2020 is behind us, finally! The last few weeks, Jedd and I have had time to reflect on 2020. We made a short video to highlight the year and what made it so special. Campus Ink was built on printing for large group gatherings and when the world shut down, 2020 forced us to adapt quickly. Thousands of small businesses were shuttered this past year and your support kept us afloat. We could not have done it without customers like you. Your ideas, flexibility, willingness and trust was the fuel that kept our doors open. As the new semester begins and the world begins to prepare for normalcy, I am confident there is a bright future ahead of us.
Here is to 2021,
Steven Farag - Co-Founder + CEO of Campus Ink
While this year had a lot of struggles, we are so fortunate for our customers who trusted us and supported us throughout the past year.
When things began to shift
- March 13th: Campus Ink hosts Chamber of Commerce event.
- Dark April: We lose the Illinois Marathon, Little League, Mom's Weekend and Graduation.
- Situations can turn in an instant
- Count your blessings
Steven recalls in March, after hosting the final Chamber of Commerce event at Campus Ink pre-pandemic, Jedd mentioned that he had a hunch that 2020 would be a challenging year.
Jedd said to Steven that Campus Ink would need to reinvent itself to survive. At the time, similarly to most people, Steven thought that things would blow over, and COVID-19 would only affect us for a few weeks. When April hit, the team was bummed because we were losing many orders. Large events like the Illinois Marathon and Graduation were cancelled. It was the first time since Steven had joined Campus Ink that he has been scared.
Local Movements (217 Store, HFG, Morale)
- 217 Store was launched
- We donated over 200 care packages to front line workers
- At the same time one of our influencers - Director of Morale with the Cubs - sold merch and partnered with another customer - Foxtrot - to send wellness packages to frontline workers at Northwestern.
- Here for Good campaign raised $8,600, and we raised $2,400 for Illinois Cares.
- Masks masks masks. We utilized experts from the University of Illinois, like Brian Brauer - who invented the Brauer strap. We fulfilled all the masks for students and staff back to school.
- Always be ready to pivot
- Working together we can do great things
When the original lockdown started, we launched the 217 store - with the intention of selling Central Illinois merch and gift cards, with the goal of providing the gift cards to essential workers in the hospitals and care centers in Champaign.
At the same time, one of our influencers and partners - Fred from Director of Morale store - teamed up with another one of our customers - Foxtrot - to sell merch and donate hundreds of care packages to frontline workers at Northwestern Hospital.
Around the country, a movement started happening with screenprinting shops called the Here for Good campaign. Print shops partnered with small businesses to allow them to sell their own merch and make money so they could help offset some of the lost business they had during quarantine. With they help of Student Alumni Ambassadors, we were able to help 40 small businesses across Illinois - donating $8,500 to them as well as raising $2,000 for the Illinois Covid Relief Fund.
Masks + PPE
Then, the need for masks began. We partnered with other print shops across the country to bring in masks to central IL as quickly as possible. We worked with University of Illinois experts, like Brian Brauer, to perfect the mask so students faculty could come back in the Fall and be protected. He even helped design the “Brauer strap” for comfort and convenience.
We were challenged by our customers to make PPE for various types of organizations - including the Marching Illini. We're thankful for Band Director, Barry Houser, for helping us create a mask that made it attainable for bands and musicians to effectively play their instruments.
TMM program launched. We became the Official Vendor for TKE, Phi Delt, ATO, Sigma Pi, Sigma Chi and Maryville. We sold and shipped 8,000 packages - and became a creative agency and fulfillment partner.
Once we realized that COVID-19 would be sticking around longer than we originally thought, we knew fulfillment would be a new focus in our business. So, we doubled down on our Total Merch Management (TMM) program.
Because our original TMM partnership with Sigma Chi was fantastic - we were able to bring on an additional 4 national fraternities with their help. As the TMM partner to ATO, Phi Delt, Sigma Chi, Sigma Pi and TKE, we handle all of their online store fulfillment, marketing and branding when it comes to their official apparel line.
TMM was a solution that helped us offset much of the losses we faced with large events and gatherings being cancelled or postponed. We shipped out over 8,000 packages in the last quarter, and we were able to pivot for bulk orders to individual shipments.
We started kitting orders for customers - like Gies graduation, the College of Computer Science, Orange Krush, and Phi Delt.
Along with the pivot to TMM, some of our customers came to us with new opportunities to create care packages and kit orders for their customers.
Customers like the GIE College of Business, Orange Krush, Illini Pride, the Fire Service Institute, Phi Delt and the College of Computer Science worked with us on their special projects.
Expanding Our Team
We brought back 4 of our original students alumni on our staff to help us expand and opened our Chicago office. A full time marketing team, and brought in Broc, Blake, Yas, Jeff, Laken, Alyson, Britton and Justin.
When things began to pick up again, we were very pleased to have been able to bring on additional members of the team - some returning as Campus Ink Alumni as well as a few new faces.
Jeff, Blake, Broc and Yas were Campus Ink Student Designers who were able to re-join the team as full time employees working out of our Chicago office. Blake, Broc and Yas manage our Student Designers directly, and Jeff is our Content Creator.
Shortly after, Laken began on the team as the Director of Marketing. We were also able to create a full-fledged production team and corporate and community sales team out of our Champaign-Urbana print shop , adding Justin (General Manager of Operations), Myla (Production Manager), Britton (Fulfillment Manager) and Alyson (Corporate and Community Relations Manager) to the mix. We were able to create 10 new roles to help with new services we were providing.
Student and College Expansion (new hires, campuses, design academy)
In our fifth year of business, we are pleased to say that we are on over 25 college campuses across the country with our Student Designer Program. In the Fall of 2020, we were able to bring on over 40 Student Designers who were eager to learn design skills and gain sales experience.
We individually bagged 8,000 for the university of Illinois convocation shirts for students returning safely this fall
While we may not have printed as many shirts during the Fall of 2020, we still stayed busy packaging up back-to-school orders for the University of Illinois Urbana- Champaign. With this large order, we individually bagged and tagged 8,000 shirts so that freshman coming back on campus could receive their new orange shirt safely.
We built our design academy to be open source for any of our customers.
Finally, with the help of Jeff Urbahn - our content creator, designer, videographer and creative jack of all trades - we were able to take our design curriculum and make it completely open source so that our students and customers across the country have the opportunity to learn design.
We’re confident that despite the uncertainty 2021 brings, we will be able to survive and continue to growth. Hopefully someday, when we look back on 2020, we can remember the individuals and customers, the memories and the lessons that helped us propel forward. Here’s to 2021!