WINCHESTER – The arrival of Covid created health challenges and consequently economic ones.

Several industries had been struggling before the pandemic arrived and the aftermath of the virus has been catastrophic for many.

Canada’s once dependable supply train was affected slowing down the production of food and manufacturing and at the same time driving up the cost of many raw materials and products.

The widespread arrival of online services as opposed to printed products created other issues for printing companies and newspapers.

One by one, printing presses from Smiths Falls to Prescott to Gravenhurst have been closing their doors.

Then most recent is McLaren Press Graphics Limited in Gravenhurst.

Winchester is home to Winchester Print. Only one of a few printing presses serving in Eastern Ontario. The printing presses in Winchester are still operating, and despite industry challenges, are enjoying a healthy business outlook.

Winchester Print is owned by Kent and Kreg Raistrick. They have no intention of slowing down.

The printing business is not unlike a close family. When informed about the decision to close McLaren Printing, Kent was understandably disappointed.

“There used to be a wealth of presses in Brockville, Smiths Falls, Cardinal and Peterborough, and Pembroke and every single one of them is gone,” said Kent.

He said there were several factors affecting the health of the printing industry.

A press release from the president of MacLaren Press Graphics Limited Drew McLaren said in a press release about the closure: “The last two years has been extremely challenging for us, with business running at 40 per cent below pre-Covid levels. At the start of Covid, our 2nd largest client ceased publishing. Then, in January of this year, our largest customer closed their doors, leaving us with significant unpaid accounts. Further, due to the current global paper shortage that is forecast to continue into 2023, we have been put on a paper supply allocation that is well below the 2021 levels, meaning we have no ability to grow the business.”

Winchester Print continues to survive because of their commitment to their community and their industry.

Kent noted, “As I have always said, I set my prices at a stable level.” His business plan includes the determination not to lower costs to satisfy a client, when he knows lowering the cost will hurt his company, and possibly threaten its existence.

“If you pay my price now,” he said, “I will still be here next year when you need more.”

He said Winchester Print prides itself on producing a consistently good product with built in quality assurance, and that costs to maintain.

“We check absolutely everything. We check before we start the press that everything is correct. We check copies as they are coming off the press.”

A paper supply allocation is a nice way of making sure rolls of necessary printing paper are rationed out among industry presses based on what their needs were in the past. Once your past the amount of paper or allocation has been reached, you cannot get more.

McLaren said, “Material costs have increased 20 per cent to 30 per cent putting huge pressure on profit margins. Labour shortages have meant we have not been able to replace key employees who have left the company, forcing us to reduce shifts and trim schedules while trying to align things with our current sales’ levels.”

Another symptom of an industry that has been faced with challenges is the cost of equipment which has fallen as more printing companies fail.

“You used to be able to buy a tower for the press for about $400,000 used. I do not think any body has bought a new tower in five to seven years. Now, I can buy a used tower, fully equipped for about $5,000. A tower refers to a separate printing unit for each colour of ink. An offset printing press has a separate printing unit, or tower, for each colour of ink. Some presses have as many as 12 towers.

Kent explained that the newspaper shortage is just one part of a bigger problem. He said that the companies that make paper, the kind a newspaper would be printed on, are slowly switching their machines and raw materials over to producing boxes, lines and packages for online companies that use them for their business.

He said they do not have the capacity to do both newsprint and the other.

“We have the ability to take on more work but we do not have the paper.” He said he used to only spend 20 minutes a month sourcing his paper, but these days he has to look for it every day.

He said he has to spend more of his time sourcing out newsprint than doing anything else.

“We have a labour problem along with a supply problem.”

Kent said everyone talks about the supply train, but do not realize how interconnected it is.

“If you start robbing one supply chain to fulfill the needs of another, the downstream effect of that is devastating.”

Kent pointed out another factor, is the price of ink; “it is all petroleum, all based on the price of oil.”