One of the most compelling entrepreneurial stories of how a business reinvented itself within 48 hours of the hard lockdown at midnight on 26th March 2021 is CGI Creative Graphics International.
CGI is a specialised printing business that provides high-quality interior and exterior decals, labels and badging to the automotive industry, manufactured to strict international automotive, quality, environmental, and health and safety management systems.
The company employs 150 staff and has customers in 25 countries. Clients include Toyota, Ford, VW, Isuzu, Nissan, Jeep, Hyundai, MAN and Navistar, amongst others.
On Thursday 26th March 2020 CGI’s staff went home not knowing when they would return, which was the case with almost every business in South Africa.
“On the Friday, the first day of lockdown, we received a call from one of our customers asking whether we were able to manufacture face shields,” explains Shaun Rosenstein, MD of CGI. “This was something completely foreign to our business, but within hours we realised that we could harness our infrastructure and expertise to start production almost immediately.”
“Our business basically involves printing and cutting, so on the Saturday morning we immediately began a R&D process. We made a face shield prototype on the same day using our existing machinery and skills, and branded it the ‘Survisor’ face shield.
“We arranged for staff to return to work on the Monday with correct permits and began production, of which more than 350 000 have been produced to date, adhering to the required regulations including SANS 1404:2009 (Edition3) which covers eye-protectors for industrial and non-industrial use. The manufacturing of the face shields fitted our printing, cutting and assembly expertise and adherence to international standards in the automotive industry.”
“Looking back, we had no experience in making face shields, but our company passion and enthusiasm to support the customer came into play and contributed to the success. From start to finish we completed that initial order in six days. And our staff were excited to be back at work and to be contributing to protecting lives.”
One of the key requirements in the manufacturing process was sourcing local raw materials. With ports being shut we needed to rely on the local supply chain. From the elastic bands to the face shield material, CGI sourced everything within the borders of SA. This in turn enabled other local suppliers to begin production in order to support our requirements. We switched on the lights for a number of second tier suppliers who in turn looked at other opportunities within their business.
“We focused heavily on marketing, and created a separate website. We also increased our presence on social media and PR, something that we would not normally have done. This allowed our business to get a significant amount of exposure.”
“In the process, we were gaining a new set of clientele including those in the medical, retail and security sectors. It was an experience to see how our product was contributing to improving protection against the virus especially for key healthcare workers at the time.”
“Next we began manufacturing respirator filter covers and then disposable hospital gowns, by repurposing packaging materials. After a special request, we began manufacturing trolly disinfecting booths, using our automotive expertise. We donated much needed PPE to orphanages and various schools for disabled learners, which further contributed to the pride we felt in what we were manufacturing.”
“Throughout this process, NAACAM provided incredible support and guidance. They were instrumental in driving the localization of Face Shields in the South African market place.”
Some Key Takeaways
- Speed of Response: “It’s better to be first than to be better” (quote from Jack Trout). Get out of the starting blocks as soon as possible, don’t lose the advantage of being first then change as you go.
- Protection and forecasting of cash flow which included regular review of cash position. We also had to adapt our processes from a long cash-to-cash cycle to a much shorter one.
- Focus on online presence: drive marketing through a new website, media articles, QR Codes on all labels and leverage off the media to promote the new offering.
- Systems: We used our existing systems to support the new product. We looked at what resources we had from both a people, technical and asset perspective to provide a quick response.
- Customer: We maintained exceptional customer service
- Planning: There was continual planning ahead – this allowed for a smoother re-integration into “back to normal”.
- Staff: The agility and flexibility of our staff during trying times was crucial. Staff were committed and able to adapt to a new product and new conditions.
- Regular communication and updates were extremely important to keep staff focused on new customer requirements and customers and suppliers abreast with developments in the business.