company in India or the United States might get more business. One mill reported increased orders due to retailers just having to put something on the shelves in the absence of Chinese-based goods. On the opposite side, one US manufacturer said their USA business would go up, but they sell internationally and that would take a big hit as either transport or closed factories in Asia would cause problems.
Some companies were already putting in place teleconferencing rather than face to face meetings and having more people work from home or preparing so they could do so. A supplier pointed out that such moves would like slow order processing.
There was a range of responses on how exactly to handle some situations. There have been some trade shows in the news that reported being cancelled. Some companies have bowed out of the FESPA in Madrid and some attendees have cancelled their trip but it was currently scheduled to go on until just this morning when it was postponed to a later unspecified date. The Impressions AC show is on, no cancellations and we have not heard of anyone cancelling attending as exhibitor or attendee.
As for work travel there was more difference of opinion. One CEO said that they thought that even the most remote chance of an employee contracting the virus and dying was not worth taking any risk. Another said that their company would not be curtailing any travel, all plans full speed ahead. They said that driving to the airport was a more dangerous risk than this virus and that panic had overblown what was going on. A couple mentioned that they travel in flu season and this is really no different.
Vertically integrated operations are more insulated from the problems of getting supplies, but nearly everyone reported some product or some aspect of their production which they expected would be delayed. Companies might need dyes, zippers, yarn or other pieces of production that might be hard to get from secondary sources in areas not affected by the virus, and all needing such things were examining options from less affected areas.
One savvy international company exec said, “the Coronavirus might accomplish what Tariffs & Sanctions were meant to achieve. Supply chains are already rebalancing and moving out of China, and this will knock them back 20 years in terms of overtaking the US.” And another supplier said, “Besides this virus consider the tariffs, the Chinese government’s treatment of dissidents and their relationship with Hong Kong and it all does not bode well regarding the general feeling about working in China.”
Shipping is an issue and one reported that their factories were back on line in China but truck drivers were an issue there. One CEO reported that they were closely watching whether shipping containers might become in short supply since they were getting tied up in China, thus having a major effect on them getting their goods from non-Chinese sources even in Central America. They estimated that upwards of 70% of the world’s containers might be in or around China. This type of indirect yet large effect wasn’t happening yet but might be coming up soon.
The thing everyone agreed on in terms of markets is that with some trade shows cancelled, travel curtailed, and China locked down that retail demand will slow. If the virus spreads or persists into Summer, retail demand could plummet. In the USA the big fears are that tourism will slow and if sporting events start to be cancelled, that is a huge market which would be hurt. In general, several mentioned that elusive term, “consumer confidence” and the fact that it could go down fast, particularly if alarmist media reports and government secrecy fuel panic. One exec predicted lots of “staycations” this year and particularly nobody is making international travel plans until this plays out more. Just Chinese tourism to the US will cause issues as during their average 13 days staying while on holiday a Chinese tourist probably buys quite a few t-shirts.
Most companies reported being pretty strong with good inventory that would carry them through most of a slowdown, ironically some having stocked up before Chinese New Year closings. They say shortages would take awhile to hit, maybe in the third or fourth quarter, with resulting price increases passed on from materials costing more. One cleverly referred to it as a “sick-lical effect.”
One garment company with most of its production in China said that their factories were already back in production and a big promotional company reported most of their sources already being back on line. That was certainly some encouraging economic news.
Another said that any moves toward recession might lower interest rates and it would be a good time to make investments, buy equipment, and invest at low prices for the long term in the stock market. That said, interest rates were already lowered since they said that.
Also received was this perspective, “Ten or twenty years ago this virus wouldn’t have a name & surname, because we didn’t have a test to identify it precisely enough, and we’d just have had a bad flu season and spike in pneumonia, or ‘cause of death unknown’ in those prone to fatalities, because of age or pre-existing conditions.”
From a company not marketing their compassion, we received this compassionate response, “I am very concerned with many Asian rural villages and towns. They do not have the means to get good health care, access to safe food and water ….. . In the US it will be the poor communities more greatly affected.” Let’s help that the wealthier nations help those with less resources, it isn’t just the right thing to do, stopping the spread of the disease depends on such action. Another said, “The world is becoming smaller it seems. It’s a huge reminder that we are all interconnected and need each other to cultivate a healthy, peaceful world.”
So what can you personally do to do your part in this?
Here are good articles and information on why a mask is not going to save you, but washing your hands might. Don’t panic and stay healthy out there:
As the WHO director says, “Our greatest enemy right now is not the virus itself. It’s fear, rumours and stigma. And our greatest assets are facts, reason and solidarity.”
Every Asian person doesn’t have it. Every sniffle isn’t a death sentence. For many reasons stay home when you are sick. Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze (as always!) Stay home if you are ill (no brainer.) Don’t buy up masks. Wash your hands.