Christchurch printers battle on despite 12 months of hardships

The earthquake on 22 February 2011 caused millions of dollars of damage to printing companies and left a trail of destruction, demolishing buildings, destroying machinery and forcing lay-offs.

But some printers have been able to turn their fortunes around thanks to a lot of hard work and the loyalty of their clients.

Croft Print suffered at least $3 million of damage and lost two Heidelberg SM 52s and one SM 74, according to director David Croft.

"The building is gone and all the machinery is written off."

The company had to cut its staff from nine to four. It now has just one press, a Heidelberg SM 52, and only moved into its new premises in January. Before then, it had been outsourcing its orders to printers that survived the magnitude 6.3 earthquake.

Croft told ProPrint his business had managed to survive by focusing on customer service.

"The clients have been unreal – very loyal and honest and we've been honest with them," he said.

Johnny McHarg, co-owner of printing business McHarg's, said his clients had also been very understanding, although turnover remained down.

He said the earthquake had caused about $300,000 of damage, including the loss of two folding machines, and had led to two forced redundancies.

It took two months before the 15-person operation had been able to return to its building, he said. It had then taken another three or four weeks to clean all the machines and restore power.

More structural repair work will occur next week and a new floor will have to be laid at some point, he added.

Caxton Press director Peter Watson estimated his company suffered "tens of thousands" of dollars worth of damage.

Caxton sent work to Wellington and Dunedin during the 10-12 weeks that its CBD premises were inaccessible, he said.

Staffing levels fell from 35 to 25 after four people had to be laid off and another six decided to leave Christchurch. But as business has returned, numbers have risen to 30.

The earthquake greatly damaged the floor, leaving it uneven and full of cracks, Watson said. That has led to the shifting of the two main presses, a Komori LS29 and LS40, and meant they have had to be repositioned five times.

Watson said the floor couldn't be repaired without demolishing the building. That made moving inevitable – but it could only be done once the engineers and insurers had finished their work.

"Our main effort at the moment is with the insurance company and engineers to declare the building not repairable," he said.

Another complication was Christchurch's lack of safe vacant land, he added.

Joan Grace, chief executive of peak trade association Print NZ, told ProPrint it was difficult to judge how successfully Christchurch's printers had recovered from the earthquake as the poor economy had also held them back.

But one thing that was clear was the solidarity the industry had shown, she said.

"We saw the industry as a whole getting behind businesses and getting them running again," she said.

"We [Print NZ] tried to keep people in contact with one another. A lot of our members did work for other members and we were able to facilitate that."

She said Print NZ had visited businesses to hear about their issues first-hand, and had provided advice on employment, restructuring, health and safety.

One legacy of the earthquake was that some businesses had decided not to replace machinery due to the ongoing aftershocks and the difficulty in getting insurance, she said.

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