Monday, November 5, 2012
On the 9 June, Doug Gray, managing director at Cambrian Printers in Aberystwyth, was on holiday when someone suggested he should turn on the UK news. He did so, and couldn't quite believe what he saw.
'There was an aerial shot of Aberystwyth and a lot of it was under water,' he recalls. 'My wife asked where the factory was, so I pointed out the building surrounded by water.'
Heavy rain for consecutive days combined with a high tide had flooded the town, but it was the contents of the drains within the factory, in the yard and in the road that ultimately did the real damage to Cambrian's premises, rather than the water from the river.
'They tried to stem the water, but there was just too much,' says Gray. 'When it settled, it was around 18 inches deep, covering the entire factory floor.'
Not surprisingly, Gray got on the next flight back to the UK.
Cambrian did have a contingency plan in place - but not being in a flood risk area, flooding hadn't been a consideration. That said, Gray says 85% of the plan was still relevant.
'We had set people for set jobs. I took on the responsibility for all the kit, the operations director took responsibly for the team and the outsourcing and the financial director took care of recording all the costs,' says Gray. 'In addition, we had offsite provisions set up for communications and we also had reciprocal agreements with printers with whom we could place the work, so we immediately rang around to place that work.'
The flood water remained for around 16 hours before disappearing to leave a scum of detritus across the factory floor and on the machines. In all, 54 pieces of print equipment were rendered unusable. This included a KBA Rapida 106 10-colour perfecting press, a four-colour Heidelberg Speedmaster XL 105 with coater unit, an HP Indigo 5000 and a raft of pre-press and post-press kit.
'Clearly, while this was going on, we had jobs in progress and we had jobs that needed to be started,' says Gray. 'But we were completely out of action, so the first priority was to place that work elsewhere so as not to let down the client base.'
The next requirement was to draw up a battle plan with the insurance company and loss adjusters. Initially, the staff were sent home as the destruction was so complete it was thought best to hire in professional cleaners, but with floods across the country, specialist staff were in short supply - the cleaning firm sent only six people - so Cambrian staff mucked in and helped.
The staff helping meant the kit suppliers could quickly go in and assess the machines for repair. The insurance company stated that if repairs exceeded around 75% of the cost of a new machine, then the kit would be replaced. Gray says that within a week and a half, every supplier bar the bindery manufacturer had completed their assessments.
'The suppliers, understandably, wanted 50% of the costs paid up-front, which totalled more than pounds 1m,' says Gray. 'So that second Wednesday, we met with the loss adjusters and handed them the information and requested the money. They were not prepared for us to have been so quick - they expected the assessment process to take a month. Heidelberg and KBA, quite rightly, said they would not fit parts without the money. So we were delayed for five days.'
Cambrian staff had already been ringing around customers to keep them informed. As the downstairs offices and server room was flooded, the entire staff worked from the upstairs offices. Gray says the calls were about managing expectations, as well as keeping people up to date with what was going on.
'In the early stages, we did not know the full extent of the damage, so it was about communicating simply that there was an issue, rather than detail,' he explains. 'You don't want to promise something will be fixed when you don't know if it will.'
The money eventually came through and Cambrian had the printing operations back up and running within three weeks. The bindery took a lot longer.
'The supplier of our binding kit only managed to get the machines up and running again at the end of September,' says Gray. 'It has been a ridiculously long process. It took them four-and-a-half weeks just to do the assessment.'
During the time the work was outsourced, Cambrian sent press minders and managers to outsource sites to do press passes, provide samples of work and ensure delivery dates. As of 19 September, however, the firm was fully operational once more.
'I think we were so quick to get back on our feet because we had the plans in place that enabled us to be organised and effective,' says Gray. 'And in some ways, it has been the best thing that has happened to us. It enabled us to wipe the slate clean and take a fresh look at what we'd been doing. We looked at our workflow, the make-up of the business and the layout of the factory. We weeded out all the historical baggage of bad or inefficient practice.'
This included looking again at the production capability - reassessing what was produced digitally or litho. It also meant a fresh focus in terms of sales: the majority of Cambrian's work goes over the border, but it now wants to add local businesses to its roster, so is holding an open week for locals to come and see what the business is about.
It has also led to a fresh look at staffing.
'We learned who we wanted to be in the trenches with and the majority have shown their true metal,' says Gray. 'We have unearthed a few gems. Some of the people who were managing the outsourcing had no experience of customer relations or management, but they really showed themselves capable. We would have probably overlooked those people before, but now if an opportunity comes up, they have proved themselves capable.'
It wasn't all positive, though. Complaints came in from two customers who were upset that they had not been notified their job had been outsourced - not because the quality was bad (it wasn't), but because the delivery had arrived a day early. The issues with the binding kit supplier also rankled.
'Heidelberg was amazing, as was KBA. Both worked very long hours and did a very good job. The bindery supplier, however, failed to understand the enormity of the problem and really took too long to get us back in production,' says Gray.
If a flood were to occur again, Gray says he would hope the company would be even faster to react, but he has had talks with the council and Environment Agency to try and ensure he would not be put in that position. That's not to say he believes he was slow off the mark this time - the insurance company has asked to use Cambrian as a case study for how a company can get back to operations quickly. Gray has agreed, in return for a static premium.
'We agreed on that basis,' he explains. 'Our brokers don't think it will go up - the renewal is in March, though, so we will find out then.'
Gray says there has been a really positive legacy out of the devastation at the plant. For example, when all the admin and management staff were moved upstairs, Gray found that communication was vastly improved and so the move has been made permanent. He adds that those press minders and finishing employees who found themselves in charge of outsourcing now also have a better understanding of the commercial world that they work in. Moreover, the questions they were asked by outsource suppliers about jobs have led to more information being put in job bags in order to better serve the firm's customers.
One thing Gray would do differently if a disaster did strike again, though, is communicate better with customers.
'I think our communications would be dealt with in a different way,' he says. 'This time around, our sales people were reluctant to tell our customers too much because they feared we would lose them all. Now we know that we can go to them and tell them about the problem and they would support us. Some of our customers may well think we took too long to inform them what was going on this time around.'
On the whole, though, Gray says the company is stronger, more united and more profitable as a result of the flood. He says that adversity has been turned into a positive. And to showcase this, with a high degree of humour, Cambrian this week held a 'thank you' party for customers and suppliers on a boat on the River Thames in London.
'It is me being a bit funny,' says Gray. 'I wanted to really show that we had conquered the water and that we are now very much above it.'
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By Jon Severs
Source Citation (MLA 7th Edition)
"Business Inspection: Cambrian Printers - Rising to the top when it's sink or swim." Print Week 12 Oct. 2012: 18. Communications and Mass Media Collection. Web. 5 Nov. 2012.
Gale Document Number: GALE|A305123877